OAKLAND -- Warriors center Andrew Bogut, during one of the Warriors pre-training camp scrimmage sessions, snatched a rebound off the backboard and took off.
He evaded one defender with an around-the-back dribble as he led his team up the court, capping the fast break with a sweet bounce pass to set up an easy layup. The sight left forward Harrison Barnes salivating.
"It's like he's a whole new player now that he's 100 percent," Barnes said. "No question it's exciting to think how good we can be with him healthy."
Players and coaches can't stop raving about their new-look starting center. Entering his ninth season, Bogut said he has shed nearly 20 pounds and that the surgically repaired left ankle that gave him so many problems last season is fully healed.
What hasn't fully healed is Bogut's pride. You can still hear the disappointment in his voice when he talks about his "subpar" production last season. You can see the irritation welling up in his eyes when he explains the anchor ankle he's been dragging around the last two years.
But that's a good thing for the Warriors. He plays better when he has something to prove. And Bogut opened training camp Saturday with a point to make to himself, to his haters, to the front office weighing whether to give him a contract extension.
Truth: Golden State's best chance of going further in the playoffs is if Bogut proves his point.
"I think I play a vital position in the NBA," Bogut said, "and it was proven in the playoffs how valuable a big fella is. ... If you can plug the paint up, protect the rim, be vocal out there and grab those rebounds, that's just as valuable as scoring I think. ... I'm OK with the pressure. I firmly believe I can do that."
Bogut acknowledges that he never thought he could get back to this level of health. He acknowledges having some "dark days" in which the pain caused him to lose faith, when the immobility drummed up doubt.
But he said he is encouraged by the flashes he showed in the postseason. Bogut averaged 7.2 points on 58.3 percent shooting with 10.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He was dominant at times. But even then, it came with a price.
"There were times where I played horrendously and it really affected me," Bogut said. "Even in the Denver games, when I played well, I still didn't feel good doing it. I went home from a couple of those games, and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck."
He took a month off after the season to let his ankle fully heal. Then he gradually, and progressively, strengthened it.
By August, he was free of pain and swelling and ready for full-contact workouts. After executing a new offseason regimen, he came to the Bay Area looking like a new man.
"He's got a lot less body fat and a lot more strength," forward David Lee said. "He looks unbelievable moving around. I played against him (when he was) in Milwaukee a lot. To me, this is the best I've seen him move."
Bogut even on one leg is a solid defender, especially in the context of Warriors basketball. But it seems what really gets to him, what really appears to frustrate him, is how much his injury impaired him on offense.
Many times on the court, he said he felt like a liability. For a player with his basketball IQ and skill set, that ate at him, just the thought of people viewing him as an offensive scrub.
You get the sense now he can't wait to show that part of his game. His handles. His post game. His touch around the basket. Apparently, without the anchor ankle, he's showing it all in the private workouts.
"This is my first time seeing him like this," Barnes said. "Just seeing the things he can do on the court: post up, get to the basket, run up and down full speed, finish at the rim, get the rebound and push on the break."
Bogut is in the final year of his contract paying him $14 million this season. He said he believes he's the difference-maker for the Warriors, what they need to reach the Western Conference finals and beyond. Golden State management is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to a contract extension.
Bogut said he is not concerned about the money, believing it will all work out. But he said when he comes out and produces, reclaiming his position among the NBA's top centers, don't say it was because of the money. It was because he is finally 100 percent.
"One hundred and 10 percent," Bogut said. "I feel great."
saturday's exhibition opener
Warriors vs. L.A. Lakers,
at Ontario, 7 p.m.