ESPN and Grantland’s Bill Simmons, a tremendous hoops writer with a vocabulary all his own, once popularized the term “Ewing Theory”, which refers to the idea that, sometimes, a team plays much better without a star or big name in the lineup. While the Golden State Warriors often haven’t played well enough with anyone in the lineup over the last two decades to have the theory apply, 2012-13 may be different.
Andrew Bogut hasn’t played like the seven-foot, down-low dynamo Golden State thought it was acquiring when it dealt guard Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks last March. The big man from Australia has found himself in civies more frequently than he’s found himself in double figures, and hasn’t transformed the Warriors into the tough rebounding squad many expected when the trade went down.
Actually, Golden State may have achieved the latter all without Bogut. The Warriors are third in the NBA in total rebounding with nearly 45 boards per contest, in a season that has seen Bogut play just 12 of his team’s 56 games. In those 12 games, Golden State’s center has only recorded two double-digit rebounding efforts.
The results of the games themselves also seem to suggest that, perhaps, the Warriors are a better team without Bogut in the fold; or, at the least, that the style of play they developed in his absence isn’t as effective with him on the floor. Entering Tuesday’s road game against Indiana, Golden State (33-23 overall) is 6-6 with Bogut as its starting center. I have total faith in your ability to do simple math, but just in case you’re like me and suffering from debilitating headaches, they’re ten games above .500 with Bogut in a suit and tie.
It didn’t appear as though Bogut was negatively affecting the Warriors at the outset of his return. In fact, Golden State–which went 2-2 in the four games its center played in the opening days of the season–won the first three contests Bogut played in after returning from the ankle injury that sidelined him for nearly three months.
But then the team’s worst stretch of the year arrived. The Warriors didn’t win a game in a two-week span, dropping six in a row and allowing their opponents an average of 117.5 points per game during the swoon. Bogut played in four of the six, adhering to his “no back-to-backs” plan designed to ease his ankle back into regular action.
The idea was to have Bogut help the Warriors win a game here and there until he could return to full strength, but the strategy backfired. While Bogut was rehabbing, Golden State morphed into a lightning quick, yet efficient team on both ends of the floor. The Warriors found immense success using that style, starting the year better than they had since before Stephen Curry was born.
But once Bogut came back, and Golden State started to play tougher competition (two of their initial three victories after Bogut’s return came against the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns), the team couldn’t adapt. Instead of pushing things on the offensive end and relying on “stick to ‘em like glue” defense on the other, Curry and company slowed themselves down and were forced to play more passively. It didn’t help that Bogut was playing with limited mobility. As a result, opponents feasted on wide open looks from the field and capitalized on the now-available option of forcing the Warriors into poor shots after long possessions.
Now, Golden State will have to re-adjust. Bogut is out “indefinitely” after experiencing back spasms before the team’s rousing victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. An MRI revealed a protruding disc, a dent in the armor that will likely keep Bogut out for at least a few weeks.
“It’s a devastating development for a Warriors team trying to find its defensive footing since falling apart in early February,” wrote CBSSports.com senior blogger Matt Moore. “Maybe he’ll only miss a few weeks. But it sure is a concern.”