Posted Jan 27 2010 11:15AM
The polls are closed now, but if the Milwaukee Bucks had wanted to sway the Eastern Conference coaches when they voted for All-Star reserves -- had they gone the swag-and-multimedia persuasion route -- then highlight clip No. 1 on their DVD might have come from their game last weekend against Minnesota.
Midway through the first quarter, Andrew Bogut blocked a shot by Ryan Hollins. Bogut controlled the loose ball, then noticed peripherally a Timberwolves player rushing his way. Instinctively, the Bucks' 7-foot center wrapped the ball behind his back with his left hand, shoveling it on a bounce to teammate Brandon Jennings. Bogut then took off downcourt, finishing with an alley-oop layup from Jennings for a 21-13 lead and an immediate Minnesota timeout.
"Dah-dah-DA, dah-dah-DA,'' Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said playfully after his team's easy, upbeat victory, providing the jingle for what could have been a SportsCenter "Top 10'' moment.
Said Bogut, also in good cheer: "We'll see what happens. Maybe I'll get a seven or eight spot. I can handle the ball. You should watch some more of our games. Coach doesn't let me bring it up, but I can bring it up. You have to talk to Coach [to lobby for that].''
Out of the timeout, Bogut soon hit a pair of free throws. Two possessions later, he took off again, reversing traditional roles to snare a long outlet pass from Jennings and twisting in a reverse layup. Let's call that highlight clip No. 2 on a video disc fairly bursting with them. Enough that veteran NBA guard Jerry Stackhouse, in less than a week with Milwaukee, already had noticed.
"Bogut, why isn't he on the All Star team?'' Stackhouse asked. "A guy averaging numbers like that, a double-double, for a team on the cusp [of a playoff berth]? If he gets a little luck and maybe a little mean streak in him, he'll be there.''
More than a way of ingratiating himself to new teammates, Stackhouse sounded sincere. He had pretty compelling evidence on his side, too. Bogut didn't have a monster game against Minnesota -- he didn't need to in the 33-point blowout -- but he had eight points, three rebounds and two blocks in the first nine minutes on his way to 14, six and four. He also exhorted the crowd early, while it still mattered, and led the Bucks in high fives initiated.
Then at Dallas Monday, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NBA draft scored a career-high 32 points in a 108-107 road loss. Bogut hit 13 of his 14 field-goal attempts, starting the game with 9-of-9 for 20 points in the first half. Over the past eight games, he is shooting 64.9 percent (61 of 94) and averaging 18.5 points and 11 rebounds. He has 19 double-doubles so far and has doubled up on his shot-blocking, too, averaging 2.16 compared to 1.05 over his first four seasons.
"He's really blocking shots well,'' Skiles said "Coming and not fouling, knowing when to come. And you guys know, he takes a charge very well. It's hard to find a center who will take a charge and still will step up and block shots, and he'll do one or the other.''
Bogut might not be that rare hybrid of Dikembe Mutombo and Vlade Divac yet, but he's working on it. "It's just mixing it up now,'' he said. "Sometimes it's setting up against guys you want to take the charge on, and sometimes you just want to get to the rim. It's all about getting there early. You get there early, you can get a charge or a block. You get there late, you've got to foul. It's all about positioning.''
Offensively, Bogut has been more of a factor, heeding Skiles' advice to attack. As Stackhouse noted, the big guy still lacks that "mean streak'' that many great players tap into on the court.
"Coach made it a focus for me in the offseason that if the ball is going down there, I need to shoot,'' Bogut said. "Tonight I didn't, but most games, I need to do that for us to have a chance to win. ... I'm just trying to focus on being consistent and playing the same way every night. Inconsistency has been a problem for me. Energy in back-to-backs, four games in five nights. Being mentally tough. It all comes into one, and that's what I'm trying to focus on.''
Some of Bogut's speed-bumps have been due to health; he played only 36 games last season and missed the Bucks' final 31 with a lower back injury. In 2006-07, he was out 16 games. This season, Bogut sat out six games with a lower leg strain, but he has come back strong.
A telling stat: Milwaukee is 12-4 when Bogut scores 17 points or more. That's not easy with a team that is 18-26 overall, and 3-10 in games decided by three points or less.
"We need Andrew, even at this point where he's a 16 and 10.5 type of player, to be more of a 19 and 11 type of player,'' Skiles said. "And that's one basket and one free throw from where he is right now. So we've got to keep going down in there. He came in as more of a face-up player than a back-to-the-basket player. He's working hard on that part of his game and he's been able to score some for us. He's had some really eye-popping games -- 27 and 14 -- and so of course, as an organization, you get greedy there and you want to have it every night. But that's unrealistic.''
Unrealistic perhaps, too, to expect any All-Star love this winter. Despite an overall shortage of classic NBA centers, guys such as David Lee, Al Horford, Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez have been talked up more for a backup spot to Orlando's Dwight Howard in the East.
Stackhouse thinks of a different player in relation to Bogut. Maybe it's the international flavor, maybe it's the recent big numbers. "He reminds me of Dirk [Nowitzki] so much, man. Just meeting him, his personality,'' Stackhouse said. "Look at him on the court, you get kind of an aloofness from the outside in. But being around him in the locker room and on the plane, he's always joking and stuff. There's a lot of similarities between those two.''
One big difference, though: Nowitzki has gone to eight All-Star games and will make it nine this year right there in Dallas. Bogut is playing well enough, at least, to earn his first.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
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