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Milwaukee big man Andrew Bogut is finally thriving as the team's go-to guy.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Five years into career, Bucks' Bogut living up to hype

By Jeff Case, NBA.com
Posted Mar 11 2010 10:50AM

As Andrew Bogut can attest, being the No. 1 pick isn't an easy thing to carry around on your shoulders.

In his first two seasons in the NBA (2005-06), Bogut had the look of a nice young center, but wasn't even the best player on his own team (Michael Redd and former guard Mo Williams often were). By his third season, Bogut had posted career-high averages in points (14.3), rebounds (9.8) and blocks (1.7) and seemed to be a building block of the future on the rebuilding Bucks. Then, a serious back injury sidelined him last season and, even when he did play, he struggled to fit into new coach Scott Skiles' system.

Even earlier this season, any buzz surrounding the Bucks was centered on electrifying rookie guard Brandon Jennings, not Bogut. True, Jennings was the driving force behind the Bucks and was easily the team's best player through the first two months of the season. But as Jennings has slowed down since January, Bogut was consistently plugging away. Now, he finds himself in the conversation with the Bulls' Joakim Noah and the Hawks' Al Horford as perhaps the second-best young big man in the East. It's a made-up honor few would have pegged him for in the preseason.

Bogut recently told USA Today that he didn't know how to handle being the No. 1 pick as a 20-year-old rookie out of Utah. He had a rough patch of play in December, stats-wise (13.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 44.7 FG pct), and the Bucks stumbled to a 3-11 month. Since then, Bogut has shown a level of consistency never before seen in his career, averaging 17 ppg, 10.9 rpg and shooting 55.1 percent as Milwaukee has gone 22-11, boasting the second-best record in the NBA since the All-Star break.

"He's not going to get 20 and 20 every night. But there's no reason in the world why he can't be an 18 or 19 (points) and 12 (rebounds) type of player," Skiles told USA Today.

Part of the credit for the Bucks' surge goes to the deadline-day deal for John Salmons, but a bigger part of the credit goes to Bogut and his consistent play. He's embraced his role as the team's go-to player, is making a bigger stand on defense (other than just flopping, as was his way in the past) and has Milwaukee looking like a dangerous team if it can hang onto a playoff spot.

"Guys are starting to play for each other a little bit more," Bogut told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We had a little turmoil earlier in the year and have been up and down. We're starting to figure out how to win games on the road and win games at home."

G. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
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6335.116.75.27.91.40.4.418.247.763
Last Week's Rank - --
It's been more of the same from Westbrook, who returns to the Five on the Rise thanks to another solid week. After a rough road loss to the Nuggets, Westbrook was his usual box score-stuffing self against the Clippers (15 points, nine assists, seven steals, six rebounds) and Kings (21 points, eight rebounds, four assists). He gets some bonus points with us, too, for shaking off a poke to the eye -- and the six stitches afterward -- from Sacramento's Carl Landry to power a comeback win over the Kings. More impressive than playing through the injury was how Westbrook played in Sacramento: He fearlessly drove to the hoop and had a key left-handed layup with 44.3 seconds left to seal the win. He's already got a big supporter in coach Scott Brooks and another Oklahoma coach -- the Sooners' Bob Stoops -- said he's impressed with Westbrook, too. "6-3, long arms, ballhawking skills," Stoops told The Oklahoman of Westbrook. "He'd have made a great cornerback."

G. Stephen Jackson, Bobcats
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5440.321.45.13.61.90.5.427.321.781
Last Week's Rank - --
Jackson has made a habit this season of playing well in some pretty big games for the Bobcats and last week was no exception. First, he burned the Lakers for 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting (and threw in four assists, four steals and two blocks) as the Bobcats pulled out of a stretch of losing five of six games with a 98-83 win. Then he got a little revenge against the team that dealt him to Charlotte, hitting a late jumper to squelch a Golden State rally in another win. He capped things off, though, with 17 points and two rebounds in a win over the Heat. While Raymond Felton and Tyrus Thomas provided the late-game heroics in that victory, Jackson kept the Bobcats in the game throughout the night and helped harass Dwyane Wade enough that he shot 11-for-26. Most importantly, Jackson helped the Bobcats seal up a season series victory over the Heat, something that could prove crucial as the season winds down. Jackson's stats are actually down across the board in his last 10 games, but his performance in the last three games gets him a spot this week.

C. Andrew Bogut, Bucks
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Last Week's Rank - --
Pick a game last week and Bogut delivered. Against Cleveland at home? How about 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in a victory. KG and Co. came to town? No problem for Bogut, who was even better than he was against the Cavs, putting up 25 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks and, of course, that rub-your-eyes-in-disbelief dunk over Glen Davis. It's not just offense with Bogut, though; He's already set a career high in blocked shots (141) and is the No. 2 shotblocker in the league (trailing only Dwight Howard). He's also among the league leaders in Defensive Plays, a stat cooked up by the number-crunchers over at HoopData.com. The Defensive Plays stat is a player's average score of steals, blocks and charges drawn per game. Bogut has a 4.06 per game average and is the third-best player in the league (he trails only Josh Smith and Howard in the category). All that aside, we'll just let his coach explain in much simpler terms why Bogut is better this season. "One thing he needed to do, which he's done, is improve his foul shooting (now 63 percent)," Skiles told USA Today "He's throwing in these big block (shot) games, as well. He's always been a very good defensive rebounder. His back-to-the-basket game is coming along. He's able to get more opportunities."

F. Matt Barnes, Magic
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6525.48.75.61.70.70.4.475.313.739
Last Week's Rank - --
Of course, we couldn't overlook Barnes' role in Orlando's win Sunday over the Lakers. He got plenty of attention nationwide for his fearless defense against Kobe and for his tough-guy act (as Lamar Odom and Co. called it) in the win. Barnes proved what has always been the case about him: He doesn't need plays run for him or excessive touches to be effective. He played 32 minutes against the Lakers and scored 10 points, but took only nine shots and had two free-throw attempts along with six rebounds. Hardly the stat line of someone who would be such a game-changer, but that's exactly what Barnes was. An interesting topic that often isn't broached about Barnes, though, is his status next season. He'll be a free agent (he has a player option this summer) and it would probably upset Dwight Howard (who helped push Orlando to sign Barnes) if he doesn't come back. He's already got a big vote of confidence from GM Otis Smith, who admires Barnes' ability to guard each team's best wing player. Barnes, who has played on seven different teams during his career, isn't sweating the future but is one of the team's lowest-paid players and would likely seek a raise to return. "I'm in my eighth year now, and I've had an amazing, up-and-down, roller-coaster career up to this point," Barnes told the Orlando Sentinel. "Hopefully, the team, the organization and the city like what I bring. Hopefully, we can make something happen."

F. Jawad Williams, Cavaliers
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3912.84.01.40.70.20.1.417.355.750
Last Week's Rank - --
Williams earns a spot this week for two reasons. First, he had a good night (13 points, five rebounds) as a starter on Monday as Cleveland got a close win over the Spurs while LeBron James took it easy for a night. But we also give Williams the nod for successfully going from playing about eight minutes a game the week before that to finding his groove while LeBron gets better. True, Williams had a rough night in a start against Milwaukee (six points, three rebounds in 24 minutes) as Cleveland took a loss on Saturday. But we were impressed (as were his teammates) with his solid play against the Spurs a few nights later. There's now a school of thought going through Cleveland that Williams might deserve the lion's share of minutes as the top backup to LeBron, instead of high-priced signee Jamario Moon, once Moon gets back from his injury. It's hard to argue with that notion if he can keep delivering like he did against the Spurs.

The Next Five

G -- C.J. Miles, Jazz: Miles was 7-for-31 in a stretch during late February, shot .360 last month and was constantly dealing with the topic of his shooting woes. He seems to be back on track, though, and used a big game against the Suns to right himself. In a matchup between the potential four and five seeds in the West, the higher-seeded Jazz scored a comeback win over the Suns on Thursday, with Miles playing a big part. He had took a steal coast-to-coast for a layup, drew a foul and hit the free throw to help Utah pull ahead. Then, two nights later, he was an efficient player again, scoring 11 points and moving the ball well in another comeback win -- this time over the Clippers. He had a nice game against the Bulls on Tuesday, scoring 26 points and nailing three 3-pointers as the Jazz pulled away.

G -- Courtney Lee, Nets: Another week ... another win for the Nets? Just one week after we gave Brook Lopez his season achievement award for his game against the Celtics in a Nets win, Lee finds himself in The Next Five, too. Lee had 21 points in that win over the Celtics, missed two games with an ankle sprain, and then came back with 25 points and five 3-pointers as the Nets turned a one-time 16-point deficit into a 20-point win on Saturday. He followed that up with a career-high 30 points (and a 13-for-20 night from the field) two days later in a 107-101 loss to the Grizz. We haven't had a lot of Nets in the Five on the Rise this season (and for good reason), but Lee gets our attention by showing the kind of scoring touch we expected to see out of him all season.

C -- Chris Andersen, Nuggets -- While Denver waits and hopes that injured starting power forward Kenyon Martin can return in time for the playoffs, Andersen has done a good job in the last week of snapping out of a season-long funk. Never known as a big-time scorer, he's gotten double-figure scoring nights in three of his last four games. The one thing Denver does looks for him to do (block shots and rebound), he's done at a solid rate lately, averaging 2.3 blocks and 6.6 rebounds his last 10 games, two numbers that are better than his season averages. How he is able to maintain his recent resurgence might be one of the bigger keys to Denver not losing its miniscule lead over Utah in the Northwest Division.

F -- Quentin Richardson, Heat: Early in the season, when Miami got off to a 7-2 start, Richardson was making a case for the non-existant Comeback Player of the Year Award. Of course, since that dream start, the Heat have spiraled their way down to the world of .500 and Richardson, despite being a starter the majority of the season, saw his stats take a nosedive in January and February. He made up for lost time last week, looking like his early season self in wins over the Lakers, Hawks and Warriors. In those three games, he was shooting a sizzling 53.8 percent from 3-point range, scored in double figures in each game and, like earlier this season, was a beast on the boards, too.

F -- Luis Scola, Rockets: Scola gets a nod this week for his 25-point, 21-rebound game against the Timberwolves last week. That rebound total set a new career high for Scola and, though your first instinct may be to scoff at a player getting 20-plus rebounds against the Wolves, consider the facts. First, Minnesota is among the best rebounding teams in the league (43.5 rpg, fourth in the NBA). Second, Scola managed to outrebound the 7-foot Ryan Hollins (five rebounds), 7-foot Darko Milicic (nine rebounds) and 6-foot-10 Kevin Love (11 rebounds) and nearly outrebounded the trio by himself (if you're slow at math, those three Wolves combined for 25 rebounds). He then followed that performance with 23 points and 10 rebounds against the Wizards and got the Rockets back over .500 (and on the fringes of the West playoff picture). Those kinds of performances -- despite one being against the lowly Timberwolves -- easily earn Scola a spot this week.

NBA.com's Five on the Rise is a weekly look at young players and resurgent veterans who have yet to reach stardom or who have regained the form of their younger day and, most of all, have made the biggest impact for their team in the last week. These rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you have an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail.

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