When the Warriors pulled off the Monta-Ellis-for-Andrew-Bogut swap, it made a lot of sense. The Warriors were trading a player at a position where they had a glut (Ellis, Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush, and Stephen Curry all expected to see some minutes at the shooting-guard spot) for the position where they were thinnest: center.
The snap judgement of the punditry was clear: The Warriors were the winners of the trade if Andrew Bogut could get healthy and stay that way. When he went in for surgery last April, there were nervous titters from the fanbase. If he wasn't ready to go, the feeling was, the team was in trouble. Big trouble. And as the schedule for his return to the court kept getting pushed further away, so did the Warriors apparent hopes of a playoff berth.
Let's be clear about one thing: even in his abortive start to the season, not really able to push off on his ankle, Bogut demonstrated just how good he can be. If he had played on more winning teams, or in a larger market, it's entirely possible that people would talk about him as one of the best defensive players of the last decade. How many centers can block a shot then get back into position to take a charge on the same possession? Or time their help defense so perfectly that they not only force the pass, but get back in position and block the finish from the player the driver passed to?
We saw Bogut do both these things while playing on one ankle. If he gets healthy (which, let's be honest, has to be considered an "if" not a "when" at this point) he is an absolute game-changer on defense, a player who's impact on the defensive half of the court can be compared to the likes of Tim Duncan's and Kevin Garnett's in their primes.
But during the Godot-like wait for Bogut's return, something interesting happened.
All of a sudden the Warriors don't look like they need him quite so much.
The Warriors roster rebuild this year has been nothing short of breathtaking. First up was the acquisition of Festus Ezeli. At the time, he appeared to be a throw-in, maybe even a function of the Warriors desperation to get rid of Stephen Jackson. Only, it turns out, Festus is on pace to be good. Really good. Despite still needing a lot of seasoning, Festus has shown some flashes of real ability, and seems likely to (at worst) lock down the Warriors back-up center position for the forseeable future.
The front office also went out and picked up Carl Landry. Landry is a limited defensive player, and not a great rebounder, but compared to the assortment of wings we've seen play power forward, he's an upgrade on both counts.
Draymond Green, picked up early in the second round, is also looking to be the real deal. Any second-rounder who gets non-garbage-time minutes is a good pick, and Draymond is already showing the ability to credibly defend top power fowards in the league.
And Harrison Barnes (who, it must be said, would not be a Warrior if the Bogut trade doesn't happen) has been a revelation. An indifferent rebounder in college, he's shown a willing to mix it up on the boards.
The result is that the Warriors biggest weakness last season, rebounding, has turned into one of their biggest strengths. After being dead last in defensive rebounding percentage last season, they warriors are third this year, gobbling up 75% of the available boards. No longer are 4th quarters cringe-fests where the Warriors' opponents get second-chance after second-chance.
And second chance points are often easy points. With fewer easy putbacks this year, Warrior opponents have their their EFG% drop from 23rd-best in the league to eighth.
Mark Jackson and his staff deserve a ton of credit for this. It's not just the new players, however: It's easy to see the improved effort Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Klay Thompson are putting out on defense.
Ironically, the return of Bogut, who was supposed to be a defensive savior, now looks to have a bigger impact on the offense, as fans have to hope that he'll be a more effective post-up player than David Lee, who Jackson inexplicably keeps trying to play slow-down post-up play with.
Even more telling is that despite an extended slump from Klay Thompson, and despite a season-ending injury to his primary backup, Brandon Rush, you'll be hard pressed to find Warrior fans who regret the Ellis trade. A credible argument can be made that between Barnes, extra minutes for Klay, and Festus the Bogut trade is a win for the Warriors even if Bogut never plays another minute. (Of course, the stink-job Ellis is putting up in Milwaukee isn't helping his case, nor are the emerging murmurs that he wasn't a great locker room presence).
Bogut's presence or absence, in fact, no longer seems likely to be the difference between a playoff spot or not, but rather the factor that determines if the Dubs are able to be a credible opponent to the top-tier western conference teams. The Warriors, after all, atop the Pacific division, and in line for a top-four playoff seed despite one of the league's harder early-season schedules.
There's a bit of smoke-and-mirrors to it, and they've had some luck in terms of injuries to opponents, but nobody expected the Warriors to be in this situation with no Bogut - and that's leaving aside the slow starts of Curry and Klay. And so long as they keep winning, a lot of people will find themselves asking a simple question: