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2014-15 Warriors Season Review: Andrew Bogut and the case of the Ever Shrinking Big Man

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Andrew Bogut, once thought of as "the missing piece" to a championship team, ended up not necessarily being the key to the Warriors winning the 2015 NBA Finals. How did this happen?

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The Warriors of the early 2000's were soft. Nelly Ball and "We Believe" had an obvious hole in the middle of our frontcourt — our franchise center was off riding on ski boats and partying during the summers (oh, how we miss you Andres Biedrins) instead of learning to shoot free throws.

Traditional NBA teams would come in and dominate the Warriors on the boards and in the post, on their way to historic nights from skilled NBA centers. We were always one piece away from taking the next step, filling a rim-protector sized hole that could help anchor our team from the inside out.

Fast forward to Andrew Bogut coming over in the famous, contentious Monta Ellis trade.

Bogut lands in Golden State's lap, and we have seemingly finally solved the problem. Injuries aside, Bogut immediately makes our defense ferocious and takes the team to the next level. Sure, his offense disappeared with one of his two horrible career injuries, but he can still perform as the smart-thinking brute in the middle that helps, enforces, and controls the restricted area. His offense facilitated the team's ball movement, he could catch an alley-oop or two (when they were thrown correctly), and he was good for one or two ferocious moments in a playoff series.

The problem was always keeping Andrew on the court. Injuries have started to take a pretty serious toll on the old body of Mr. Bogut, limiting his minutes and his effect on the game. Bogut broke his ribs in Portland before the 2014 playoffs, leaving him out for the key series against the LA Clippers, and with Festus Ezeli still recovering from his knee injury during that season, the Warriors were again looking soft against a bigger team — David Lee patrolling the paint wasn't close enough to keeping DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin off the boards, and history says the Warriors fell short in Game 7. It was obvious: if they could have had Andrew Bogut, they win it all...

2014-15 Season Recap

The other day I flipped through the box score of the NBA finals to count up key contributions from Warriors Wonders during the final push. How many guys came up big in those playoffs!  A true team effort...well, kind of.

The following are Andrew Bogut's stats in the finals:

Game #

Minutes Played

Shots Taken/Made

Points Scored

Game #1

28:28

2-5

4 (-4 +- when on the court)

Game #2

25:12

0-1

2 (-4 +- when on the court)

Game #3

17:07

2-3

4 (-9 +- when on the court)

Game #4

2:46

0-0

0

Game #5

DNP - CD

Game #6

DNP - CD

Our key big man, presumably the missing part of the puzzle, was absent when the team finished off its rise to win the title. Matchups had a key factor in the outcome of the Finals without a doubt. Bogut was virtually ineffective against Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson, so the change in match up made sense. But the irony is thick: how could someone who was deemed so irreplaceable and important to this team's success be notably absent when it finally reached its peak?

Reason #1: Andrew Bogut is losing a step

Bogut admitted before the season started that injuries are taking their toll on his old body, which might lead to an early retirement for the big man.  His minutes per game were down last year (bottoming out at a career-low 23.6). This primarily had to do with fourth-quarter blowouts and a better big man rotation for match ups, but Bogut has become a part-time player. I would expect his numbers to drop even more next season with Ezeli's growth coming along and Jason Thompson joining the fold. His scoring disappeared a few years ago, so we can't get on him for losing an impact there. He still rebounds at a solid clip, and we can't forget that Bogut still excels where it counts for him - earning NBA-All Defensive 2nd Team Honors.

Sure - for this Warriors team, Andrew Bogut does exactly what they ask him to do. He will work in tandem with Draymond Green to form one of the best versatile defensive combinations in the league. But how long can the body continue to hold up? Could Bogut find himself coming off the bench in the coming year at some point if his body doesn't hold up?

Reason #2: Small Ball is the key to Championships

The Warriors broke the mold — they found an even better formula to beat teams, and it showed in the finals.

The new NBA is all about small-ball, versatile two-way players that play D and hit their threes. The Warriors ran the Cavs off the court behind Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, guys who can stretch the defense rather than taking up residence in the post. Does this "new NBA" have a place for a throwback like Bogut?

The answer is probably still "yes".

Bogut will be a key factor against many teams next year who feature big centers. We talk about the Cavs series, but Bogut was extremely important against teams like the Grizzlies and Rockets. If you have Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol on the floor, you need the Big Aussie to help protect the middle. But the key is that his use-value is no longer universal and consistent. Teams will keep getting smaller and more interchangeable, and I believe Bogut will continue to pile on more games where he sees less than 20 minutes of playing time. Will that be OK for his consistency? His body?

I do think that the NBA is overcompensating - just because the Warriors won the title with small ball doesn't mean they have found a magic formula that will work for everyone. Where DeMarre Carroll can get big money being the new breed of NBA player, the needle has moved a bit too far and too quick. The numbers, however, don't lie for the champs: the Warriors were supremely better when their small-ball lineup was on the court. And for them, I think that leaves Bogut as the odd man out.

Season Projection

Bogut will don his national colors and play with his national country while qualifying for the Rio Olympics. The Boomers are a big deal for Andrew: he has continued to be close to his National team, and getting the chance to play for the team in the Oceania Championship after years off because of injury seems huge for him. But you have to ask yourself if this is, in a way, his last hurrah. He seems keen on playing in the coming Olympics; could that lead to his pending retirement? He is signed through the 2016-17 season at a shrinking $11.M salary, which fits perfectly with the calendar of Ezeli taking over the reigns as the next franchise center.

Bogut came to the team as a player fans weren't ready to have. They had experienced too many years with duct tape and barbed wire solutions at center, then followed by the delayed debuts of Bogut due to health. When he finally reached the court, we have been treated with the payoff we have been waiting for: a defensive juggernaut and the anchor we hoped he could be. But sadly, we are seeing the tangible decline and accelerated exit of the impact of Bogut because of time and circumstance.

I would predict more career lows in the coming season, but in a way I am OK with that. Bogut has provided all we could ask for him to do, and the ring on his finger probably makes it OK for him. He took it in stride during the finals and I expect more of the same from the professional player that he is.

Maybe, just maybe, we can get a few more vintage Bogut games out of him before he goes away.

And maybe the Warriors can even put a second ring on his finger as well before its too late.

For more Warriors season reviews, check out our 2014-15 Warriors season review section.