One storyline has focused on the pivotal battle between Bogut and United centre Shawn Long deciding who is the best centre in the NBL. Bogut thinks it is over the top and that Long and himself have nothing between them besides some close contests.
Now in his second season back in Australia, Bogut wants the NBL to grow up and focus on the very real rivalry between the Kings and United as their games have been appointment viewing, especially this season after the Kings signed Melbourne import Casper Ware and have topped the ladder so far.
“Shawn likes going at me and I like going at Shawn, we’ve had numerous battles since he was with New Zealand to now with Melbourne,” Bogut told The Age.
“It’s nothing but two athletes going at it, just your standard NBL PR trying to create something that’s not there.
“For those who have covered the NBL and followed it like myself, that’s 2010 NBL, in my opinion, and the league has moved past all the BS rivalry build up.
“That happens naturally. Sydney and Melbourne has turned into a genuine rivalry where as last season it wasn’t natural, it was trying to be pushed through by certain people that work for the NBL.”
Bogut also feels his Kings were overhyped after surging to the top of the ladder and two losses last round have brought them back to earth.
“We have snuck through some games we shouldn’t have won early in the season and our record has probably flattered us a little bit,” Bogut said.
“We’ve had plenty of games that could have gone either way and our record could have been much different, thankfully it isn’t.”
The Bogut-versus-Long battle on court will be telling, Long was pivotal in Melbourne’s win at home earlier this season while Bogut took the points and Long fouled out in Sydney last time.
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman has urged all his players to avoid foul trouble as it’s hurt them several times this season. He also highlighted internal analytical statistics which showed Long’s passes out of the post led to 1.5 points per possession which is a high return.
In past games, the team has avoided setting up post-up plays due to Bogut’s dominance down low but Vickerman said he wanted Long to be a big part of Saturday’s game.
“We have gone away from getting Shawn his touches on the block and one of the statistics I just saw showed that Shawn Long is quite elite in the scores we have got from him passing out of the post,” Vickerman told The Age.
“So it’s not just about, ‘Will he score on Bogut?’ It’s the different actions we can play on from him catching it in the post. We still want to play the way we play and make sure he keeps getting his catches.”
Melbourne’s cooler unpredictable weather isn’t usually one of the things Bogut misses about his home town, but the smoke and heat in Sydney had him thinking differently this time.
“Tuesday was the worst I’ve ever seen anything in any city mate,” Bogut said.
“We actually trained which looking back wasn’t the smartest thing to do but the air was very bad.
“It’s good to get to Melbourne and enjoy the colder weather for a bit.”
Melbourne United host Sydney at Melbourne Arena on Saturday at 5.30pm AEDT.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.