If you're looking for the reason, look no further than Andre Iguodala. Golden State's prized offseason acquisition is the piece that transforms the Warriors into legitimate title contenders, not just a strong regular-season squad that can hang with the elites before being knocked out of the playoffs.
It wasn't easy for Golden State to acquire Iggy. The franchise had to ship off expiring contracts and draft picks (along with Brandon Rush) to the Utah Jazz in order to free up enough financial flexibility to convince him to join the squad.
Iguodala will make sure it was worth the Warriors' while.
The first major benefit of having Iguodala on the roster is simply an additional supply of positional versatility. While the NBA has been trending toward small ball in recent years, there are still a select few teams who play a more old-school style and utilize multiple true big men.
A more amorphous identity is generally a positive.
With the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies to go through in the Western Conference, the Dubs will inevitably have to deal with both styles of play.
Iguodala is one of the league's premier swingmen, as he can more than capably line up at either shooting guard or small forward without giving up anything to his opposition. At shooting guard, Iggy possesses the lateral quickness and athleticism to survive, but he's also big and strong enough to thrive at small forward.
Fortunately, the Golden State roster is set up perfectly to let Iguodala bounce between the two positions.
When more size is needed, Iggy can start at the 2 and let Harrison Barnes slide into the lineup, but when size isn't an issue, Klay Thompson can start at shooting guard and reunite the Splash Brother alongside Stephen Curry in the backcourt.
Either option is a fantastic one, and both Thompson and Barnes would make fantastic sixth men whenever the need arises.
This may not seem like a big deal, but the ability to adjust and capably match up with an opponent's strongest lineup is an important trait among most championship-winning teams. Good luck finding the last champion without at least one player who thrived at multiple spots in the lineup.
Even both of last year's finalists fell into the category. The Miami Heat had LeBron James, who could play just about any position on the court but truly thrived at either forward spot, and the San Antonio Spurs bounced Tim Duncan between power forward and center, sometimes even on opposite ends of the court during the same minute.
Don't overlook Iguodala's status as a true swingman as part of his value.
During the 2012-13 season, the Golden State Warriors were an average defensive team. They allowed 105.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference, which ranked them 14th among the NBA's 30 teams.
That's not a number to be embarrassed by, but it isn't exactly conducive to competing for a title either. And that's where Andre Iguodala is truly going to make a major difference.
While playing with the Denver Nuggets, Iggy helped the team allow 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court throughout 2012-13. Now applying that difference directly to the Warriors' defensive rating overlooks a lot of factors (roster composition, who plays alongside Iguodala, etc.), but let's do it anyway just for the sake of the argument.
If the Warriors allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions last season, they would have posted a defensive rating of 101.1, a mark beaten out by only the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers.
Sounds a lot more like a championship contender, right?
Iguodala is an elite defender in most situations, though he's by no means without his weaknesses. Synergy Sports (subscription required) reveals that he struggled guarding post-up plays (something he'll have to work on) and pick-and-roll ball-handlers. The latter will be mitigated by the presence of Andrew Bogut, as it's been a while since the swingman has played with such a high-quality rim-protector.
It's Iguodala's isolation defense that really allows him to stand out. He'll be able to take on the opponent's best wing scorer, alleviating some of the pressure being heaped upon the shoulders of Thompson and Barnes and allowing them to focus more on their offensive contributions.
Above you can see what makes Iggy's defense special from the get-go. He thrives on that end of the court because he plays with constant effort. Even when his man is a few yards behind the three-point arc, he respects the situation and gets down into his defensive stance.
That's a major reason why he was able to hold isolation players to 0.58 points per possession, the 11th-best mark in the league. Against Iggy, isolation shooters made only 25 of their 83 looks, and that number of attempts is so low because they were legitimately scared of going up against him.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is that he committed fouls only 5.9 percent of the time. Contrast that against LeBron James, who notoriously avoids whistles like the plague, whether due to his own skill or the referees' hesitance to put him in foul trouble. Even the MVP fouled 7.5 percent of the time in isolation settings, according to Synergy.
Additionally, Iguodala is great at forcing turnovers thanks to his quick hands and remarkable ability to position his body in a way that forces offensive players into awkward situations. For example, take this play against Kobe Bryant.
This is not an enviable position.
You generally don't want to be the last man standing between the Mamba and his prey, which is the basket in this case. According to Synergy, Kobe scored 1.21 points per possession in transition during the 2012-13 season, so more often than not, you're in trouble.
But Iggy is already thinking ahead. He recognizes that he has trailing defenders and immediately positions his body so that he's pushing Kobe further to the sideline.
The shortest distance between any two objects is a straight line, so by making the shooting guard take a curved approach, he's giving his teammates more time to catch up.
As soon as Kobe hits the sideline, Iguodala adjusts and positions himself so that Kobe can either attempt to go through him or gets forced into a double-team situation.
The Mamba chooses the former.
Only 0.4 seconds have elapsed, and Iguodala has already positioned his body in a more than perpendicular direction so that he's in perfect guarding position once more.
Now Bryant has no choice but to continue heading toward the baseline, and he can't make any headway in his pursuit of the rim.
Fast forward a little bit, and you can see the result of this play. Kobe gets trapped and eventually coughs up the possession by trying to pass out of the double-team.
It's only one play, but it serves as a great example of Iguodala's heady, physical play. He's the consistent perimeter defender that Golden State was looking for, even if Thompson was starting to develop into a stopper.
There's no development needed here.
Iguodala is an established stopper, and he'll take loads of pressure off the young wings while allowing Bogut to focus on both his own man and compensating for Stephen Curry's inevitable defensive lapses.
An Extra Ball-Handler on Offense
Losing Jarrett Jack was a big blow for Golden State, even if he wasn't a starter. He was a consistent playmaker whenever he came off the bench, and Mark Jackson frequently played him alongside Curry down the stretch in tight games.
Well, Iguodala makes up for the lost playmaking, and then some. To see what I mean, check out this play against—interestingly enough—the Warriors.
It's important to begin the sequence here, simply because it's entirely relevant that Iguodala is trusted to run the show with the ball in his hands. The Nuggets let Iguodala play point-forward, largely because he's one of the most capable passers in basketball.
According to Hoopdata.com, the swingman posted a 26.81 assist rate, the No. 24 rate in the NBA among qualified players (40-plus games and 25-plus minutes per game). The list of non-point guards ahead of him is...oh wait...there isn't one.
Once Iguodala goes to work against Stephen Curry, the defense starts shifting over to help out the point guard a little bit. He's overmatched, even though Iggy isn't exactly the biggest threat as an isolation scorer (only 0.77 points per possession, the No. 114 mark in the league).
Look how far Jarrett Jack has strayed from his man. There's not supposed to be much of a threat there, since he's across the entire court and a non-point guard has the ball in his hands.
Wilson Chandler is still alone in the corner with plenty of open space, and Iguodala has the rock with Curry on his back.
Not much has changed yet.
In just one second (look at the shot clock), the ball is in the absolute perfect spot. Iguodala fired an overhead pass that hits Chandler right in the sweet spot, and the sphere travelled so fast that the Golden State defense has no chance to react.
Very few non-point guards can make that pass. Hell, very few actual point guards can make it with such a large degree of pinpoint accuracy.
Not everyone on the Warriors' roster is capable of creating his own three-point looks with the same frequency that Stephen Curry does. They need another capable ball-handler, and that's exactly what Iguodala provides.
Chalk it up as just another way that he helps push this team to the next level, a level that involves legitimately competing for not just the Western Conference title, but a shot to hold up the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Iguodala won't win MVP, nor is he even the best player on the Dubs. That honor belongs to Curry, whose postseason explosion is going to carry over into the regular season en route to setting yet another three-point record.
But Iggy will be the barometer of the team and the most crucial player in the pursuit of a title. His versatility and contributions on both ends of the court are just that valuable.
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