The Golden State Warriors backline just took a massive hit as it was announced today that center Andrew Bogut would miss the rest of the NBA Finals with a knee injury. Bogut left Game five when he collided knees with J.R. Smith and did not return. Now it looks like that will be his last minutes of playing in the 2016 NBA Finals. Thankfully he won't need major knee surgery, as reported by Brian Windhorst of ESPN, but he will be out for 6-8 weeks. With the Warriors up 3-2, losing Bogut is a blow but it won't alter Golden State's plans radically.
What the Warriors will miss
The two biggest things the Warriors will miss with Bogut off the court is his passing and rim protection.
Bogut is surprisingly a good passer and was seventh among big men during the postseason with an average of 1.4 assists per game. He was tied for 8th in the regular season with 2.3 per game. Although the total may seem low, consider the fact that the Warriors don't use Bogut that much when it comes to running their offensive sets. According to NBA.com, Bogut was only used as the roll man on 9.7% of the offensive possessions he was involved in during the regular season. That total was 4th among big men with Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, and Draymond Green all having higher frequency ratings. Golden State views Bogut as a more defensive option when it comes to him being on the court. He is usually out there with the starters so there is essentially no need for him to try and be aggressive on offense. The same result has continued in the postseason as Bogut has seen about the same percentages of P&R plays with him being the roll man.
But when Bogut did get the ball, whether it was off a pick and roll or not, he had a plethora of options when it came to finding open teammates. Doesn't matter if it was Stephen Curry at the top of the three-point line or Harrison Barnes in the corner, someone was always open.
The Warriors will also miss one of their better rim protectors in Bogut. Other than Draymond Green, Bogut is probably the best guy the Warriors want to be guarding the rim. Bogut this postseason has been holding defenders to just under 50% when it comes to rim protection at 49.4%. His absence will hurt the Warriors when they are trying to go big. But if the Warriors want to finish off the Cavaliers in Game Six, they might not have to go big.
What the Warriors will gain
With Bogut now out, this may force Steve Kerr's hand in making his lineups smaller and play smaller lineups more. We saw in Game three Kerr's unwillingness to take Bogut out of the game when it was clear that the "Death Lineup", the Warriors small-ball lineup, was working to help them get back into the game. It was Game Three and he had a 2-0 series lead so there was some leeway for error. But now it's Game Six and the margin for error has decreased tremendously.
Look for Kerr to use the death lineup more often as it has been the better lineup for him to use in terms of field goal percentage and in terms of plus-minus. The "Death Lineup" has a +/- rating of 0.9, same as the starters. It worked last year and it worked during the regular season. It's the Warriors go-to lineup and Kerr should use it more in Game 6.
If Kerr doesn't want to go small in certain situations, Bogut's absence also opens up an opportunity for the likes of Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao. It would be better for the Warriors to use Ezeli although the latter is one of the best at drawing fouls. In fact, Varejao is the 5th best in the league at drawing fouls this postseason.
But one thing Ezeli can do that the others can't is he is better at switching off the pick and rolls. When the Cavs run the 1-5 pick and rolls, it catches the Warriors big men on the switch, mostly due to the fact that they can't guard Kyrie Irving one on one. This usually forces the screened defender to come and try and help out, leaving the roll man open. Or if the big man sags off the pick, it leaves Irving open to shoot an uncontested three. With Ezeli, the Warriors have more flexibility when it comes to guarding guards. He's no Draymond Green but he can at least step out a little bit further when guarding the switch on the P&R.
Bogut's absence will hurt the Warriors on defense and on the glass. But when it comes to doing what they do best, this could open up an opportunity for the "Death Lineup" to fully flourish.