Breaking Down How Andre Iguodala Will Elevate Golden State Warriors Defense

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Breaking Down How Andre Iguodala Will Elevate Golden State Warriors Defense
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Andre Iguodala and the Golden State Warriors are such a perfect fit for each other, it's incredible to think the basketball gods took this long to make the pairing happen.

After all, they're usually on top of their game.

They gave the Chicago Bulls grinders (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler), the San Antonio Spurs gym rats (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard) and the Sacramento Kings pure chaos (DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmer Fredette). And they made all that magic happen on draft night.

For Iguodala and the Warriors, though, it was much more of a marathon effort. Despite being linked in trade rumors for the last several seasons, the two parties had to wait until the nine-year veteran made his first free-agency foray.

And even then it came down to a photo finish.

But now that the ball hawk (career 1.7 steals per game) has finally landed in the Bay, it's time for this promising pair to get to work. After taking a badly needed breather, of course.

 

Defensive Shift

Iguodala's defensive exploits have been grossly underappreciated.

He has a single All-Defensive selection on his resume, and even that came with only second-team honors (2010-11).

But don't let his lack of accolades fool you. Few stoppers make this kind of impact, regardless of position.

He floated seamlessly between the 2 and 3 spots for the Denver Nuggets last season and left his defensive imprint on every stop. As an off-guard, he held opponents to just a 12.7 player efficiency rating, via 82Games.com. That number dipped all the way to 9.9 when he manned the small forward position.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

For comparison, Tony Allen—the top vote-getter among All-Defensive first-team selections in 2012-13—yielded an 11.8 mark while handling shooting guard duties for the Memphis Grizzlies. That figure ballooned to 15.9 when the first-teamer shifted to the 3.

With a top-flight stopper added to the roster, Mark Jackson can move his other unheralded defenders (Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes) to secondary defensive assignments. Throw (a healthy) Andrew Bogut under the basket and the historically generous Warriors have gotten incredibly stingy on defense.

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Iguodala has the speed to keep pace with supercharged point guards (sigh of relief for Stephen Curry) and the strength to guard undersized power forwards (and another for David Lee).

With the growing need for a versatile three-headed monster, the Warriors now have the bodies to throw at any multi-layered offensive attack. Iguodala can pair with Bogut, Barnes, Draymond Green and Jermaine O'Neal to stymie super-sized attacks, or team with Thompson, Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore to halt hyperactive perimeter offenses.

But his impact in the locker room might outpace the difference he'll make on the hardwood.

 

Changing Priorities

Iguodala's Warriors career is still in its infancy, but the team has already noticed his defensive gifts. Curry, a player often criticized for being a one-way force, hasn't missed that part of his teammate's game in training camp, via Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News:

He's standing out with the way he can be effective on the defensive end. He's blocking shots at the rim. He's rebounding the basketball. He's still getting comfortable. It's still early in camp, but he's definitely standing out.

After taking note of Iguodala's defensive energy, the next step for the Warriors is to follow his lead.

Golden State had held a bottom-third defensive rating in each of the previous five seasons before posting the league's 14th-best mark (105.5) in 2012-13. And history says that number will continue to improve with Iguodala's arrival.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets, another former sieve, closed up their defensive holes with Iguodala in the fold last season. Denver climbed to the league's No. 11 spot in defensive rating (105.1), just one season after occupying No. 20 on that list (106.2) without him.

Iguodala's subtraction from the Philadelphia 76ers, where he spent the first eight seasons of his career, sent the franchise spiraling in the opposite direction. After finishing with a top-seven defensive rating in both 2011-12 (99.2, third) and 2010-11 (105.0, seventh), the Sixers finished just 15th in 2012-13 (105.7).

Individually, he'll help the Warriors on the defensive glass (5.8 career rebounds per game). He also understands where and when to bring extra help or close passing windows. He has a little gambling nature in his defense, only he's the kind that leaves Las Vegas with his pockets overflowing with riches.

"He's exceptional at reading passing lanes, making plays defensively," Jackson told Thompson. "He doesn't do it in the same way Klay or Harrison would do it because he's been around, he has a better feel."

The sooner the Warriors can pick up on Iguodala's tendencies, the better. Rotations will become quicker and more crisp, and fast breaks will improve as the Warriors start to trust Iguodala's reads.

What happens after that? Well, let's just say something that this fanbase hasn't seen in decades.

 

Defense to Offense...to NBA Title?

Elite teams can manage to force the issue offensively without paying the price at the opposite end.

Two things must happen to fuel that style of play.

First, a team has to have talented individual defenders. Not only do these players spark fast-break chances by generating turnovers, they also protect against counterattacks while their teammates are getting back on defense.

Second, a club needs to capitalize on these prime scoring chances. An ill-advised shot or poorly timed turnover can have adverse effects. What should have been an easy basket for one team becomes a point-blank opportunity for the opposition.

Iguodala is the kind of player who crosses both items off that list.

While his defense has already been detailed, his offense offers a similar boost for the Warriors. Too often this team let opponents off the hook last season by settling for bad shots or running without a real plan of attack.

They won't have that problem with Iguodala. If he's out in the open floor, he's driving strong toward the rim. When he doesn't put defenders on a poster, he'll be firing pinpoint deliveries to Golden State's sharp-shooters—which Jackson called "the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game," via Monte Pool of the San Jose Mercury News.

As simple as it sounds, elite teams are the ones that can win games with both their offense and their defense.

Do the Warriors have a realistic shot at the 2014 title?

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Four teams posted top-10 rankings in both offensive and defensive ratings last season. Two of them (the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat) met in the NBA Finals. Another was derailed by the loss of its All-Star point guard (Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook). The fourth made a coaching change over the summer (Los Angeles Clippers) after a playoff collapse.

If the Warriors hope to enter the championship conversation in 2013-14, they'll need to emerge as a defensive juggernaut without sacrificing their offensive firepower.

Iguodala can't take this franchise to that prominent stage by himself. But if his teammates are willing to follow in his footstepsand the Warriors can avoid the injury nightmares that have haunted them in the past—Golden State can entertain title thoughts.

If that statement sounds strange to you, well, you haven't been paying close enough attention to what this franchise has been doing.

 

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