by Ed Burton
The NBA Finals may well be over by the time you read this.
Game 6 is to be played at 11am (Sydney time) Wednesday and if the Warriors can pull off another win in Cleveland, they will bring a title to their fans for the first time in 40 years.
That in itself would be quite an achievement, but what is even more remarkable is the way that they have done it.
For the last (at least) 2 seasons, the scouting report on the Warriors was that they were a title contender – if Andrew Bogut stays healthy.
That disclaimer was a big one because Bogut’s injury history has been pretty sketchy. He is undoubtedly a great defensive player, and one that the Warriors have built their system around. He has a very high Basketball IQ – a perfect fit for the Warriors – and while he is no longer at his physical peak, he uses his smarts to change shots, move off his man at the right times and generally protect the rim the way that you need a solid big man to do in today’s game. He was the man that people sighted when stating that this would be the 3rd straight NBA Finals series to feature an Aussie (#Rio2016). That is because prior to the beginning of this series, everyone had forgotten about Matthew Dellavedova.
That is completely understandable. Andrew Bogut was a number one draft pick. Matthew Dellavedova went undrafted. Bogut started all but 2 games that he played in this year. Matthew Dellavedova started just 13. Bogut made an All NBA Defensive Team. The team bus left without Delly the other day. It is easily understandable that you forgot about him!
So what odds do you think I could have gotten on a bet that Delly would play more NBA Finals minutes than Bogut had I placed that bet 2 weeks ago? Because as it stands, Bogut has played 73 minutes (of a possible 250) including a total of 3 minutes in the last 2 games combined, and Delly has played 165 minutes - and dear god has he taken the bull by the horns with this opportunity.
But that is not what this article is about. This is about the situation that Bogut finds himself in. He played just 3 minutes in game 4* and never left the bench in game 5 – both comfortable wins for the Warriors. To try and suggest that this is a blight on Bogut would be ridiculous. The series has morphed through the games and has become a small ball contest. Bogut simply doesn’t fit those tactics. But the interesting question is what does this do to the big Australian’s value to the Warriors?
This is a team that has the leagues’ MVP and Bogut was constantly referred to as the lynch pin in their title hopes. So if the best that they have looked, on the biggest stage that there is, is in this small ball line-up, then just how crucial is Bogut? Or perhaps another way they may look at it, is how expendable is he? It is a question that I have heard over the last week more than I should have. It seems that people quickly forget how the Warriors got here. Would you like to take on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with just Draymond Green as your only big man? I didn’t think so. What about Dwight Howard? Do you think he could break Kareem’s 100 points record when he is the biggest guy on the court by half a foot?** The Warriors may not need Bogut to win this NBA title, but they need him to get there. Getting through the West is the real test at this point, given the make-up of the league, and until that changes, Bogut is still indispensable to Golden State.
One last note on the supposed god-like series of Lebron carrying the weight of the whole team and the struggles of Steph Curry to get a decent shot going.
Has it really been so long since NBA fans have seen a team succeed playing team basketball and not having one guy "take over" and try to do everything for his team, that we don't recognise that the set up of the Warriors is specifically done to avoid this burden on one player? Sure, Lebron is averaging almost a triple double for the series, but he handles the ball on EVERY POSSESSION THAT HE IS ON THE COURT. His shooting has been wildly inefficient, but he continues to take over 30 shots a game. He has either the final pass or shot on so many Cleveland possessions that is almost harder for him NOT to be getting 8 assists per game. He almost cost the Cavs the match (and series) in game 2 as he just kept jacking up miss after miss and forcing a game that the had wrapped up into overtime. His numbers are amazing. Almost unprecedented. But he is not playing as well as the media wants you to think he is.
Conversely, Steph Curry is still doing what he does. He is averaging more PPG in the finals than he did in the regular season, he has missed just a single free throw and yes, he had a bad game in game 2. He shot 22% from the field on 23 shots. In the same game James shot 31% on 35 shots and was lauded for a magical performance. Lebron missed more shots than Curry even took in that game yet it is seen as a blight on Curry and everyone overlooks lebron's shortcomings. I don't get it. Steph's turnovers have been a problem, but they are no different to the types of passes that he has thrown all year, only his teammates hit their spots then, and under the finals pressure they aren't always getting there.
The point is that Lebron has not been as good as they will tell you, and Steph has not been as bad. James is shooting less than 40% from the field. Curry is shooting over 40% from the 3 point line. Can we end this media driven madness now? Thanks
*Though he did manage to participate in the play where LeBron stupidly injured himself trying to flop and get a technical foul on Bogut. Seems just to me.
**He wouldn’t. Because in spite of it being his only major flaw (besides giving a shit) he hasn’t been able to fix his free throw shooting