Last year he was snubbed. First by the Eastern conference coaches, some of them anyway, content to name Hawks big forward Al Horford as the East’s reserve center. Then Commissioner David Stern took his turn, choosing the Knicks’ David Lee over Bogut to replace injured Kevin Garnett, a nod to New York the media market as much as it was to Lee’s scoring and rebounding numbers.
Milwaukee’s just too damn small. If Bogut was outplaying Lee and scoring 22 on a Friday night in November, nobody noticed. If All-Star is about winning, the Knicks hadn’t, and still haven’t taken a game against the Bucks since March of 2009.
The Bucks did win — 30 of their last 43 games last season and a run to a seven-game series against the Hawks. They were 40-29 with Bogut in the lineup in 2010, before his horrific fall last March, resulting in a broken, mangled arm and the end of Bogut’s best season as a pro.
The scoring was there, above average if not All-Star: 15.9 pts per game on 52 % shooting.
The defense, for those who care about defense, was superlative. Bogut last season led the NBA in Defensive Plays, with 3.82 blocked shots, steals and charges taken per game. He was second to Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in blocked shots (2.5 per game) and Defensive Rating (98.1 team points allowed per 100 possessions).
Add 10.2 rebounds and it was good enough for the All-NBA 3rd Team.
This season, Bogut again leads the NBA in Defensive Plays with a low estimate of 3.7 per game (the charges taken not accounted for), leads the NBA in shot blocking (2.8 bpg) and is 6th in Defensive Rating. Is it enough to get him to the All-Star game?
His 13.4 points per game say “no” — but his 11.7 rebounds per game (5th in the NBA) say, “yes.”
But those are merely the stats. Bogut is not only the anchor of the Bucks defense but the heart and soul of a team that has in 2011 been ravaged by injuries while playing the most difficult schedule in the NBA, based on opponent record. They’ve won 19, lost 27 but are just a half game out of a playoff spot in the East and closing, looking up at teams that have played much softer schedules. Bogut is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
As the NBA reached the late January halfway mark and prepared to unveil the 2011 All-Star starters, the Bucks turned in a horrendous 2nd quarter in Chicago, were never really in the game afterward and found themselves at their lowest point, a 16-26 record, 13.5 games behind the Bulls. They desperately needed to make a statement that their 2011 season wasn’t over, and they made it the following night in Milwaukee, beating the Atlanta Hawks, 98-90.
There were no earth shattering, SportsCenter highlight dunks from Bogut in the victory, but he hauled in 14 rebounds and took a charge and blocked a shot that turned the momentum the Bucks way at the end of the second quarter. In the 4th, when the game was on the line, the Bucks limited the Hawks to 1 for 14 shooting for 9 minutes and held them to 15 points in the quarter. The 2nd quarter block and ensuing fast break would find its place on the NBA highlight reels for the week, a fitting statement for the defense-first season Bogut has had.
Defense wins games, and a center’s job is to anchor the defense and control the traffic in the paint. Among NBA centers, Bogut has only defensive rival: the Magic’s Howard, of course, perennial All-Star and the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Honors aside, Howard and Bogut have a lot in common: They are true centers in a league that has drifted to the 3-point line, and they are established defensive forces on the basketball court.
Unfortunately, the matter of “what’s a center?” is not resolved in the All-Star selection system. Horford and other “centers” such as Lee, Andrea Bargnani and Marcus Camby, log most of their minutes at power forward, especially when matched up against a Bogut or Howard. The coaches must name one reserve center on the conference All-Star teams, and, as evidenced by last season’s vote for Horford, the reserve center doesn’t have to be a full time center.
“[Bogut]’s probably more of a true center than a lot of the other guys that people have talked about at that position,” said Howard’s coach, Stan Van Gundy, last season after Bogut was snubbed. “Most of them are power forwards playing up a position, while he’s like Dwight, more of a true center. I don’t think there’s any question he’s an all-star caliber guy. But when you’re picking 24 guys out of 400 in the league, it gets difficult.”
There is competition for the East’s All-Star reserve spot. Shaquille O’Neal, still “The Diesel” in limited minutes for the East-leading Celtics, was second in fan voting, due largely to both the largess of Shaq and the Celtics’ East-leading record. Bulls center Joakim Noah, third in the fan voting, was off to a strong start with the Bulls before a broken hand sidelined him until after the All-Star break.
Roy Hibbert was scoring 16 points per game for the Pacers early in the season but has tapered off. Brook Lopez of the Nets is scoring 18+ points per game, but the Nets are losing and Lopez can’t seem to grab a rebound (only 6 per game, half of Bogut and Howard’s haul). The Raptors Andrea Bargnani scores 21.4 pts per game but spends an awful lot of time far outside the paint — he’s actually list in most places as a forward.
That leaves Bogut, 4th in fan voting, his scoring down (12.9 ppg) this season as he slowly makes his way back to 100% after last season’s injury. Bogut, whose Bucks aren’t winning as much as most preseason prognosticators had predicted. Bogut, the 3rd Team All-NBA center after last season, the 11th leading vote getter in the All-NBA balloting.
Bogut, leading the league in blocked shots and Defensive Plays, and one of the league’s top 5 rebounders. Howard, of course, is top 5 in those categories, and is an All-Star. He’ll start the 2011 game at center.
Not to say that Horford does not deserve All-Star recognition (he does, moreso than any other Hawk), but Horford is not in the top 10 in any of those categories. But then, Al Horford is not a center.
In the NBA, circa 2011, Andrew Bogut is a center. As a center plying his trade in the Eastern Conference, he’s earned the honor of backing up Dwight Howard at the 2011 All-Star game.