OAKLAND (AP) — Andrew Bogut saw Marreese Speights driving to the rim during a pickup game at the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility a couple weeks ago and never second-guessed what to do next.
Bogut moved in Speights’ path, held his position and took a charge.
“I’m not going to change the way I play,” Bogut said. “The way I play is I take charges, I block shots, I set hard screens. Unfortunately, we don’t wear padding or anything like that, and every now and then we’re going to get a knock.”
Golden State’s center and big difference maker has taken more than a few knocks in his career. He’s healthy again for training camp, and he knows that the Warriors will need him to stay that way to contend for anything this season.
The fractured rib that sidelined him for the first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers is healed, he said, but the “mental anguish” of missing the playoffs has left another kind of scar.
Since Milwaukee made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Bogut’s injuries include a dislocated right elbow, broken right hand, sprained right wrist, broken left ankle and fractured rib. He also has battled back discomfort on occasion.
Bogut has never been bothered by those who believe he’s injury prone. The only thing that bugs Bogut is not being able to play when his teammates need him most.
The 7-foot Australian center said he did everything he could to return sooner from his latest “freak injury,” which started after he took a hit against Denver and worsened when he was sandwiched by two Portland defenders a few days later. He said he had trouble breathing and could barely move, let alone battle Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan under the basket.
Bogut popped pain-killing pills and laid on his stomach for nearly 24 hours a day following the fracture. He had a rib-protecting vest made in case he could return, but he was unable to even sit on the bench.
Bogut said the rib might have calcified enough for him to play at some point in the second round had the Warriors advanced. Instead, they lost in a decisive Game 7 against a Clippers team that controlled the paint.
“I did everything like I was going to play. But in reality, I’d rather be called soft and injury prone by every fan, blogger and media person out there than puncture my lung,” Bogut said. “Because they wouldn’t be sending me a get-well card when I’m in the hospital.”
When Bogut has played, he has played well.
He dominated down low to propel the Warriors to the second round of the playoffs two seasons ago, even while nursing a sore left ankle that had him limping out of the locker room each time.
He played 67 of 82 games last season, averaging 10 rebounds, 7.3 points and 1.7 assists.
But his biggest impact has come on defense. Bogut has ranked among the NBA’s best in defensive ratings and is the primary reason a franchise long known for offense has been transformed into a defensive leader, which makes the times he injured so difficult to overcome.
“It’s having one of the best defensive centers in the league there versus not having him there. It’s daylight and darkness,” Warriors forward Harrison Barnes said. “When he’s healthy, he can pass, he can move. It just changes our whole dynamic.”
Unlike during Mark Jackson’s tenure, new Warriors coach Steve Kerr is leaning on Bogut to be a focal point on both sides of the floor.
During a visit to Australia this summer, Kerr brought a video that featured clips of offensive plays for Bogut. Some highlights were from Bogut’s time in Milwaukee. Others came from Kerr’s days playing in the triangle offense for Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when another Australian center, Luc Longley, often helped initiate the offense.
“Andrew’s one of the best passing centers in the league. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen, and so for us to get him the ball on the elbows as a dribble-handoff guy, backdoor-pass guy, that will be emphasized,” Kerr said.
Bogut is embracing the challenge to feed Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest of Golden State’s sharpshooters. He said he will play smarter, picking his spots when to put his body in harm’s way.
But won’t play afraid, he said, because that’s just not the way he plays.
“It doesn’t really worry me. I’m still kicking and breathing. I’m still playing basketball and doing what I love,” Bogut said. “There’s going to be obstacles everybody faces in their life. It’s just unfortunate injuries for me. I could say it’s bad luck or somebody put a hex on me, but you can’t control it.”