The NBA draft is a place where fan bases can get their hopes up. Depending where their favorite team is slotted to pick, delusions of grandeur can set in, as well as logical glimpses of potential future success. The tug of war between irrational and rational impulses can be intense.
It is one of the more unreasonable times to be a fan of the NBA. Top picks are expected to be franchise changers; late first-rounders are supposed to add depth to teams; and everyone “knows” which second-round talents are diamonds in the rough.
We have those types of conversations every year. We do so, mind you, by blindly ignoring the NBA’s history of showing us that very few draftees will make a true or lasting difference year-over-year. It is rather silly to think so many drafted players will end up acquiring such profound importance, anyway.
Just by using simple logic and pointing out how many crazy-old veterans there are in the league, one can highlight how few players out of the draft even make rosters each year. If there were “so many” great talents in each draft, someone explain to me the lengthy careers of guys who haven’t mattered in a long time — Juwan Howard, Elton Brand, Jerry Stackhouse, etc., all being on rosters well beyond their prime periods of consequence and productivity.
All of that is a different conversation for a different column, but those details offer a useful way to help showcase how illogical folks become when the NBA draft comes around. Yet, despite all the “sleeper player” and “developmental late first-rounders” banter we have each year despite knowing it is futile, it is the top pick in each draft that comes with the most absurd amount of hyperbole.
The No. 1 pick in each draft is supposed to be a game-changer, an eater of worlds, a franchise building block, and some form of messiah for the disenfranchised organization that drafts him. All the pressure in the world is put on this one person — a set of otherworldly expectations lands squarely on his shoulders. There’s very little wiggle room for this type of player to be considered anything other than a “bust” or a “superstar.”
Busts can emerge due to injury, bad scouting, or a weird need for teams to go after players purely with the idea of potential (not reality) in mind. Possible superstars, however, develop in the very same way, sans the injuries, obviously. There’s no true rhyme or reason why a LeBron James works and a Kwame Brown did not. If there was, there wouldn’t be any risks or busts in NBA drafts — just all success stories.
For every bust or superstar, though, there are the Joe Smith types of the world: top draft picks who managed to have very long careers while never being a franchise building block. These players, however, seem to get ignored in our rewriting of draft histories. It is as though the story of a player who worked hard to stay in the league a long time, while having moderate to “just beyond that” success, isn’t as alluring a story to tell as the bust or superstar — because of course it isn’t.
Then there’s the Golden State Warriors’ center, Andrew Bogut.
He’s the former number one overall selection in the 2005 NBA Draft. Bogut was selected just ahead of Deron Williams, Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, and the best player to come out of that draft, Chris Paul.
Outside a few players, the 2005 NBA Draft didn’t turn out that great. Now a decade later, even fewer of those players are in positions to influence the league today, Andrew Bogut being one of them. It didn’t always seem like that is how this would all turn out, but that’s mostly because of how we expect top picks to play and function in the pros, especially early in their careers.
Bogut, who was drafted by an obscure version of the Milwaukee Bucks, had a good enough first few years in the NBA: nothing too spectacular, but glimpses of brilliance were flashed in ways that held out hope for the big man to be what people perceive a number one overall pick to be.
Then it went downhill rather quickly… because fans, media, and other NBA observers have yet to develop the skills to separate different kinds of draft failures. On one side, the NBA witnesses plenty of “draft failures due to being bad at basketball.” On the other side, we see the guys who get injured. Bogut got pegged as being an injury-prone player, and the idea of what kind of player he was (or could be…) changed as a result.
To be fair to those who questioned his durablity or penned entire articles about his injury history, it was probably correct for people to assume his entire career would be a mixed bag of ups-and-downs, as well as time spent on a medical table. Seven-footers, unlike any other size of athlete, tend to get hurt more. When they do, well, all the injuries tend to pile on top of each other, which can spell doom for a lengthy and fruitful career.
After Bogut’s mostly solid stay with the Bucks, following an NBA lockout and a fractured ankle, it was time for all parties to move on. It was at this point, too, that many stopped thinking of him as Andrew Bogut, former top pick with a future as a building block, and more as Andrew Bogut, a guy who might help your team if he can stay healthy.
Again, even with hindsight being out best friend, those were all fair assessments.
After being traded to Golden State, Bogut continued to get injured. While his first year with the Warriors didn’t result in him being on the floor for every game (31 appearances), he showed enough in the postseason that management felt a three-year extension was warranted.
The Warriors weren’t betting on Bogut to be anything people hoped he would become when he was picked in the 2005 NBA Draft. Instead, they were taking a flyer on a guy they hoped could alter enough games, while building a team vastly different than those Bogut was the featured player on. In this context, the organization hoped Bogut could help the Dubs to become players in the Western Conference.
It worked, obviously. Bogut hasn’t played over 70 games in a season since 2007, but that’s not what the Warriors needed out of him. He is, currently, their fourth-best player — behind Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Appearing in 65 games in each of the last two seasons, while tremendous for him, has been more or less a bonus of services rendered for Golden State.
The Warriors simply wanted Bogut to be healthy for the playoffs. That was the plan all along. Regardless of what happened in the regular season, Golden State wanted Bogut to be physically ready to perform at this time of year, against the likes of Memphis’s bruising and physical frontcourt. We saw on Monday night in Game 4 how important Bogut’s rim protection really is in cementing the Warriors’ defense, which in turn ignites their offense and makes them a complete team far beyond the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green.
How Andrew Bogut has succeeded this long after being tabbed as injury-prone is a credit to him. Coming out of the draft, many drooled over his footwork, what his offense can one day look like, and how he can help be a foundation for a franchise to build pillars around and possibly lead them to NBA titles. The 2014-’15 version of Bogut, though, is one that is best known for his defense — and as a key member, not the key member, of a team with realistic NBA Finals aspirations.
Those are traits he had early in his career as well, but such attributes aren’t sexy enough to be featured in highlights or video montages, which is how we magically gauge the success of players. It is partially why, coupled with being considered injury-prone, Andrew Bogut became a somewhat forgotten asset in the world of the NBA up until it became fashionable to watch the Splash Brothers and Golden State as a whole.
A number one overall pick success story? Yes, only if you don’t use the irrational and unrealistic ideas of what a top-pick is supposed to be. Then again, more than a decade later, things have seemed to come full-circle.
Andrew Bogut has become what everyone thinks a number one overall pick should be: a player a team can win a championship with, but can’t obtain without — which is what we want from players selected first in drafts, right?