How Andrew Bogut is like a bouquet of flowers

Today we're pleased to bring you another special feature from Dan Sinclair, writer of the excellent Where 55 Happens. You can find Dan's Brew Hoop archive here and follow him on Twitter @dan_sinclair. - Frank

It doesn’t matter what kind of encouraging news Bucks fans get right now, we’re all terrified that Andrew Bogut won’t be ready for the start of the season, or worse, won’t ever fully recover from the fall that sidetracked Milwaukee’s season. Sure it’s unlikely, but the possibility is there, and it haunts me as I sleep.

I expect Brandon Jennings to build substantially on his success from last year and continue his ascension to the ranks of the best point guards in the league. The talent and tools are there, he just needs to control them a little more. But that’s not going to be enough to carry the Bucks to where they (and I, and you, and these guys) want to go.

If a deep playoff run is the goal, Milwaukee has to have Bogut back, and they need him back at a level at or near where he was last season. Andrew is now showing the potential that made him a #1 overall pick and he’s finally getting recognized for it. Still, I don’t think he gets enough credit. Not from the media, not from opponents, not even from his own teammates.

To be sure, the NBA is a guard’s league these days. Since the hand-check rules were set, perimeter players have pretty much had their way on the court, and the big men of the NBA have seen their stars fade a bit. Outside of the physical anomalies or the few guys with truly incredible careers, it’s tough being an inside banger these days.

Tell that to the big Aussie. Injury troubles aside, Bogut has shown a constant dedication to improving his play through hard work on and off the court. He’s also done wonders to improve the fan experience of the Milwaukee Bucks with Squad 6.

Bogut is a versatile player on both ends, but there’s no denying that most of his value currently lies on the defensive end of the court. When you draft a 7-foot center from a (soon-to-be-ex) mid-major, you’re just hoping he becomes as proficient a defender as Bogut. He’s a strong guy who holds opponents off the block and can handle a wide variety of post moves. According to Synergy Sports, players posting up Bogut scored only 45.7% of the time, and had a 16.6% turnover rate. His positioning and rotation are hugely underrated, if simply because it’s tough to gauge or appreciate such things without watching a lot of games. What is evident is his proficiency in drawing charges, consistently coming in at or near the top of the league in offensive fouls drawn.

The dude’s blocks are something else. Just, something else. Bogut has an impressive 14.3 block rating on, above known shot-blockers like Dwight Howard (11.7) and Marcus Camby (10.6), and he comes close to per-minute wonder/fantasy tease Greg Oden (16.5). In 82games’ "clutch situations," his rating goes up to 16.2. I don’t really know what that number means, but the point is, he’s in or above good company, and he gets better when it matters. Albert Lyu of Think Blue Crew did some great analysis of block values around the NBA based on shot locations and expected points. If you take a quick look through those charts, you’ll see Bogut’s name quite a few times. Not only does he block a large number of shots each game, but his blocks save a TON of points relative to other NBA big men. Because he’s so good at establishing position and using his size, he is able to block high-percentage shots around the basket. These shots have the highest expected point value, which is why Bogut’s ability to swat them away like gnats is so valuable.

But defense alone isn’t the reason I consider Bogut the most important part of the Bucks’ upcoming season. Sure, the Bucks gave up 5.5 fewer points per 100 possessions while he was on the court, but they also scored 2.5 more. The Bucks were an exceptional defensive team last year, and it took them all the way to…a first-round playoff exit. This year, Milwaukee needs to figure out how they can score some points, and having Bogut down low is critical. His improved offensive game gives the Bucks a consistent inside presence on a team that really wanted to shore up its wing scoring this offseason. He establishes himself well on post ups and has decent quickness to get around average defenders. While he can work from either side and use either hand under the basket, his go-to move is a left-handed hook shot that extends over his defender. He’s also terrific in the Pick-and-Roll, with a 1.36 PPP and 67.8 %Score (Synergy). The Bucks didn’t use the P&R extensively last year despite scoring fairly effectively with it (1.04 PPP, 50.2 %Score). I’d like to see an expanded P&R game this year to take advantage of Milwaukee’s revamped roster and Jennings’ passing ability. Even if Bogut isn’t being used as the roll man, his strength and finesse yields significant offensive rebound opportunities.

Take a guess who led the Bucks in Offensive Win Shares according to Basketball-Reference. Did you guess Bogut? Well, you’re wrong. Leading the Bucks with 4.0 OWS was the offensive juggernaut – Luke Ridnour! But Andrew was second at 2.6! Even if that metric doesn’t seem an accurate gauge of a players’ offensive ability (nobody would claim Luke Ridnour was the most offensively talented player for Milwaukee last year), it reflects how critical he was to the offense. Like it or not, Ridnour’s unreasonably good shooting last year played a huge part in Milwaukee’s success, and his OWS reflects that; Likewise, Andrew’s offensive contributions were vital last season.

Of course, while his defense is already at an elite level, there are aspects of his offensive game that could improve. I’ve read scouting reports suggesting he is an adept passer from the post, but those skills have faded in the past year or two. After averaging a 13.2 AST rate his first 3 seasons, he dropped to 10.5 over the last two, averaging only 2.1 assists per 36 minutes last year. If he continues improving his post play to the point where defenses double-team him, that assist rate is likely to climb as more Bucks shooters come open.

The bigger issue is his free-throw shooting. He’s a career .601 FT shooter and doesn’t get to the line as much as he could. Even if he doesn’t score at the stripe, getting opponents into foul trouble is reason enough to be aggressive. Unfortunately, after five years in the league, there’s no real reason to think his FT% will improve.

I’m know, here I am extolling Bogut’s offensive game and then I rail him for missing free throws and hogging the ball. The point I’m trying to make is this: Bogut was a critical part of the Buck’s season last year for reasons beyond his defense. After essentially a breakout season, his ability is clear, and Milwaukee now has to consider the extent to which they can run their offense through him. At only 25 years old, his best basketball may still be ahead of him. If we can accept that last year’s fall was a freak accident, rather than a result of his previous propensity for getting hurt, it’s a step towards the removal of his "injury-prone" label. So while last year was a breakout in every sense, it’s likely we’ll see even better performances from Bogut down the road.

No matter how many athletic 4s or score-first wings Milwaukee has on its roster, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to retain Bogut as a centerpiece on both ends of the court. I’m fine with handing the Captain’s chair to Jennings, but Bogut has to feature prominently as the <WARNING: AUSTRALIA-LINGO PUN APPROACHING> First Mate. In summation: LIKE A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS, ANDREW BOGUT LOOKS DAMN FINE IN THE MIDDLE.

(You thought I forgot about that title, didn’t you? Not a chance!)

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