Bogut, The Easy To Forget About (But Pretty Good) Big Man
Nick Young did me a favor last night. The rook helped me focus my attention on a player that I often forget about when he drove down the lane in the second quarter, cocked back the ball and jack-hammered a dunk over Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
Bogut was on the receiving end of one of the nastiest dunks of the season, but the fact that he would even contest the shot - and later stuffed Young on another dunk attempt - told me a lot about far the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft has come and how he continues to grow.
After the game, I asked Bogut about being in Young's second poster - the dunk over LeBron James should be on some kid's wall next year - and Bogut's answer told me even more about him. "I'm trying to be a bit more of a shot blocker this year," Bogut said with a shrug. "And if you're going to be a shot blocker, you're going to get dunked on."
Bogut has more blocks this season (109) than in his first two seasons combined (103) and ranks 11th in the NBA in blocks per game (1.7). It's just another facet of the game where Bogut continues to improve. He's scoring more points (13.5) and grabbing more rebounds (9.2) this season as well.
When folks talk about the future of the center position with Shaquille O'Neal no longer a dominant force, Bogut's name is rarely brought up. He plays for a mediocre team in Milwaukee, so there rarely is a reason to even think about him. But after watching Bogut score 23 points with 12 rebounds and three blocked shots against Washington, Bogut might have to be included in the discussion of the league's best young center over the next few years.
He hasn't donned a Superman cape like Dwight Howard. He didn't enter the league with the hype and hope of Greg Oden or Yao. Some might argue that Bogut isn't even the best center from his draft class named Andrew (Bynum would get a few votes). But at the very least, the 23-year-old, ambidextrous Australian should soon find himself as Howard's backup for the East in the All-Star Game.
This season, Bogut is finally getting attention for his game; not what he says (his comments about NBA players and their love of "bling bling" drew the ire of his peers, most notably the Wizards' Etan Thomas) or who he isn't (Chris Paul or Deron Williams). Milwaukee hosts the Utah Jazz tonight, and Bogut will surely hear more comments that the Bucks made the wrong choice three years ago.
"Deron and Chris are obviously the two biggest ones everyone looks at. They are probably two of the best point guards in the league, but I play a different role in Milwaukee," Bogut said. "Being the No. 1 pick, you have that scrutiny. But I'm not too worried about what people say.
"In that 2005 draft class, I think I was one of the best players at that time, coming out of college," Bogut said. "I definitely deserved to be up in the lottery by the career numbers I had in Utah. I think obviously, I wasn't able to produce 20 and 10 right away. It's definitely unrealistic given the situation I came into."
When Bogut joined the Bucks, the organization didn't really no how to use him. Milwaukee traded for Jamaal Magloire his rookie season, moved Bogut to power forward and his minutes fluctuated. And, with all-star Michael Redd being the focal point of the team, he rarely got touches on offense. The times he got the ball, Bogut said he was "being too much of a team player" and tried to find his teammates for open looks, rather than taking his one shots. Finally, he was told to go for his.
"If I had gone to a team like Atlanta [which had the No. 2 pick that season], maybe, where they didn't have a chance for the playoffs, it might have been a different story," Bogut said. "My development was definitely hindered my first two years in the league. At the same time, I think I'm moving along to where I need to be, to get to an all-star level. I have a lot of hard work to do to get there."
At 23-41, the Bucks are bound for another trip to the lottery this summer, but Bogut has been one of the few bright spots. He has had 10 games this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds - reaching the feat four times alone in the month of January. "I proved it, when the ball's coming inside, I can put up those numbers," Bogut said.
Bogut bounced back from what he called the "worst game of my career" on Tuesday at Verizon Center. He scored just one point in a blowout loss against Philadelphia on Sunday. The next day, Bogut took part in an optional practice. "He wanted to battle," Bucks Coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "He wanted to get the taste out of his mouth. I knew he wasn't going to stay down long."
Bogut scored 11 points in the fourth quarter against the Wizards, giving the Bucks a brief lead, but he couldn't keep them from losing for the fifth time in six games, 105-97.
Big men often develop later than perimeter players, and Krystkowiak noted that this would've been Bogut's rookie year had he stayed in college for four years. "Mentally, physically, he had a ways to go. He's going to be a great pro for a number of years and a very worthy No. 1 pick," Krystkowiak said. "He's in tune to everything. He's always on top of stuff, schemes, and wanting to talk about things and really helps us out from a staff point of view. I think he's going to be a great leader in this league once he gets a little more comfortable that he's not the new guy on the block."
Bogut was asked about being a leader on the Bucks, but said that if was difficult to assume such a role with the constant turnover since he joined the team. Many players on the Bucks are worried that the team is destined for another blowup this summer, with the future of general manager Larry Harris in question, and several observers believing that the team needs to start all over with just Bogut and Chinese rookie Yi Jianlian, who missed last night's game with a wrist injury.
"You got a new coach coming in again, probably a new GM, the way things are looking; the things you read on the internet," Bogut said. "Next year, it's going to be the same again. We are going to have to adjust to a new GM. That's the toughest part. No matter how many leaders you have, when you keep shuffling things around, you have six or seven new players each year, it doesn't help the chemistry of a team."
That probably won't keep Bogut from wanting to remain with the Bucks. He is eligible for a lucrative contract extension this summer. "I would definitely like to get extended," Bogut said, "but obviously, we also want to see the direction of the franchise. I think it's stable, but you want it to be more stable."
Either way, Bogut said he wouldn't stop working to improve. "I don't think you ever want to find a comfort zone," Bogut said. "I think that's when you start to drop off."
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