Australia started the knockout rounds with a bang on Wednesday, dominating Lithuania in a 90–64 win. Other than Team USA, no Olympic team has been more dominant than the Boomers, who have the second-best record (5–1) in the field. With their only loss coming in a nail-biter against the Americans, they are second in the tournament in both point differential (plus-102) and points allowed (72 points per game). And at the center of everything is Andrew Bogut, who is orchestrating Australia’s attack on all fronts, averaging 11.6 points, six rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks a game on 81.8 percent shooting.
It’s been the type of all-around performance that fans may have forgotten he was capable of after watching him make his money doing the unglamorous work in Oakland for four years. What’s particularly impressive about Bogut’s Olympic performance is how quickly he recovered from the multiple bone bruises he suffered on an awkward fall during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. He was supposed to be out six to eight weeks, leaving him almost no time to get ready for the Olympics. He played sparingly in Australia’s exhibition games over the summer, but was ready when the games started to count.
And, if anything, he seems invigorated by a having a larger role on the national team. Bogut’s impact on the Warriors diminished over the last few seasons as the team opted to play Draymond Green more at the 5. Bogut remained an excellent passer and screener for Golden State, but he wasn’t asked to carry any of the offensive load playing with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. If you isolated his four years with the Warriors, his 6.3 points per game average would rank just outside the bottom five of the lowest-scoring players in NBA history who started at least 200 games. But Rio has shown that he can be still an excellent two-way player when given the chance.
Australia’s offense starts with Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills running through a blizzard of Bogut screens at the top of the key. Even by NBA standards, Olympic referees have been lax about calling moving screens, and no one has taken more advantage of this than Bogut. At 7 feet and 260 pounds, he goes out of his way to wallop smaller players and clear space on the perimeter. He has great chemistry with the Australian guards, and he knows exactly when to slip and roll to the rim, where he’s a fantastic finisher with good timing and great hands. His passing and explosiveness, even at the age of 31, have allowed the Boomers to space the floor, even though he starts next to another traditional bruiser in Aron Baynes.
What separates Bogut from most rim-running big men is his ability to facilitate. He’s deadly hitting Australia’s perimeter players off of back screens from Baynes or David Andersen, and he has the size and vision to find the open man anywhere on the floor. The Boomers have even given him chances to be the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, taking his defender off the dribble and getting into the lane, where he has full range of vision for his array of passes. Bogut’s ability to orchestrate the offense gives Mills and Dellavedova the freedom to hunt for their shots, making up for Australia’s lack of a primary scorer on the wing.
The way he’s playing for Australia is a preview of the role he will have for the Mavericks, who acquired him in a salary dump trade this offseason that allowed the Warriors to clear cap space to sign Kevin Durant. With Dirk Nowitzki deep into his late thirties, and Chandler Parsons jumping ship to Memphis, there is room in Rick Carlisle’s equal-opportunity offense for Bogut to shine. Bogut turns 32 in November and is playing for one last long-term contract, so he will be looking to translate his offensive productivity in Rio back to the NBA.
Defense has always been a strength for Bogut, as he’s one of the rare big men with the size to wrestle in the post, the length to protect the rim, and the speed to corral smaller players and prevent them from beating him off the dribble in the pick-and-roll. For as great as the Lineup of Death was for the Warriors, the team allowed 5.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Bogut was on the floor compared to when he was off — and that figure spiked to nearly 10 fewer points per 100 in the playoffs. Going back to bigger lineups featuring Bogut saved them in the Western Conference Finals, when they were staring at a 3–1 deficit to the Thunder. His absence in the final two games of the NBA Finals allowed LeBron James to take up residence at the rim.
If there’s a concern for the Warriors next season, it’s replacing Bogut with Zaza Pachulia, whom they signed to a bargain-basement deal in free agency. Zaza can set screens, bang in the post, and zip the ball around the floor, but he doesn’t finish at the rim, block shots, or move his feet in space. He’s essentially a poor man’s Bogut, and the Mavs came out huge winners in the exchange of starting centers. Zaza is much easier to exploit on defense, and his inability to be a threat in the two-man game hamstrung the Dallas offense in the second half of the season, when teams started to gameplan against him. Losing Bogut also puts a bigger load on Green upfront, and leaves Golden State with a smaller margin for error if Draymond misses time.
The issue for the Mavs is whether all these games in August, as well as the rushed rehabilitation process to get him ready, will come back to bite Bogut at some point next season. Health issues have dogged him for most of his career, and he missed significant amounts of time in each of the last three seasons. When he is available, he gives the Mavericks their best two-way player at the center position since Tyson Chandler. Bogut is the most complete big man Dirk has ever played with, and he’ll be a vital cog both playing next to Nowitzki as well as in defensive-minded units featuring Harrison Barnes, their other Golden State refugee, playing as a small-ball 4.
The Mavs don’t have the firepower to compete with the Warriors, but the presence of Bogut and Barnes will add some spice to their regular-season games as well as their potential first-round playoff matchup. Bogut seemed to enjoy laying out Durant when Australia faced Team USA in group play, and he’s the biggest thing standing between the Americans and a third consecutive Olympic gold medal. Even without Dante Exum and Ben Simmons, Australia has been surprisingly competitive this summer largely due to Bogut, and the Mavs will hope for that kind of unexpected success to trickle down. Bogut is no longer playing on the biggest stage in the NBA, but he isn’t ready to fade into obscurity just yet.