Tag Archives: Luol Deng

How good is Andrew Bogut? Bucks center is only entering his prime

He’s only 25 years old, and has improved with every season of his five-year NBA career, to the point where he was an obvious All-Pro selection and easy choice on the NBA All-Defensive team. In “the land of the giants” there are two: Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut.  A broken hand only changes this fact of NBA life for the time beng as the Bucks center plays into his prime.  Yet in reading the many great tributes to Bogut’s 2010 season written since his season-ending injuries Saturday, you’d think AB had been permanently crippled, or worse.

How good has Andrew Bogut become? Prior to the 2009-10 season, I predicted the Bucks would win 33 or 34 games, while struggling with their rookie point guard and dealing with the health and uncoachability of Michael Redd. I figured they would finish anywhere from 10th-12th in the East, better than a lot of NBA junkies had them if only because coach Scott Skiles would demand the kind of intensity and defensive commitment that would keep them in a lot of games. Playoffs? Forget it. 

There were however, two big IFs that could (and would) put the Bucks in playoff contention: IF Brandon Jennings could exceed expectations and IF Bogut returned from his career-threatening lower back injury and established himself as an All-Star center. Jennings delivered and helped get the Bucks off to a good start. But by mid-January it still hadn’t quite happened for Bogut. Almost, but not every night. For many Bucks fans and even Bogut’s coach, Scott Skiles, the tendency was to focus on the tough nights: a couple of bad games vs. Big Ben Wallace, a rough night against Brendan Haywood and the Wiz, foul trouble against the monsters of Cleveland, the usual struggles vs. Sam Dalembert (why didn’t AB make the All-Star team? Four coach votes in the East right there weren’t going his way and the Bucks hadn’t played the Heat or Hawks yet; and I’m pretty sure Larry Brown voted for Al Horford). Then there were six games missed in late November with a strained/bruised left leg that raised questions about whether the Bucks would ever get into a rhythm playing with their center.

By January, Bogut finally got healthy and the big IF happened. More than anything, it happened on defense as Bogut became active in the paint night in night out. Whereas before he was tentative on the help, Bogut was rising up to challenge every shot that came through the paint. The Skiles defense is simple: 1) Apply constant pressure on the ball; 2) Show help but don’t leave your man – no switching on picks or double teams; 3) Let no shot go unchallenged.  This funnels drives to the bucket but doesn’t create a great deal of rotating help for a center leaving his man to go for a block. Bogut had to learn how to play like the help didn’t matter, to challenge above the rim instead of positioning to take charges (a habit he’s had to break), and he did.

Bogut blocked 40 shots in JanuaryMILWAUKEE - APRIL 08: Andrew Bogut #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks wears a mask over a broken nose suffered earlier in the season during a game against the Boston Celtics on April 8, 2008 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Celtics defeated the Bucks 107-104 in overtime. From Getty Images., 39 in February and in March 44 (in 14 games for a league-leading avg. of 3.14 bpg). Suddenly he appeared in the Top 5 of the NBA defensive ratings and stayed there. By mid-March he had separated from the pack behind Howard, and then there were two. There was Dwight all alone at the top, his Magic giving up 95.0 pts per 100 possessions when he’s in the game; and there was Bogut and the Bucks at #2, allowing 97.9 pts per 100, the only other player/team under 99 or 98. This was mirrored on the blocked shots leader board (Howard 2.8 bpg, Bogut 2.5, Haywood a distant 3rd with 2.1).

Bogut’s Bucks are the best defense in the league … when Dwight Howard is eating, resting, sleeping, playing X-box with D-Wade or Chuck, messing with his i-phone, doing anything other than stepping on an NBA court for the Magic. The stats are there: Add the steals and charges to the equation and Bogut’s been averaging more than 4+ denials per game since January. But more importantly, Bogut — like Howard — is the literal, psychological and strategic center of everything his team does defensively. They’re real NBA centers in the throwback meaning of the position; they’ve become a rare breed.

The rebounding was always there (10.2 rpg, 10th in the NBA, top 10 in rebounding percentage). The offense is improving all the time. The left-handed jump hook is softer than the right but he shoots both with ease. He’s facing up opposing centers and taking them to the hoop this season. He’s not afraid to take a 12-foot jump shot anymore (in the 2008 Olympics he was hitting 3-pointers for the Aussies, so look for his face-up shooting to become more of a weapon in seasons-to-come).

AB has always been one of the best passing big men in the NBA, with Tim Duncan being the only other center I can think of who’s good for the occasional behind-the-back bounce pass to a cutting teammate. Even the free throws are finding the bottom of the net. After a bad start at the line, Bogut has made 66% (108-158) in the new year, signs that he’s outgrowing the Dwight-Shaq liability at the line. No, his 15.9 pts per game doesn’t scream All-Pro and he’s not a particularly efficient scorer as far as big men go (his 52% shooting could be better).  But his scoring line is fairly consistent — if Bogut is scoring 15 or more against you, chances are the Bucks are winning the game (in the 40 Bucks wins he played in, Bogut averaged 17.7 ppg), and they’re doing it primarily with defense.

Star power: Andrew Bogut in action for the Bucks.The bottom line is that the Bucks were winning. Much has been made of the acquisition of John Salmons at the trading deadline, and true, Salmons made the Bucks complete and dangerous, a good shot to make it to the East semis before Bogut’s fall. And too much has been made (in Milwaukee, anyway) of the Jerry Stackhouse pick up. The Bucks and Bogut had turned it around in mid-January during a long, six-game road trip West and were 8-4 in the 12 games leading up to the trading deadline. The Bucks had already righted their season when Salmons joined the team, and their center, the #1 pick that the team is building its future around, was playing like an All-Pro.

It really is a shame that fans won’t get to see Bogues in the playoffs this season — and it’s a shame that the Celtics and Hawks frontlines will miss him … this time.  Bogut’s only 25 years old.  A broken right paw isn’t going to limit his mobility or stop his left handed hook.  It’s not a knee injury or anything at all like the lower back injury that ended his 2009 season. The surgery was successful, the bones in his hand will heal, his dislocated elbow will knit, and he’ll be as good as new by late summer, probably playing for Basketball Australia in the world games. He can begin rehab in six weeks, according to Bucks doctors.

Come next fall, AB will be the same All-Pro center who was leading the Bucks into the 2010 playoffs, only better. One constant of Andrew Bogut’s career is that he has improved some aspect of his game every season of his five in the league, whether it was blocking shots in 2010, learning Skiles’ defense last season, or developing parts of his offensive game.

“Get used to this guy Bogut,” TNT analyst Kenny Smith said in March after Bogut scored 25 pts, grabbed 17 rebs and blocked 4 shots in a Bucks win over the Celtics. “He’s going to be in the league a long, long time.”

BUCKS vs. BULLS pregame:  You can’t blame Joakim Noah if he’s relieved about Bogut’s absence from tonight’s game in Chicago. In three previous games against Noah and the Bulls this season, Bogut averaged 21.7 pts, 13.7 rebs, 4.3 blocks, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. Bogut was a beast against Chicago, and the Bucks are 2-1 on the season series, the Bulls eking out a 4th quarter win in the 3rd game of the season, just days after the Michael Redd experiment fell apart once again.  Noah was held to 4 pts in that N0v. 3 matchup. 

But now what?  The Bucks have activated backup center Dan Gadzuric, but don’t expect him to play much. Most of the post responsibilities will fall to Kurt Thomas, who’s biggest concern will be staying out of foul trouble against Noah. Bucks forwards Ersan Ilayasova and defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute will be asked to do more in the paint, and that’s not a bad thing for the Bucks. Ilyasova is a matchup problem for the Bulls.

This’ll be John Salmons’ first game against his old teammates. One hallmark of the earlier matchups was Salmons vs.  Charlie Bell‘s pressure-cooker defense, which obviously can’t happen now that Salmons is in Bell’s starting spot. Now it’ll be Salmons vs. Kirk Hinrich, one of the NBA’s best defensive 2-guards and a Skiles protege.  Hinrich and point guard Derrick Rose are logging heavy minutes on the Bulls desperate push for the playoffs and are coming off a 50 point game against Charlotte (Bulls won).  Luol Deng is back for the Bulls after missing most of March with a thigh strain and is also playing heavy minutes, as is rookie forward Taj Gibson.  Noah and Brad Miller split the center minutes.

Hak Warrick gets some PT in the rotation, but the Bulls are essentially a six-man team on their playoff drive. And Rose wants badly to be in Cleveland for Round 1. The Bucks will have a tough time keeping him out of the paint, which is where Rose’ll be headed in the absence of Bogut. The Bucks can clinch their playoffs, though not their position, with a win.  This is going to be one intense game.

“Forget Gordon, I miss Skiles”: That’s the view from Chicago blogger i94 Sports, going down memory lane to two-and-a-half years ago when Skiles lost the Bulls and was fired, or they lost him and he quit, or … nobody’s quite sure what happened but the Bulls and Skiles parted ways amid talk that he had worn the team out. Luol Deng and Ben Wallace trouble? The better approach would have been to fire the players and keep Skiles, i-94 says:

“Some times, I think all the “Bulls miss Ben Gordon” stories would have been more accurately aimed at a certain former head coach. Just imagine if Derrick Rose had a coach who stressed defense for the last two seasons.”

You don’t have to Chicago – just watch Brandon Jennings.

Charlie, you’re such a dumb-twit: He’s at it again, twitting over Tweeter, tweeting on Twitter. Charlie V just can’t twit it. Apparently “something” happened at the Pistons practice yesterday and now Charlie Villanueva is very upset (apparently at coach John Kuester) and tweeted about his frustrations, and rookie forward Austin Daye has something to say on Twitter too. He’s “twisted” mad. 

Remember two years ago when Larry Krystkowiak challenged Charlie to a fight in a practice and called him a wuss when he backed down? “Some powere forward you are, Charlie,” or something like that. Oh, the memories. And that great Charlie V work ethic! Such a pro, this Detroit Pistons forward is. Need4Sheed.com is all over it.

Detroit – he’s all yours now.

Nellie ties Wilkins… Moments of truth for Raptors, Bosh

There’s only so much thinking one can do about Andrew Bogut’s season ending injuries. So yesterday I spent the afternoon and early evening watching the Celtics-Cavs, Lakers-Spurs and the piece de resistance in the Warriors-Raptors game:  Don Nelson’s record-tying 1,332nd win as an NBA head coach.

I realize that rooting against the Raptors only serves  Derrick Rose on his mission to make the playoffs,  which in turn lowers the Bucks 1st round pick in the 2010 draft due to the pick swap that was part of the John Salmons trade. But this was about Don Nelson, our Nellie, the coach who took over the “Green and Growing” Bucks after the 1975 Kareem trade and built a decade-long legacy of winning that still stands as the Bucks franchise heyday, NBA championship or no. Nellie won 536 games in Milwaukee (40% of his total), as the Marques-and-Sidney, Sidney-and-Cummings Bucks averaged 54 wins per season 1980-87. The Bucks playoffs series’ with the great Sixers and Celtics teams became the stuff of legend, along with the coach, his players and those fish ties of his. Nellie loved being in Milwaukee; the city loved him.

A championship yet eludes Nelson, and with the Warriors up for sale, this could be his last season as an NBA head coach. Sunday he tied Lenny Wilkens (Sonics, Cavs, Hawks) for the most wins in NBA coaching history. One more win and Nellie goes down in history. With games against the Wiz, the T-Wolves and the Clippers on tap for the Warriors this week, I’m looking forward to win #1,333.

The Raptors (38-38) are a game ahead of the Bulls (37-39) and hold the tie-breaker. But after watching the Raptors lose a 113-112 shootout at home to the 23-win Warriors Sunday, a day after they did all they could to give away a game in OT to the 26-win Sixers,  I’d have to say the Bulls have the upper hand in the race for 8th. The Raptors predictably ran a track meet with the Warriors (exactly what Golden State likes) and were helpless to defend a 39-point barrage from 3-point land in digging a 12-point 4th quarter hole. A furious comeback led by Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack fell just short when Sonny Weems, doing his best Larry Bird vs. the Pistons in the 1987 playoffs imitation, stole the inbound under the Golden State basket, passed underneath to Bosh as he fell out of bounds  …  and Bosh blew the layup at the buzzer. 

The young Warriors jumped around a smiling, dancing Nelson in celebration of win #1,332, Bosh (42 pts, 12 rebs) knelt along the baseline, head buried in his arms, Bird-to-DJ moment denied. … Steph Curry was brilliant for the Warriors, nearly putting up the season’s 2nd rookie triple double: 29 pts, 8 rebs, 12 assists.

The Raptors would probably make the playoffs splitting their last six games but that’s looking more and more difficult for this team. A good half of the Raptors rotation, Hedo Turkoglu included, looks ready for the season to end — and for free agent Bosh to move on to Act II of his career, which could very well be set in Chicago.

Derrick Rose Tank?  There was nothing for the Bulls to tank for after agreeing to swap draft picks with the Bucks, and they’re too good to fall in with the ping counters of the league anyway. Maybe that was the point all along in Chicago agreeing to the swap. That, and knowing that when picking in the teens and lower, it’s not so much where you draft as it is who you draft. The Bulls are reminded of this every day, watching their #26 pick overall pick in last summer’s draft, forward Taj Gibson, outperform the hobbled big forward they drafted ahead of Gibson at #16, James Johnson.  And then there’s 2008 #8 pick Joe Alexander wearing a suit on the Chicago bench, nothing if not a reminder of what can go wrong with a top 10 draft pick. For now, the draft can wait — Derrick Rose wants a playoff spot and we’ll all be better for it, Chris Bosh and the Raptors included.

The Bulls beat Charlotte Saturday and host the Bucks in Chicago Tuesday, the Bucks’ first game since losing Bogut for the season. This was going to be a tough game for the Bucks at full strength, the first game for John Salmons against the teammates he began the season with. With Luol Deng back in the lineup for the Bulls, and without Bogut to give Joakim Noah fits in the post… well, it’ll still be a Bucks-Bulls game, one that both teams need coming down the stretch. The Bucks can clinch a playoff spot with a win, which would also go a long way toward holding off the Bobcats for the 6th seed in the East.

Speaking of tanking: Nobody but nobody tanks quite like the Clippers. They’ve embarassed themselves at home against the Warriors and Knicks in the last five games, loafing through a three game road trip in between. Nobody even told the Knicks they had never beaten the Clippers in the Staples Center before Sunday’s game, and now no one has to.

Ray Allen: Lebron James had 42 pts and led the Cavs back from a 23-pt second half deficit after taking over offensive point guard duties. But the day belonged to Ray, who scored 26 pts on 17 shots (not including free throws) compared to Lebron’s 28 pts on 32 shots. Ray was 6-9 from the behind the arc, James 0 for 9 as the Celtics won in Boston, 117-113.  It’s good to see Ray shooting well since the All-Star break, bad news for Celtics playoff opponents. This has been his worst shooting year since 2003 when he shot 35% from three-point land after being traded from the Bucks to the Sonics. But since the All-Star break, Ray’s been back to his usual self, hitting 40.3% (54-134) . If he’s on, the Celtics are still one of the toughest teams to beat in the NBA (as the Cavs were reminded yesterday), a problem that becomes magnified in a seven game playoff series.

With two games against the Bucks ahead and the Hawks with the lighter schedule, the Celtics seemed a lock for the 4th playoff seed in the East. Now that Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett will miss Bogut, the Celtics may be inclined to win out the season. If I were a betting man, though, I’d take the Bucks to win a split vs. the C’s despite the disadvantage in the paint.

Carlos Delfino has a website. But it’s in Spanish, so I can’t really tell you what he’s been telling the fans back in Argentina. It’s good to see him back in the lineup, though, recovered from the neck and head injuries that forced him to miss three games last week. I didn’t see this in the Milwaukee media over the weekend but AP talked to Delfino about his comeback game Friday against the Bobcats (14 points after a rocky start) and the injury itself. Interesting conversation, as the reporter knew more about what happened to Carlos than Carlos did — he doesn’t remember the rebound play under the Bucks basket or the foot of Udonis Haslem in his neck and head area. That would be the foot now referred to as Haslem’s “inadvertant” foot.

I hope to hell we’ve seen the last of the freak injuries to Bucks players this season.

Image: Brian ButchBrian Butch to sign with the Nuggets:  Ridiculous Upside’s been keeping tabs on Butch’s progress with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League and it seemed only a matter of time before somebody picked up the 6’11” Badger and his reliable 3-point shooting. The big man they call Polar Bear was averaging 18 and 12 for the Jam and was the MVP of the D-League All-Star game.  Butch had been playing as an independent, without an NBA contract, but all that’s about to change as the Nuggets announced they’ve agreed to terms for the rest of the season (and playoffs), as well as a non-guaranteed contract next season.

The Nuggets are thin in the front court with big forward Kenyon Martin’s recuperating knee and an ankle injury to the Birdman, Chris Anderson. Butch may or may not be on the Nuggets 13-man playoff roster, but he is eligible because he is not coming to Denver from an NBA roster (unlike PF Darnell Jackson, whom the Bucks picked up off of waivers from Cleveland).  Also on the Nuggets roster are 7-footer Johan Petro and veteran Malik Allen, a Buck last season. Butch will be the 14th player on the roster.

The Nuggets have been expecting Martin to return for the playoffs, but comments he made last week cast some doubt on whether his knee is making much progress.  The Birdman’s sprained ankle seems to have compounded the need for an additional big man, prompting Denver to make a move.