Positional Review: The Centers

(We’re back.  After a week long hiatus, Bucksketball will be back in full effect this week, starting with a rundown of Milwaukee’s center production this season.  We’ll look ahead this week and see where the Bucks need to patch up some holes in a roster full of them this off-season later in the week.  -JS)
Good
  • The Defense of Andrew Bogut

We all know the 2010-11 season wasn’t one completely lost like some Bucks seasons in the middle of the past decade.  This wasn’t a team hopeless on both sides of the ball.  A 102.5 defensive rating was good enough for fourth in the league and eighth in team history.  This was a team that often showed incredible chemistry defensively, only to come back down on the other end and look like they’d never met each other, let alone played basketball together.  How could this so frequently appear to be the case?

Andrew Bogut.

One way or another, Bogut finished defensive possessions as well as any center in the NBA not named Dwight Howard. Bogut became the first player not named Howard or Camby to lead the league in blocked shots since 2004-05.  Not only did he regularly toss away shots, but he kept them in bounds and posted a 27.1 defensive rebound rating.  Offensive possessions died in the hands of Bogut on a regular basis all season long.  Whenever a team has a sequoia like Bogut parked underneath the hoop, it allows perimeter defenders to play more aggressively.  That’s how guys like Carlos Delfino end up snatching up a career high 1.6 steals per game.

Milwaukee allowed 101.9 points per 100 possessions with Bogut on the court and saw that number drop to 105.5 when he watched from the sidelines.  For some perspective, that essentially is the difference between the yearly contender Bucks of the early 80s and the plucky overachieving, but not really good Bucks of Terry Porter’s first season.

Bad

  • The Lack of Back(up)

Milwaukee gambled coming into the season with just undersized Jon Brockman and under-experienced Larry Sanders as backups to Bogut.  In a pinch, it seemed like Drew Gooden would be able to slide down and bear some of the load behind him as well, but as the starting power forward, Gooden’s load was already pretty heavy.  Looking down the bench, it seemed as though Brockman and Sanders would log the majority of the minutes behind a guy coming back from a horrific elbow injury.  To say the least, it seemed cause for concern before the season.

The concern was justified.  The deficiencies we all worried about in both Brockman and Sanders turned out to be as bad as anyone expected.  Between them, they logged 22% of the minutes at center and had PERs at the position of 8.2 and 11.9 respectively while manning the middle.  Brockman saw a team high 12.5% of his shots rejected as he battled much larger players underneath.  He used his positioning skills well, regularly drawing a charge per game by season’s end, but in the NBA, all the positioning in the world can only get you so far.  When Sanders was drafted, Milwaukee spoke glowingly of his length and size and the team’s need for an injection of both.   Then the front office walked out the door and added a 6-foot-6 backup center.

For all Sanders’ natural abilities, he often seemed to require too much time to process information, as is the case with so many rookies.  He missed rotations and was a step slow too often for Coach Scott Skiles to throw him in the mix regularly all season.  Sanders shot-blocking skills allowed him to make up a lot of ground off the ball, even when he was a step late: he led the team with three blocks per 36 minutes.  On the ball, Sanders propensity to fall for fakes and slim build caught up to him regularly.  Opposing centers logged a 20.5 PER against him, leaving him with a net -8.5 at the position.

With two young players effectively splitting the role Kurt Thomas played, Milwaukee saw less production on the court, and suffered in the locker room as well.  The season long search for someone to fill the leadership void created when Thomas left likely went right over the heads of the goofy Sanders and Brockman, two young players who could hardly be asked to speak up on things they’ve yet to experience.

  • Offensive Bogut

Some injuries you need to go through to know what it’s like.  Plantar fasciitis doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but tell that to anyone that’s had it.  It’s not as simple as putting a band-aid over it and walking it off.  Other injuries, you don’t need to go through to know there going to require more than a little dirt and a stiff upper lip.  Bogut’s elbow explosion qualifies as one of those injuries.  So perhaps hopes were a bit high for him coming into the season.

A summer off didn’t cure all that ailed the big man and that was reflected in his offense.  Bogut struggled from the line all season, sinking a career low 44.2% of his free throws.  But his elbow struggles were most evident early in the season, as Bogut all but eliminated his right hand from his arsenal.  As more of a craftsman than a cannonball inside, Bogut requires both hands to be working for him to be as effective on offense.  His touch is what sets him apart in the same way Howard’s athleticism does for him.  Without that touch in his right hand, Bogut was pedestrian on offense for the majority of the season.  For the first time in his career, he made less than 50% of his shots.

He seemed to find his way in the final month before shutting down for some more work on the elbow, scoring 14.8 points a night on 55.5% shooting in March.  If Bogut comes back healthy next season, the burden on the rest of the Bucks offense lessens and the Bucks suddenly look a little bit more like the team everyone feared at this time last year.

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com.  Follow him on Twitter then become a fan on Facebook (on the right).

I watch the Milwaukee Bucks often and write about what I see…

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