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A champion and a bust: The Andrew Bogut rollercoaster

Andrew Bogut during his time with the Warriors. He's heading back. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Expert
17th March, 2016
19
3091 Reads

To quote Kanye West (but not really), Andrew Bogut was supposed to be a star and ended up landing on a cloud.

Milwaukee took Bogut with the first pick of the 2005 draft, ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams (he used to be good, I promise), expecting the Australian seven-footer to be a franchise superstar for the next decade. It didn’t work out like that.

Bogut’s development was steady but unremarkable for the Bucks, who drafted a shining cornerstone and ended up with a no-nonsense rock in the middle of the paint.

Bogut would get his points in the low teens, approach double digit boards, protect the rim and get a couple of blocks per game. When you’re drafted number one before Paul and Williams (he really did used to be good), those numbers make you a bust.

The 2009-10 season was when Bogut finally started to deliver on his pedigree, earning All-NBA Third Team honours. The best player on the ‘Fear the Deer’ Bucks, the big man put up a 16/10 with 2.5 blocks per game, leading a team whose second and third best players were Brandon Jennings (shot 37.1 per cent from the floor that season) and Carlos Delfino to a 46-36 record.

That team fell off a cliff without Bogut on the floor, with the Bucks a monstrous 7.8 points per 100 possessions better with Bogut manning the middle (a number which approaches prime Dwight Howard in Orlando territory).

Bogut had come into his own – an elite defensive big man anchoring the league’s second best defence (I’ll remind you that that team started Jennings, Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova), an excellent rebounder, brilliant passer and sneakily effective scorer. And then it fell apart the way it always has for Bogut – injuries.

Bogut’s career was never the same after Amar’e Stoudemire gave him a slight push that may or may not have been dirty. He broke his hand, dislocated his elbow and sprained his wrist all on that one play, two weeks before the playoff run that was supposed to have been his coronation as an elite NBA player.

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He came back the following season and managed 65 games but he wasn’t the same. He was still a dominant defensive force (the Bucks were the league’s fourth best defence in 2010-11, almost entirely thanks to Bogut again), but his scoring dipped by three points per game, his efficiency fell off, and his free throw shooting went to hell, tumbling from 63 per cent to 44 per cent. The Bucks went 35-47 and missed the playoffs.

Bogut only managed 12 games the following year, succumbing to some more brutal injury misfortune, fracturing his ankle by landing on Kyle Lowry’s foot. It was his last moment on the court for the team that drafted him first overall seven years earlier.

In seven seasons with the Bucks, Bogut made one playoff appearance and won one playoff game. He never made an All-Star team. Misfortune was dealing his cards, but the reality was unambiguous: he was a bust.

By the time Bogut was traded to Golden State for Monta Ellis he was damaged goods. He was no longer a real commodity; he was only the idea of a player.

The second phase of Bogut’s career has been one of the more unlikely for a former number one draft pick. When he arrived in the Bay Area and started to get healthy, the buzz started that he might be the Warriors’ second most valuable player after Stephen Curry.

Bogut was so integral to their defence, the only big man who could hold down the middle, that without him the Warriors would be lost. In the 2013 playoffs, Golden State was a mammoth 15 points per 100 possessions better with Bogut on the floor – that’s effectively the difference between this year’s Thunder and Lakers. Bogut was irreplaceable.

When Curry’s troublesome ankles finally started to become less troublesome, the most pressing question for Golden State in their regular seasons became: can they keep Bogut healthy for the playoffs?

The year they couldn’t do that only heightened the perception of his immense value. A fractured rib on the eve of the 2014 playoffs ruled Bogut out for the season, and the Warriors crumbled in his absence. After pushing the Spurs to their limit in the second round the year before, with Bogut on the sidelines the Warriors had no answer for Blake Griffin in the paint and exited the playoffs in the first round. If only they had had Bogut.

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Seemingly more comfortable with the understated Steve Kerr than the overstated, pathological preacher Mark Jackson, Bogut continued to prosper last season.

During the regular season the Warriors had the league’s best offence and defence with Bogut on the floor – when he hit the bench both of those rankings slid to fifth. He was instrumental in the playoffs guarding the big boys in Memphis and Dwight Howard in Houston, and entering the Finals he was set to complete his West Coast rejuvenation, about to be crowned the starting centre on a championship team.

And then the Bogut story took another twist. A less violent one than his elbow took in 2010, but a quietly devastating one all the same.

Bogut was benched in Game 4 of the Finals against Cleveland and played three minutes total in Golden State’s last three games – all Warrior wins. Kerr and Bogut said all the right things about modern basketball being dictated by match-ups but the reality was cold and stark – the team had only achieved the ultimate success when it made the decision to nail Bogut to the bench.

When people remember this Golden State team, which might be the greatest basketball team of all-time, Andrew Bogut will an afterthought floating on the periphery.

We’ll remember Steph, then we’ll remember Steph again, and then maybe a bit of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. We’ll probably remember Andre Igoudala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and the antics of Marreese Speights and Leandro Barbosa before we remember Bogut. We’ll remember the Death Line-up with Draymond at centre – a line-up where Bogut is all too conspicuously absent.

Bogut is a number one pick in the draft and it’s been five years since he scored more than 20 points in an NBA game. March 28, 2011. Twenty-six points for the 29-44 Bucks against the 31-42 Charlotte Bobcats. The Bucks lost by one point.

Bogut could have easily gone the way of the two players taken at number one in the two drafts that followed his. He could have been Andrea Bargnani, putting up serviceable numbers on terrible teams, and he could have been Greg Oden, out of the league with crippling injuries. He ended up being neither; he just ended up a champion.

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Bogut doesn’t get many accolades these days, and he doesn’t even get that much respect in NBA circles (I’m sure a large part of the NBA community believes that Festus Ezeli should probably be starting over Bogut when he returns). But all in all, he’s probably had the third best career from his draft class (depending on how you feel about Monta Ellis).

In all 11 seasons of his career, Bogut’s team has been better with him on the court. And for all the detractors, he’s got a ring on his middle finger to show you, to go with a smile on his face.

For all the noise that surrounds his draft position, that’s a bigger success than putting up points in meaningless losses in Charlotte at the end of March.