The NBA's flashest and finest are mostly off representing their country in the 2012 Olympics, but for a goodly chunk of the league's 400-plus players, the rash of "back to school!" ads that they're fast-forwarding through on TV is serving as a reminder that training camp isn't that far away. Autumn beckons, they might have to shave soon, and they definitely have to get back into NBA shape.
For whatever reason, several of the league's more entertaining players have fallen off in recent years. Be it due to injury, confidence issues, rotation frustrations, a poor fit, or general ennui in a profession that can get tiresome, these players have disappointed of late. For the next two weeks, we're going to take a look at a list of familiar names that haven't produced familiar games over the last few years. Or, at least players that have produced games that we don't want to be in the habit of familiarizing ourselves with.
To be a fan of NBA centers — actual, honest to goodness centers that aren't power forwards masking as pivotmen — is to be disappointed. The list of modern-era names that have fallen is long and sad and mostly limping, and yet through all of his injuries Andrew Bogut seems like an exception. The big man with the 7-foot frame whose feet haven't turned to powder, though he hasn't been the same since a 2010 fall crippled his arm and career.
To date, at least, and that's what fans of Andrew's (we rank ourselves high among them) have to realize. His career has been waylaid, and it's OK to say that because there's still time enough to change that. Before the hoped-for and presumably healthy turnaround, it's important to remember the peak.
(Or, the peak as it stands in August of 2012. With enough time left in this particular center's timeline enough to improve upon it.)
The 2009-10 season. A PER of nearly 21, for a player that doesn't do the sorts of things that show up in a PER-building box score. A defensive rating of 98, second in the NBA that year. The sturdiest and saltiest anchor on the league's second-ranked defense; yes, Brandon Jennings' age-inappropriate active defense and Scott Skiles' schemes may have aided him, but Bogut was the beast that kept those scores low. Movement, and timing and precision unseen in the 2011-12-termed NBA save for perhaps Tyson Chandler, the league's rightful Defensive Player of the Year. No gaudy per-game averages (though nearly 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks work just fine for us), but enough between the lines action to keep us all warm and giggly.
Then we roll over after a Friday night spent out and wake to the bad news of a nasty headache and Andrew Bogut's terrifying right arm, elbow, and wrist injury; taken in after a terrible fall during a game against the Phoenix Suns. He'd sit out for the Bucks' inspiring (if at times unwatchable, and as someone who covered that series in person I can sign off on both descriptions) playoff turn. He'd be back for 2010-11, and continue the fine defensive work, but it wasn't the same.
A dozen games into 2011-12, Bogut broke his ankle by doing something all of us have done in a basketball game, though potentially not to Bogut's painful degree — dude jumped up and came down on someone's foot. With 18 other feet to a floor when playing an NBA game, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. Bogut was probably surprised he wasn't struck by lightning walking out of the arena. He gets the Yao Ming reputation, with none of the injuries to deserve it.
This is why we think we can get him back.
We can argue the merits of the Golden State Warriors' team-building to no end, up to and including the deal they made for an injured Bogut last spring. The context of the hoped-for comeback doesn't influence a thing. What matters is getting to fire up the League Pass for six months and watch Andrew Bogut do that whole Andrew Bogut Thing — call out plays, chase down guards, change shots, stick his butt out while boxing out, and start the break.
In time, now that it will be a full two and a half years removed from his right arm injury by the first week of the upcoming NBA season, we hope to have that offense back. Those passes. The screens set. A chance to work outside of what can be a stifling and inefficient Scott Skiles offensive system. This isn't to say that we think Warriors coach Mark Jackson might be an improvement, but we'd certainly love it if Andrew Bogut made us all wrong about the guy.
And, on a selfish level that has little to do with Bogut's personal promise, we want him to cash in on his prime. Bogut won't even turn 28 until September, and it would be nice if he could make the frustrations that dotted his time with Terry Stotts in Milwaukee and the post-arm injury era the fourth or fifth thing people think of when they hear his name; as opposed to the first. And fifth. Because nobody was watching the Terry Stotts-era Bucks back then.
We don't want Bogut's hoped-for new reality to work in line with Zydrunas Ilgauskas' return after a series of foot injuries, because as much as we respected Big Z's game, Bogut has the potential to be much more of an overall decisive factor. The Chandler-like defensive dominance — changing games without even having to block a shot — mixed with the all-around approach on offense. Maybe a better free throw percentage, perhaps. Maybe I should stop being such a prick and just be happy to welcome a healthy Andrew Bogut back to my League Pass schedule, starting at 10:30 on most nights.
He's a 7-footer, a sound basketball mind that works on both ends and should be entering his physical prime. He's Andrew Bogut; and a thousand literal and figurative miles away from us keyboard heroes, we're pretty sure he understands all of this above any of us.
See you in the fall, mate.