This season, the Western Conference has seen recent two lottery teams make the jump into playoff contention, in large part because of trades – Houston for James Harden, and Golden State for Andrew Bogut. While Harden is one of the top scorers in the league, the Warriors have had Bogut on the court for eight games – not even 200 minutes of actual game time.
Golden State is riding Steph Curry, the top three point shooter in the league, David Lee, who is nearly averaging a double double, and an emerging star in Klay Thompson, who is averaging 16.5 points per game as one of the top sophomores in the league not named Kyrie Irving.
Curry isn’t the only Warrior to be locked on target when pulling up from the perimeter - Golden State is the number one team in three-point shooting percentage on the season, with 39.4% shooting after 49 games.
As a fellow writer on this site has indicated, the Warriors were 7-1 in January games in which Klay Thompson made at least three shots from three-point range but shoots less than 10. Steph Curry is averaging just over seven three-point shots a game this season, and the Warriors have won 66.7% of their games when Curry has seven or more three-point attempts. Jarrett Jack has also put up over 100 threes this season, converting at a 39.7% rate, nearly 3 percent better than the league median for qualified shooters. Harrison Barnes will shortly join his teammates with over 100 three-point attempts this season, and is making them at a 36% rate.
It suffices to say, then, that the Warriors want their shooters to be open and knocking down threes – and Bogut’s return to the lineup is going to help them do that with more success. The threat of the Warriors’ perimeter shooters helps create space, and Bogut’s offensive abilities help them take advantage of that space.
Bogut returned on January 28, and the Warriors are 3-1 since his return in games he has played. To help ease Bogut back into the rotation, he has a minutes cap of 25 minutes per game and is only playing in the front of back-to-backs. In the four games Bogut has played, the team has averaged just under 26 assists per game, a mark that would make them the top team in the league at sharing the basketball, ahead of San Antonio at 25.3.
Andrew Bogut has a career average of 2.3 assists per game, putting him in elite company for passing big men. A list of players that have numbers similar to Bogut are named Ralph Sampson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Bill Walton – pretty good company to be a part of.
So how is Bogut helping exactly?
Now, the Phoenix Suns aren’t the best defensive team (24th) in the league, but the Warriors did have a season high 34 assists against them, so the game presents an excellent opportunity to point out how the Warriors’ offense functions at a high level offense when Bogut is on the court with the rest of the starting lineup – Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
In this picture, Phoenix is being forced to guard the corners because of the threat of Curry and Barnes. With Lee playing in the high post and Bogut having drawn Gortat away towards the three-point line, there is no interior defense. Scola, who excels at drawing charges, is marking Lee. This basic formation, which the Warriors use often, is called “Horns”.
The Suns defend the initial read, of a cut to the rim by Thompson, as the guard stays in between Thompson and the rim. However, with each player a threat from the outside, they cannot “sag” into the paint. Bogut gets his shoulder past Gortat, and drives down the lane for an easy dunk. Dudley and Dragic stay glued to their assignments, because once Gortat is beat, they would rather give up two points than allow the dangerous three-point shooters an easy look from the corner.
Bogut gives the Warriors a new dimension on this play, something that neither Festus Ezeli or Andris Biedrins are able to do at this point. Bogut’s ability to handle the ball as well as deliver the ball accurately to his teammates forces the defense to honor the three point line, and the Warriors get an easy bucket. Here’s the play in real time:
In this picture, we see Curry receiving the ball from Lee at the top of the arc. Curry started the play near where Thompson is in the picture, running across the lane, feinting towards the corner, then used a screen from Bogut to create space from his defender.
Markieff Morris is the only defender that could have prevented this pass, which leads to a made three-point shot by Curry. However, because of Lee’s ability to dribble with his strong hand, Morris has to stay in between Lee and the basket. Dragic cannot leave Thompson to help prevent a drive, and Scola isn’t leaving Bogut open for a quick cut to the rim. Even Beasley is unable to help, because Barnes has spread the floor with his outside shooting ability.
Even if Scola rotates past Bogut, and Morris guards against the cut to the post by Bogut, Lee can still pass to Curry, who would have an open lane to feed Bogut, who could only be matched by Beasley after Scola leaves him. That would result in either a shot opportunity near the rim, or a quick pass to the corner for a three-point shot by Barnes.
Bogut helps in this play because he has the quickness to jump out in front of Curry’s defender and set a legal screen that frees up a shooter who is making more than a few threes per game. The threat of him as a cutter and passer is what prevents the defense from overplaying Curry. Here’s the play in real-time:
Here, Bogut comes up top to set a screen for Curry with just seven seconds left on the shot clock. Gortat flashes above the three point line to help stop Curry from shooting a jumper, and Dragic chases Curry as well.
The Warriors run Lee to the elbow, and Bogut heads into the lane. Lee makes a quick touch pass, and Bogut has a scoring opportunity. You can see Jared Dudley reacting to the touch pass, which is a good play, due to the improbability of Thompson receiving the ball at this point. However, Bogut is capable of making that pass out to Thompson and ultimately Dudley has to pick his poison. He quickly fouls Bogut, preventing a shot attempt.
Unfortunately, Bogut is only a 57 percent foul shooter, and misses both freebies. Fortunately, that is a better mark than Ezeli (47 percent) and Biedrins (36 percent), so the Warriors have that going for them. Lee is confident that if he gives Bogut the ball, his teammate will be able to at least produce one point on the play – and who doesn’t want points? Here’s the play in real time:
Jack has two options – Curry curling around a screen on the weak side where he can work with Lee, or Thompson rolling around a Bogut screen. Either way, it’s just too easy – plus two points Golden State.
How does Bogut help? We already saw him free up Curry for a three, but this play is another good example. With Bogut out, the Warriors have been running those screens around Carl Landry and Lee, meaning that Lee often is busy jumping around on both ends of the floor trying to keep his team efficient. With Bogut on the floor, Lee can watch the action rotate around Bogut, and see positive consequences from his action. He also becomes more of a threat as a cutter away from the ball, something he excels at, because he doesn’t need to be involved in so much of the screening. Bogut not only tries to help spring Curry, but Thompson chases behind his point guard to find an open shot after the defense resets from successful denying Curry.
Also, the ball goes to a playmaker without ever touching Lee’s hands, where in the previous play, the action was drawn up to have Lee making the pass. With Lee and Curry as the second option, Jack knows that if Thompson is covered, the offense will still towards an efficient pairing in Lee and Curry on the left wing. Here’s the play in real-time:
These plays have shown what Bogut has helped with on offense – screens, passing, scoring – and we didn’t even look at offensive rebounding for when the Warriors do miss jump shots. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing this game after game as the Warriors continue their surprising season and look to continue pushing for a playoff spot for the first time since 2007.