Everything comes with a price. Take a bigger salary, sacrifice a great work environment. Trade your junker for a new car, tie yourself to monthly payments for the next half decade. Watch four seasons of Rescue Me, play catch-up on Breaking Bad. Get an infusion of offense from your non-traditional center, risk a defensive bloodletting.
Over the past 11 games wearing Andrew Bogut’s oversized shoes in the middle, Drew Gooden has been – dare I say it? – a beast. Averaging 18.5 points, shooting 46.8% mostly around the numbers perimeter (56.7% from 16-23 feet), 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, Gooden has produced All-Star numbers (all stats include his dismal 2-14 showing against the Heat). If he were a tornado, he’d be an F1: strong enough to toss around a few mobile homes, but too weak to tear a house off its foundation.
Gooden has been a bright offensive spot on a team embroiled in turmoil and less aware of its identity than Jason Bourne. He’s had the best offensive run amongst his Bucks power forward/center brethren this season, at a time where the team’s top scoring threats are more threatening off the hardwood than on it.
Gooden has always been a decent NBA role player; good enough to start, but never valuable enough to warrant a long term commitment. When healthy, he’s a consistent 12 points, 8 rebounds each night, and as we’ve seen over the past few games, has the shooting ability to keep bigger defenders honest (1.04 PPP on spot ups, .98 PPP on pick and rolls). Lately, Gooden’s been healthy, and is scoring like the Andrew Bogut of Bucks fan’s dreams. The reverse is true for his defense.
Gooden has never been known as a strong defender, and his lack of low-post strength has been exposed more than ever in the absence of Bogut. Gooden has played nearly all of his minutes this year at the five, producing a respectable 16.3 PER when doing so. However, centers have compiled a whopping 21.5 PER when Gooden is their primary defender. The net result is a team low -5.2 PER differential, meaning Gooden gives up far more offense than he creates when cast as a center on the floor.
Don’t blame Gooden for accepting a role for which he didn’t audition, and he’s taken the increased responsibility with nary a complaint. It’s just unfortunate that his best offensive run as a Milwaukee Buck comes out-of-position and at one of the team’s lowest points in the season. Gooden’s success would undoubtedly have a bigger impact, and warrant more attention, if he were playing alongside Andrew Bogut, rather than in his place.
Gooden’s recent emergence as a solid face-up power forward in center’s clothing is a good sign for the Milwaukee Bucks, and equally depressing for fans pondering the ever-present “what-ifs” about a Drew Gooden-Andrew Bogut front court. Then again, every taste of success this season has been followed with a crushing blow of reality.