Why Andre Iguodala Will Have Biggest Impact of Any Free-Agent Signing in 2013-14

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2013

Dwight Howard and Josh Smith generated more buzz during the offseason's free-agent period, but no acquisition is going to have a bigger effect on his new team than Andre Iguodala.

Let's be clear on something from the outset: We're not just talking in terms of wins and losses. There are too many variables involved and it's far too early to know where teams are going to wind up in the standings when the dust settles on the 2013-14 season. Maybe the Golden State Warriors will make a bigger year-over-year leap in the win column than the Houston Rockets will.

But then again, maybe they won't.

Still, it's worth noting that Iguodala seems to think the Dubs will take the aforesaid leap in the standings this season.

According to Antonio Gonzalez of the Associated Press, Iguodala said:

'I would say more than [50 wins],' Iguodala said Wednesday at the team's downtown Oakland headquarters, where most players have been voluntarily working out for about three weeks before training camp starts Sept. 29. 'I just have really high expectations for us. I won't say too much about wins. I'd rather fly under the radar.'

If he's right, the Warriors could be in line for the best season they've had in more than two decades. 

Year-end results are great, but what's much more interesting—and indicative of Iguodala's potentially massive impact—is the way he'll totally reform the Warriors on the court and in the minds of observers around the league.


Defensive Identity

Ask most casual fans to describe the Warriors and you'll get responses that generally pertain to the team's recent history of uptempo basketball: fast, exciting, high-scoring. You know, stuff like that.

While it's not necessarily wrong to categorize the Dubs as a team that has always liked to run, it's actually a somewhat outdated way to think of them. The misidentification is understandable, though, as the Warriors spent 20 years operating as an all-flash, no-substance enterprise.

Things started to change last year, though. Under a new ownership group that actually cared about winning games, Golden State finally made defense a priority. Players and coaches started to spout truisms that would have sounded normal if they'd come from the New York Knicks of the 1990s or today's Chicago Bulls.

It wasn't just talk, either. The Warriors got to work on implementing actual principles, setting up rules that forced players to be accountable for mistakes.

Stephen Curry told Grantland's Zach Lowe about the process back in December:

Over the summer, we talked about different defensive schemes we were going to have to implement. It’s more just about consistency. Whatever we do, everyone has to be on the same page. You have to preach it over and over, and work it and drill in practice. We’re getting better at it. Everybody’s on a string. In the past, it’s kinda been a shamble defense, where one night we down [send pick-and-rolls toward the sideline], one night we blitz [have a big man rush out at a point guard], and we never really got good at one thing.

The new rules begat results, as the Warriors finished the 2012-13 season with a defensive rating that ranked 13th in the NBA, a massive step up from the No. 26 ranking they earned in 2011-12, per NBA.com.

The giant improvement in overall defensive efficiency was a big reason the Warriors were able to win 47 games last season. Everyone focused on Curry's brilliant shooting and the team's free-flowing offense, but in reality, Golden State's offense ranked just 10th in the NBA in 2012-13, essentially revealing the team to be a (gasp) balanced outfit.

The Warriors were forging a new identity long before Iguodala came aboard, but his arrival signals that the transformation into a full-on defensive monster is now complete.

In Denver, Iguodala's presence on the floor accounted for a substantial improvement in the Nuggets' defensive rating. When he played, the Nugs posted a defensive rating of 100.5. When he sat, that figure climbed to 105.3, per NBA.com

To put that in perspective, the Nuggets defended at a level on par with the Miami Heat's seventh-ranked defense when Iguodala played, but looked more like the Toronto Raptors (No. 22) when he didn't.

Next to LeBron James, Iguodala is arguably the league's best perimeter defender. He'll handle the toughest wing matchup on a nightly basis, which will help prevent Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and, at times, even Curry from using up their legs on the defensive end.

All three of those players showed substantial improvements on D last year, with Thompson making an especially notable leap. With Iguodala setting the tone, expect all of them to feel the pressure to raise their games to an even higher level.

Toss in a fully healthy Andrew Bogut—an elite, transformative defender in his own right—and Golden State is going to be one of the NBA's very best defensive teams.

When Bogut told me the Warriors could rank alongside the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls in the league's top-five defenses, he wasn't making a bold prediction. He was acknowledging just how big of a difference Iguodala is going to make.


Easier on Everyone

There's no getting around the fact that Iguodala's biggest impact will be on the defensive end. But he's going to bring about major changes on offense as well.

Everyone knows that the Warriors have the best-shooting backcourt in the NBA. Curry knocked down 45 percent of his triples en route to a single-season record for made threes. Thompson put on a pretty impressive perimeter exhibition in his own right, cracking the 40-percent barrier for the second straight year and joining Curry and Ryan Anderson as the only players to nail more than 200 treys.

Adding a player with Iguodala's offensive skills is only going to make it easier for Golden State's snipers to get clean looks at the target. That's because the 6'8" forward thinks and acts like a point guard.

Pore over some of his career highlights and it's obvious: Iguodala loves to pass.

A born facilitator, Iguodala posted an assist ratio of 26.5 last year, just two percentage points below departed backup point guard Jarrett Jack's 28.5, per ESPN. Keep in mind that Iguodala posted that assist ratio while playing with shooters in Denver that were nowhere near as good as the ones he'll set up in Golden State.

Playing alongside the Warriors' elite marksmen means an assist ratio above 30—which would rank him ahead of a number of starting point guards—is entirely realistic for Iguodala.

Curry will get to move off the ball more often than ever this season. And instead of watching Jack pound the dribble in search of his own shot, the league's most dangerous shooter will be ready to receive passes from the more unselfish Iguodala.

Thompson, Barnes, David Lee and even Bogut will all benefit from having such a versatile facilitator at the forward position. And if there's a better passing frontcourt than the trio of Iguodala, Lee and Bogut, I'd sure like to see it.

Opponents are going to find it harder than ever to gameplan against the Warriors this season because Iguodala gives head coach Mark Jackson so many different options on offense. Because he can essentially play three positions, the Dubs will be able to trot out a handful of versatile configurations.

We'll surely see five-man units that dwarf the opposition, with Iguodala manning the point, Thompson and Barnes on the wings and Lee and Bogut up front. At other times, the Warriors will be able to pick up the pace with Iguodala and Barnes as an ultra-athletic 3-4 combo.

The options are practically limitless, and Iguodala helps make all of them viable.

Golden State's new identity is wrapped up in its defense, but don't be surprised when its offense also takes a big step forward.


Culture Change

I'll admit that it's a hard sell to argue that Iguodala will make a bigger impact on the Warriors than Howard will in Houston. But here's the aspect of his decision to join the Dubs that matters more than anything: By signing with Golden State for less money than he could have gotten elsewhere, Iguodala sent a clear signal to the rest of the league that the Warriors were a "destination" franchise.

For years, Golden State's big "gets" came via trade or the draft. Nobody signed with Golden State, let alone for less money.

But Iguodala did exactly that this past summer.

Intangible as it might seem, that's actually the most significant indicator of Iguodala's impact on the Warriors. He represents the franchise's remarkable turnaround under Joe Lacob's ownership.

Guys like Smith and Howard are going to have a positive effect on their new teams, but nobody represents the kind of top-to-bottom reformation that Iguodala does for the Warriors. That's real impact.


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