A broken hand, a dislocated elbow, and a sprained wrist. A season ended terribly, and terribly prematurely. A group of teammates who must go on without him, possessing heart, hustle, and skill, but now in need of a low post presence and defensive anchor. This is what Andrew Bogut is dealing with.
Now, more than 24 hours removed from the horrific fall, I could easily mope about how unfair it is, how it should’ve been anyone but him, or how we seem to be losing all our quality big men one-by-one. I could mourn the fact that this picture doesn’t get me nearly as excited as it did the first time I saw it. I could be depressed.
But I won’t do that. I did the miserable bastard thing yesterday; now I’d like to spend some time appreciating Bogut’s work this season. And I’ve seen a lot of his work. As a fan/blogger/obsessive freak, I try to follow the entire league, but invariably end up watching some teams more than others as the season goes on. My favourite teams generally have some combination of young talent, scrappiness, and aesthetically-pleasing play that make me tune in even if they’re playing against a team lacking in most or all of those areas. Bogut’s Bucks have been a favourite since November. I saw them start off strong, lose a bit of steam, learn from their mistakes, add firepower, and peak at the right time. I saw the questions surrounding the team change from “is Brandon Jennings for real?” to “can this team make the playoffs?” to “do these wins against subpar teams mean anything?” to “can this team win a playoff series?” Very recently, the responses to the last question have usually ranged from “I don’t know, but no Eastern team wants to play them” to “of course they can, and if they play Atlanta or Boston it’s going 7 games.” Along with those questions, there have been questions raised about Bogut. And unlike in prior years, when words like “bust” and “injured” often preceded the question mark, these questions were largely ones that made me happy: Is he the second-best center in the East? Is he an All-Star? Can he keep putting up these numbers? HOW did he not make the All-Star team?! Should he win Most Improved Player? Should he be on the All-Defensive Team?
The Bucks are sitting at 42-34 right now and Andrew Bogut has been their most important player. On offense, he’s their lone inside presence. When things are going well, it’s often because the offense is run through him. When things aren’t going well, it’s often because he isn’t getting enough touches. He runs the pick-and-roll very well with Brandon Jennings and can make the game easier for his teammates when double-teamed in the post. He has games where he misses numerous shots close to the basket, but he has more where he absolutely DESTROYS defenders with left- and right-handed hook shots. He’s a handful down low. If you don’t believe me, ask Kendrick Perkins.
On defense, it’s hard to overstate Bogut’s impact. Milwaukee is third in defensive efficiency and there’s no one more responsible than him. Dwyer called him a B+ Dwight Howard and Dwyer is pretty much right about everything all the time. Allow me to throw some stats at you: Andrew ranks 2nd in the league in blocks and 4th in charges taken. That’s INSANE – most prolific shot-blockers try to block almost everything that comes their way and most prolific charge-takers learn the skill to compensate for a lack of shot-blocking ability. Doing both as well as Bogut does makes you a defensive master. Last week, John Schuhmann rated him the 2nd-best defensive center in the league and pointed out that, at the time of writing, the Bucks were was a full six points per 100 possessions better on defense with him on the floor. If you watch the games, it’s easy to see why. There are few big men who are able to cover as much ground as he does. His long arms and his quick feet enable him to protect the basket at a very high level and guard multiple defenders at once. He shows on screens, he guards the big guys that drift to the perimeter, and he plays terrific, tough post defense. You can’t ask for more from your center.
And yet, this center has delivered more. Along with the stats, the little things, and the wins, he’s brought an excitement to Milwaukee home games that simply wouldn’t be there otherwise. The crazy NCAA-style noise you hear in the Bradley Center is coming from Squad 6. I’m sure you’ve heard about it about it by now, so I don’t even really need to get into how awesome it is.
Point is, Squad Six will still be there next season. As will Scott Skiles, Brandon Jennings, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. It’s a crime against basketball that we will have to wait another year to see him back to the playoffs, where he hasn’t been since his rookie season. That’s the reality of the situation, though. This hasn’t ended Milwaukee’s basketball revival – the Bucks are still going in the right direction, even if they’ve been temporarily derailed. We may as well take this opportunity to appreciate the guy who has, in my eyes, been severely under-appreciated up to this point.