Andrew Bogut once thought about retirement, now he’s leading the resurgent Golden State Warriors

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  • Andrew Bogut
    Andrew Bogut
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Andrew Bogut has been a revelation during this year’s postseason. Though he looked to be his old, unfortunately gimpy self in Golden State’s playoff-initiating Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets nearly three weeks ago, Bogut has sprung back to approximate the sort of all-around terror that we grew to know and love during his time as a Milwaukee Buck. And while that may seem like faint praise, understand that a healthy Buck Bogut meant the world as an angle-eliminating defensive mastermind that could finish around the rim and make the extra pass.

Bogut has come a long way in a year’s time. Last April, the Warriors announced he was undergoing microscopic ankle surgery; a procedure that was later revealed to be a more serious microfracture ordeal, a complication the Warriors (mindful of season ticket sales) declined to disclose. This duplicity led to calls for Bogut to be back by the start of the season, which forced Andrew to return far too early to the team, effectively ruining yet another regular season for the man that hasn’t looked healthy since badly injuring his arm late in the 2009-10 campaign.

All those wasted months and lost seasons had Bogut wondering if it was all worth it. He disclosed as much to NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper recently:

Bogut said he “was getting close” to having to give it serious consideration, but that he was not at the point of having to make a decision. The plan, he said, was to try and finish this season on an encouraging note, work during the summer to return to peak condition and aim for a healthy 2013-14. If that went bad, all options would have been on the table.

“I didn’t get to that point,” he said before the Warriors practiced in advance of Game 3 of the second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at Oracle Arena, “But it was definitely [something] I started to think about. I never got to a point where I thought, ‘This is it. I’m done.’ But I thought, ‘If this goes on for a year or two, there’s definitely a chance that I think about that.’

“I was really bad. The physical part of it is one thing, but the mental part of it’s the other. It was a tough time in my career. You always just start questioning yourself, and whenever you do that as an athlete, I think it’s probably not a great thing. When is this going to subside? When am I going to feel better? Am I going to be back to the same level I was playing at before the injury? How long is it going to take? Why is it taking so long? [I am] medically cleared to play, but am I being soft? Am I not going hard enough? Am I going too hard? Too many questions in your mind. I was frustrated.”

In the very-good feature that you should click toward, Howard-Cooper discloses a Mark Jackson sub-tweet of sorts, pointing to the “change [in] culture” that the Warriors experienced when they tossed Monta Ellis Milwaukee’s way last year for Bogut. And this is after just 32 games of Bogut basketball in 2012-13’s regular season, at only 24 minutes a contest.

The former top overall pick has been fantastic in the postseason, though, averaging eight points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks per game in just under 29 minutes a contest, while shooting 62 percent. He’s missed 10 of 15 free throws thus far, but his impact on the game flies far beyond the reach of a box score. Bogut defends the pick and roll expertly, and he’s mobile enough (even in his somewhat diminished state, due to those ankles) to keep up in transition against two versatile squads in the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs.

The Warriors often-middling defense, as Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin points out, is thriving. It’s true that the Nuggets were missing some key offensive weapons and that the Spurs missed some makeable three-pointers on Wednesday night, but that shouldn’t take away from the fine work Mark Jackson’s crew has turned in over eight playoff games. From Kurt’s breakdown:

San Antonio had an offensive rating of 98.1 (points per 100 possessions) in Game 2, well off their season average of 105.9 (seventh in the NBA). They shot just 39 percent from the floor. Part of that was the Spurs missed a few looks they normally knock down — they were 3-of-10 on spot-up threes in Game 2, via Synergy Sports — but Golden State is doing a good job taking away the Spurs bread and butter.

Through two games in this series the Spurs have had the most shots taken by the pick-and-roll ball handler and he is 14-of-42 (33.3 percent) shooting. That’s more than just Tony Parker, but he is a healthy part of that and he has had a tough go this series, shooting 41.9 percent through the first two games.

The Warriors have gone small in the absence of David Lee, putting Jarrett Jack in the starting lineup and counting on Andrew Bogut to do everything inside. The Spurs are posting up on just 10 percent of their possessions and are shooting just 7-of-18 when they do. The Spurs have much better success scoring in transition, and should take those opportunities, but they are not a team that wants to get into a track meet with the Warriors.

Part of this is on Bogut’s re-emergence and the continued maturation of Klay Thompson, but some of this has to do (not to pile on a guy that can barely walk right now) with David Lee’s absence from the lineup (David infamously has major issues when it comes to protecting the rim). You can also credit the Warriors for becoming self-aware.

“If we’re athletic and quick enough to beat defenders to the spot on offense,” the W’s appear to have realized, “why can’t the same hold up on the other end?” Golden State won’t confuse anyone into thinking that they’re watching the 2008 Boston Celtics any time soon, but they have proven to be versatile enough to hold their own defensively in the face of two very good offensive teams in Denver and San Antonio. The second round is long from over, but you can’t help but be fascinated by a Warriors team that didn’t come into this postseason fully formed.

They’re still, scarily, growing. Ethan Sherwood Strauss discussed as much on Thursday:

It’s also mildly hilarious that the Golden State Warriors are playing this well against the San Antonio Spurs, just on the face of things. It’s funny, but there is sense to be made from it. There’s much talk of, “HOW ARE THE WARRIORS SHOOTING LIKE THIS,” even though this is, largely, how the Warriors shoot. Golden State averaged a shade over 40% from deep this year. In the playoffs, they’ve shot a shade over 40% from deep. Against the Spurs, it’s crept up to 41.5% from distance. Hello East Coast, hello national viewers. This is how the Warriors splash.

The difference is that they’re shooting more from deep than ever. Over the season Golden State tried 19.9 3-pointers per game; In the playoffs, they’ve attempted 24.9.

Once again, it appears as if we’re piling on the sidelined David Lee, but a major impetus behind Golden State’s growth has come from the team’s ability to move on as a perimeter-based powerhouse, without relying on Lee to churn out his 20 and 10. And prior to Lee’s buttressing of the Warriors’ attack, Monta Ellis was the man trusted to attempt to keep the Warriors’ heads above water, all before Thompson and Curry and a healthy Andrew Bogut were ready to take over.

From SB Nation’s Tom Ziller:

If Monta was the parachute to prevent an ugly crash for a rebuilding team, Lee is the training wheels that helped teach Curry and Thompson -- and to a different but important extent Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green -- to play crisp team offense. Lee is very good in the pick and roll; he and Curry were devastating in the combination. As Kawakami notes, Curry is now so good he can pick and roll with anyone. (He could pick and roll with Andris Biedrins, OK?) Thompson has come into his own even beyond that absurd first half explosion in Game 2 against San Antonio (29 points, six threes); he's already one of the best young two-guards in the league, and we'll all be wondering how he fell so deep into the lottery in a bad draft for years to come. Barnes, a rookie, is contributing is important ways. And Bogut is finally back and doing Bogut things: setting good screens, passing the ball well and providing enough defense to get Golden State by.

Let’s not coronate anyone yet. The Warriors have outplayed San Antonio thus far and are facing a day’s worth of Gregg Popovich adjustments heading into a Game 3 that could re-route the home court advantage once again. Golden State did well to close out the Nuggets in the first round, but the sainted San Antonio Spurs are a different story, and this still a best-of five.

The mid-spring growth has been fun to watch, though. As typified by a player in Andrew Bogut that didn’t even know if he’d be around to be a part of it.