Mark Jackson a former National Basketball Association player and former basketball coach. Talking about Cleveland Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov “To me, a rim protector is overrated in this league,” Jackson said during that Jan. 9, 2015, ESPN telecast. “I say that because you look at the Warriors. No Andrew Bogut, and their defense stays, or even improves.”
Golden State Warriors disproved speculations seven games into the post-Bogut era. Without the 7-foot, 260-pounder to patrol the key, the Warriors are struggling to dissuade teams from driving to the basket.
Wednesday night’s matchup against the Mavericks, when Bogut and Harrison Barnes will make their first return to the arena they called home for four seasons, is a reminder of what Golden State sacrificed to sign Kevin Durant. Though Barnes has blossomed into Dallas’ No. 1 scoring option, Bogut is more sorely missed.
His replacement, the more ground-bound Zaza Pachulia, isn’t much of a shot blocker (three in seven games). Through Monday, the Warriors were tied for sixth worst in the NBA with 47.4 points per game allowed in the paint.
Though increasingly rare in a league that prizes smaller lineups, elite post players have bullied Golden State inside. New Orleans power forward/center Anthony Davis scored 78 points on 28-for-49 shooting in two games against the Warriors. During San Antonio’s Oct. 25 rout of the Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge muscled his way to 24 points and 14 rebounds (eight offensive).
The Suns outscored Golden State by 16 points in the key Oct. 30 to stay close. In their 117-97 rout of the Warriors on Friday, the Lakers overcame poor three-point shooting by feasting on 64 points in the paint.
“They are a great offensive team, and I think they will still be a good defensive team,” Portland point guard Damian Lillard told reporters last week about the Warriors. “But it’s different than when Bogut is not back there. It’s just not the same.”
Bogut offered likable Golden State teams a necessary edge. A self-described “a—hole,” he averaged 1.7 blocks per game in his four years with the Warriors. His mere presence deterred players from attacking the rim. In January, a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times revealed that NBA coaches and players consider Bogut the NBA’s third-dirtiest player, behind Matthew Dellavedova and Steven Adams.
Teammates appreciated his sarcastic wit and selfless mindset. When head coach Steve Kerr leaned on a small lineup in the 2015 NBA Finals, Bogut graciously accepted a reduced role. A year later, facing Cleveland again in the Finals, he blocked five shots in 15 minutes as the Warriors cruised to a Game 2 win.
To create cap space to sign Durant in July, the Warriors traded Bogut — and his $11 million salary — to Dallas. The Mavericks reached a verbal agreement around that same time to sign Barnes to a four-year, free-agent $94 million maximum deal.
An inconsistent player in Oakland, Barnes eclipsed the 30-point mark in two of his first six games with Dallas. “If this is what the Mavericks are going to get,” Dallas beat writer Eddie Sefko wrote in a live chat on SportsDayDFW.com on Monday, “it’s going to be the steal of free agency, save for perhaps Kevin Durant.”
Bogut has kept his focus on clogging the paint. Through Monday, he was averaging 11.4 rebounds per game, 9.4 of which had been defensive. Golden State is left stressing patience as it navigates life without a rim protector in its rotation.
“When Bogut’s behind you at the rim, you can always depend and know that he’s there for a block,” forward Draymond Green said. “Zaza’s able to get there and protect the way that he protects. It’s different. It’s something we have to adjust to and something that we’ll continue to get better at.”
Hours after Jackson’s “overrated” comments during the Warriors’ 112-94 defeat of Cleveland, Bogut fired back at his former coach on Twitter: “Really RATED that win! #goDubs.”
Kerr hardly shares Jackson’s view.
“I think he’s highly underrated,” Kerr said last season of Bogut. “He’s one of the top centers in the league.”