As the #1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Andrew Bogut has had his share of ups and downs in his career. Lofty draft status means heightened expectations, and when the seven-foot Australian missed most of last season with a back injury, a friend of mine declared that he was a bust.
While my buddy was no doubt just trying to tweak me — I’m a longtime Bucks fan — he did have something of a point. Deron Williams and Chris Paul went #3 and #4 in the same draft, and they were both already playing at an All-Star level. To that point, Bogut’s best season was his third, where he averaged 14-10 with 1.7 blocks in 35 minutes of playing time. He certainly wasn’t a bust, though he hadn’t lived up to his lofty expectations, either.
But Bogut has undergone something of a transformation over the last 12 months. His fine play this season — 16-11 on 53% shooting, 2.3 blocks (2nd in the league) — can be attributed to a few factors. First, Michael Redd is now out for the season after trying to come back from knee surgery, so head coach Scott Skiles has asked Bogut to carry a bigger load offensively. He has developed a terrific left hand hook, which has made him one of the league’s few “go-to” post players.
Secondly, the quickness and vision of Brandon Jennings has created easy opportunities for Bogut around the rim. While they’re not running as much of it as they were early in the season, the two are very adept at the pick-and-roll. Jennings has a good feel for when to deliver the pass, while Bogut has soft hands and the ability to finish at the rim.
Lastly, Bogut has stayed relatively healthy. He did miss six games in October, and Milwaukee went just 2-4 over that span. His presence is crucial to the Bucks’ rising playoff hopes. Over the last two months, he’s averaging 17-11 on 56% shooting along with 2.8 blocks per game. The Bucks have gone 17-10 in that span and have won five straight, including a 16-point win over the Knicks in which Bogut posted 24 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks. His monster game came against David Lee, who got an All-Star nod over Bogut a few short weeks ago.
But the thing I really like about him is his hard-nosed play. You wouldn’t think it, but the Aussie is a perfect match for Milwaukee’s blue-collar nature. He is very vocal for a big man and isn’t afraid to get on his teammates if the situation warrants it. He signed a five-year, $60 million extension without any drama, and if he continues on this career trajectory, he’ll be worth it. In response to the sometimes quiet atmosphere at the Bradley Center, he even created “Squad 6,” buying 100 lower level tickets and giving them away (via audition) to the loudest, rowdiest fans. After their game in Milwaukee, Mavs owner Mark Cuban said that they were the “most fun fans” that he’s seen on the road “ever.”
The Bucks were one of the few fringe playoff teams looking to add talent during this February’s trade deadline, and the trade for John Salmons has already paid dividends. If Bogut can keep up his stellar play and Jennings continues to develop, the Bucks could be a feisty #6 or #7 seed in this year’s playoffs. This is the Bogut-Jennings show now, and even in the dead of winter, there’s reason for optimism in Milwaukee.
Photo from fOTOGLIF