As Jon Leuer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. made the most of their debuts with the Milwaukee Bucks during the team’s first pre-season game, when I eventually had my opportunity to watch the game, I couldn’t help but focus on something else.
This season is nothing if not an opportunity for Andrew Bogut.
Because as much as it’s nice to see Dunleavy Jr. hit some threes and look healthy, and as fun as it was to see Leuer make shots, get to the line and make the right plays, it all doesn’t matter if Bogut isn’t two things: Healthy and reliable.
It’s been so long since we watched Bucks basketball, and been even longer since we watched meaningful Bucks basketball. The lockout dragged on long enough that even the most meaningless of moves became exciting when the season returned. But watching Kevin Love hit threes, grab boards and score with ease was a reminder after a long summer that the Bucks still don’t have a superstar.
They do have Bogut though. Bogut exists in that space few player occupy. He can win the Bucks a game by himself when he’s scoring because he’s such a force defensively. But that depends on him being healthy enough to be an impact scorer. Without that, this season becomes a lot less interesting. But as much as everyone else wants Bogut to stay healthy, he wants it even more.
“It’s frustrating to be labeled with that,” Bogut said in response to a question regarding him being injury prone, when he was participating in his annual “How healthy are you?” question and answer session back at media day.
“At the same time now I have motivation now to try and come back and prove that I can stay injury free for a whole season. First and foremost on my mind is playoffs. With that, with success of the team, I think the All-Star stuff will come.”
Don’t interpret that as Bogut saying he doesn’t want to be on an all-star team though. Because he does. He recognizes the way the system works. Bogut wants to be on a winning team again. He loved that stretch the Bucks had in February and March of 2009 before his elbow exploded. Right now, that was the pinnacle of his career. But he feels he can do that again. And if he can, if the Bucks can, he knows he’ll be an all-star again.
“I don’t want to be on a team that doesn’t make the playoffs and get an all-star spot because I think that’s pointless,” he said.
But there’s a reason everyone asks Bogut every few minutes how he’s feeling, like he’s a visiting uncle with a stomach problem. He played 82 games as a power forward in his rookie season, but that was the only full season Bogut’s been able to string together. Since then he’s played in 66, 78, 36, 69 and 65 games. It isn’t the nagging injuries from 2008 that have everyone on edge though. It’s that elbow.
When asked where he wants to be this season, Bogut said: “I need to try to be more of a scorer. last year my confidence scoring wise was really bad, with the injury. I just wasn’t playing as well offensively. I think defensively I’m one of the best in the league at my position. I think the next step for me is, instead of averaging 12, try to average 15, 16, 17 points per game and be an anchor down there.”
Most guys can’t just roll into a new season and tack on an additional five points per game, but most guys aren’t coming into a new season with an additional limb either.
“I was just going left all season last year and still put up 12 a game,” Bogut said. “I think just getting my elbow healthy was the most important thing and getting the confidence to shoot an open jumper and get to the basket. And obviously free throws were a cross against my name, my free throw shooting last year was terrible. Those are the three things I need to focus on the most.”
And if Bogut can’t be that guy, can’t be the anchor he wants, I’m not certain just where the anchor will be, but we’ll certainly see Milwaukee sink this season.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.