Despite the consensus "slam dunk" nature of the recent Andre Iguodala signing, the Golden State Warriors' decision to pursue and ultimately sign the star swingman did not instantly improve the team on paper.
Bringing in Iguodala cost the Warriors their top three bench players. Brandon Rush was traded to the Utah Jazz in order to clear cap space, while the $12 million in annual salary promised to Iguodala ended the Warriors' chances of retaining Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.
The club also lost Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and two future first-round picks in the trade with Utah.
The bench was quickly replenished, however, as general manager Bob Myers brought in Marreese Speights to replace Landry, Toney Douglas to replace Jack and Jermaine O'Neal to replace Biedrins.
Thus, it is now safe to call the Iguodala signing a brilliant one.
Just what does Iguodala gives the the Warriors? Put simply, the best starting five in the NBA.
Assuming the Warriors slide Iguodala into the small forward spot and bring Barnes off the bench, the team will roll out a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut.
Of course, this lineup is not guaranteed (Thompson or Lee could come off the bench instead of Barnes), and even if this is the opening day lineup, the "best" starting five in the league will be determined on the court.
On paper, however, this assertion is verifiable.
Discussing a starting five is different than discussing the best team.
While the Miami Heat may be the best team in the NBA, the fact that they start Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem instantly kills their chances of having the league's best starting five.
Miami won the title despite this, due to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and its incredibly deep bench.
Golden State, however, has no such flaws in their starting five. The weakest link is either Thompson, Lee or Bogut.
Thompson is arguably the second-best shooter in the NBA (after Curry). He's also a near-elite post-up 2 guard, a strong defender and an above-average shot-creater and rebounder.
Lee is a poor defender, but is also an all-star, the reigning double-double king of the NBA and one of the most consistent players on the planet. If anyone who averages 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 52 percent shooting is the weakest link in a lineup, said lineup is special.
Bogut had a disappointing season last year, but still was one of the better centers in the NBA due to his rare ability to block shots, defend bigs, rebound, run the floor, handle, pass and score. When healthy, he's a top-5 center in the league.
I'm stumped. Pick your own weakest link, it really doesn't matter.
Star Power and Leadership
The absence of a weak spot does not automatically make a great starting lineup. Stars win games; above-average players just stop you from losing them.
With Curry and Iguodala, the Warriors have two real game changers.
Curry established himself during the second half of last season and the postseason as a true superstar. He was already the best shooter in the league, but he broke out as one of the league's most unstoppable offensive forces. He's a top-five PG and top-15 player entering the 2013-14 season.
Iguodala is one of the most versatile players on the planet. He can explode through the lane, finish at the rim, create his own shot, create shots for teammates and rebound extremely well. What makes him a true star, however, is his defensive ability.
With his combination of length, strength, quickness, intensity and basketball IQ, Iguodala is one of the top-five wing defenders in the NBA and is a top-five player at his position, whether it be SG or SF.
Iguodala was the best player on the 57-win Denver Nuggets last season. Curry was the leader of the 47-win Warriors. That's a scary amount of success to bring together in one place.
Looking at the individual abilities of a starting five is relevant to the conversation, but the way they fit together on the court is far more important.
After all, the Los Angeles Lakers had the best starting five in the NBA based on individual talent last season, but Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were nowhere near the league's most successful lineup.
A great starting five needs a hierarchy of scoring options, a diversity of scoring types, a main ball-handler, several good passers and dirty-work guys.
Curry is clearly the Warriors go-to scorer. The second option is Lee. Thompson and Iguodala are next, followed by Bogut.
Curry can score with his deadly outside shot or with his filthy array of close-to-mid-range finishes. Lee is deadly from mid-range and can get to the line. Thompson is an assassin from deep and the high-post.
Iguodala is an exceptional slasher and can finish at the rim. Bogut is dangerous as a roll man as well as a lob recipient.
Curry is the main ball-handler and an exceptional one at that. His passing ability are also elite. Iguodala is one of the best passing small forwards in the league, while Lee and Bogut are without a doubt the NBA's best-passing front court.
And if you ever want to win a 50-50 ball, set a mean screen and grab an offensive board all in one trip down. You want Iguodala, Bogut and Lee on the court.
The weakness of the Warriors starting five is on the defensive end.
That being said, they have one of the top-10 defensive lineups in the league.
With Iguodala and Bogut, the Warriors can match up against a Tony Parker and Tim Duncan or a James Harden and Howard as well as almost any team in the league.
Thompson is more than capable of guarding a team's second-best wing player, while Curry's ability to create turnovers, draw charges and defend pick-and-rolls make him an incredibly underrated defender.
Lee is a very poor defender, but with two elite d-men, one plus-defender and one creating turnovers, Lee should rarely have to guard an elite offensive player and can focus his efforts on clearing the defensive glass.
Lee is an elite rebounder and Bogut is a very good one. Iguodala is an excellent rebounding small forward, while Thompson and Curry are both above-average rebounders for their positions.
Very Good, But the Best?
I could sit here and discuss this lineup all day, giving you my opinions on how efficiently they'll score and why they will fit together so cohesively.
But unless you're already predisposed to believe what I'm saying—whether that predisposition exists due to your status as an avid Dubs' fan or because you love my writing for some unknown reason—you'll be asking why this makes the Warriors' lineup better than the Brooklyn Nets' new power quintet, the San Antonio Spurs' starters that rolled through the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers' dominant lineup or the Memphis Grizzlies' fabulous five.
Brooklyn is stronger than Golden State at two positions: center and power forward. The Warriors are stronger at the other three, while also being younger at every position besides center.
San Antonio narrowly beat the Warriors last postseason, and that was with Lee injured. A healthy Lee would have forced the Spurs to play much more honest defense against Golden State's backcourt.
Meanwhile, the Spurs took advantage of the Warriors' poor wing defense, which is a strength now with Iguodala.
Indiana has a powerhouse defensive lineup, but while Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George are all only marginally better than Golden State's front three, the Dubs' backcourt is miles better than Indiana's.
The Grizzlies also roll out a superior frontcourt to Golden State, but Iguodala is far better than any Memphis SF, Thompson is a better two-way player than Tony Allen, and Curry is far more of a game-changer than Mike Conley.
This conversation may be different if the Grizzlies still had Rudy Gay.
It remains to be seen how well the Warriors' lineup performs. The question is not whether they'll be good, but if they'll play up to these extremely lofty expectations.
For now, they certainly pass the "on paper" and "in theory" tests, and they do so with higher marks than any other NBA team.
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