MILWAUKEE When Andrew Bogut saw his season put on hold with a broken ankle, the Bucks had no choice but to turn to Drew Gooden to fill the void at starting center.
He's struggled in his last two games, (7-of-27 from the field, 23 points, 12 rebounds) but overall, Gooden has provided adequate coverage in the low post, despite being undersized and often seemingly overmatched.
In the 13 games since Bogut went down with his injury in Milwaukee's 105-99 victory at Houston Jan. 25, Gooden has averaged 17.4 points and 7 rebounds. He's scored 20 points or more six times and only once finished in single-digit scoring.
In all, Gooden has appeared in 27 of the Bucks' 29 games this season, making 17 starts. He's averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field.
That's more the kind of production the Bucks had in mind when they signed Gooden to a five-year, 32 million contract before last season.
The 30-year-old has played for nine teams during his nine-year career, but found a chance to settle down in Milwaukee, where he didn't get off to a particularly memorable start, missing a majority of the season while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Still, when Gooden was in the lineup (35 games, 18 starts), his averages of 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds were very close to his career averages of 11.9 and 7.7.
The foot still bothers Gooden, 30, at times, but the difference between last year and this year is night and day.
"It still bothers me a little," Gooden said. This is the NBA, though. The way I was feeling last year is nowhere near the way I'm feeling right now. Compared to last year, I feel better than 100 percent right now."
Though far from the ideal option at the five, Gooden's versatility has been beneficial for the Bucks. Lacking the size of a traditional center, Gooden has the ability to move in and out of the lane, often drawing his defender to the perimeter.
"One thing he does is provide, if you penetrate, a nice outlet," head coach Scott Skiles said. "When their bigs collapse, you can throw it back to him and he can knock down the shot or in some cases, take the ball, put it on the floor and either score or get fouled."
Gooden was even effective against Orlando's Dwight Howard, one of the game's best big men. In the Bucks' 99-94 loss to the Magic Feb. 11, Gooden led Milwaukee with 21 points on 9-for-21 shooting and eight rebounds in 42 minutes. Howard, meanwhile, was essentially a non-factor in that contest, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting but did manage to pull down 14 rebounds in 42 minutes.
Moving to center full-time has taken some adjustment for Gooden, but hes found it to be helpful in improving his game, especially on the defensive end.
I don't feel uncomfortable at all," Gooden said. If anything, it keeps me more alert defensively because I'm giving up height and size down there.
I never really felt any different playing the power forward or center position. The guys I'm playing against and guarding, I've either played with them or against them on other teams at different times."
His counterpart Wednesday, New Orleans Chirs Kamen, played with Gooden for a portion of the 2009-2010 season. Hes been impressed, though not surprised, with the way Gooden has handled the move to center.
He does a lot of face-up stuff," Kaman said. He's crafty, he's got a lot of skills. He does a good job for them. They're definitely shorthand with Andrew being out but he's doing what he can."
Goodens own teammates have taken notice of his recent production and even Bogut himself has been pleased with the way the veteran has stepped up in a difficult situation, during a difficult start to the season.
Drews doing a good job out there," Bogut said. Hes played very, very well Hes a unique aspect to us. Hes a smaller center but he can shoot the ball. He provides a lot of spacing for our offense so it helps us out a little bit."
Hes happy now for the opportunity to play extended minutes, but wishes it had come under better circumstances.
Unfortunately, it came due to Andrew's injury," Gooden said. That was unfortunate. But I had to respond and adjust to a different role. Trying to produce in that nature, I think I've done somewhat OK."
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