The Golden State Warriors are off to an 8-3 start despite a strong season-opening schedule, and while Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes' shooting, Andrew Bogut's defensive brilliance, and David Lee's combination of pick-and-roll and post-up dynamism have been huge factors, the offseason acquisition of Andre Iguodala may just be the key ingredient.
It's no secret that Iguodala is one of the league's best wing defenders. He makes life difficult for opposing shooting guards and small forwards on a night-to-night basis as well as any player in the NBA.
His combination of long arms, quick feet, knowledge of angles and player tendencies, and effort is nearly unmatched. He can go entire games defending a LeBron James or Kevin Durant type, and then the next night switch back and forth between guarding Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, depending who he is sharing the court with at any particular time.
Whether in isolation or as part of a team defensive scheme, Iguodala excels. He was a huge part of the Denver Nuggets' defensive resurgence that last season saw the Nuggets rise from 19th in defensive efficiency to 11th.
Increased minutes for players like Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer helped, but Iguodala's defense on the perimeter was the main catalyst. He's been a key cog in a similar rise this season, as last year's 13th-ranked defensive group has shot up to fourth as of this morning. While Bogut patrols the paint, Iguodala systematically shuts down whichever perimeter player is unlucky enough to draw the assignment.
One area on defense that Iguodala has been particularly effective this season is shutting down off-screen plays. According to the video tracking service mySynergySports (subscription required), opponents have shot just 3-15 from the field and produced 0.37 points per play (PPP) with Iguodala defending them coming around a screen. In the last three games alone, he has held Gordon Hayward and Kevin Durant to a combined 1-5 on off-screen plays. A few games earlier, he held Kevin Martin scoreless (0-4) on such plays.
While Iguodala gets some help from his friends (most notably Bogut and Jermaine O'Neal) on a few of these plays, it's important to notice just how often he is in perfect lock-and-trail position such that once his mark catches the ball and faces the rim, Iguodala is right in his face.
While he hasn't been quite as effective in terms of field-goal percentage allowed when defending in isolation and against pick-and-roll ball-handlers (as if that were even possible), what he is doing in those situations is forcing a ton of turnovers.
Iguodala's opponents have finished 61 plays in isolation or as a pick-and-roll ball-handler against him so far this year, and have turned it over on 15 of those plays (24.6 percent), per Synergy. Compare that with just 17 baskets and five shooting fouls, and you've got a combined scoring rate of 36.0 percent.
It's versatility that makes Iguodala such a unique talent, and it's not limited to the defensive side of the court. He's always been a well-above-average passer for a swingman, having averaged 4.9 assists per game in his career entering this season.
Because of his passing and ball-handling talent, the Warriors have experimented with Iguodala as a backup point guard in the wake of Toney Douglas' early-season absence due to injury. One such lineup—Iguodala, Thompson, Barnes, Lee and Bogut—has outscored opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions (albeit in just 19 minutes of playing time), per NBA.com.
Even while sharing the court with Curry, Iguodala is handling the ball a lot. According to SportVu player tracking data released by the league and STATS LLC, Curry is averaging 61.8 frontcourt touches per game, 20th among starting point guards. Meanwhile, Iguodala is averaging 40.6 of the same type of touches on a nightly basis, 36th among all players who are not starting point guards.
Iguodala's been given so much of the playmaking responsibility that he already has two games with double-digit assists after registering five all of last season, including the playoffs. Using Iguodala to handle the ball takes some of the playmaking strain off Curry's shoulders (not that he particularly needs said strain taken off, but it can't hurt) and allows him to work some magic off the ball, where he is one of the league's best marksmen.
Maybe the most important factor in Iguodala's offensive success this season has been his three-point shooting. Long an inconsistent-at-best three-point shooter, Iguodala has made 52.4 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season. The main reason for this? He's always open.
Iguodala is often the fifth-biggest offensive threat on the court. Of his 407 minutes played so far this season, he's been on the court with the Curry-Thompson-Lee-Bogut foursome for 192 of them. In those minutes, Iguodala has made 61.9 percent of his three point shots, according to nbawowy. Of the 18 spot-up threes he has had made this year, per Synergy, I count 14 that were taken without so much as a hand in his face at the moment of release.
Because of the myriad offensive threats around him, Iguodala finds himself having to take only the most wide open shots from the perimeter. As such, he's attempting fewer shots per game and per 36 minutes than at any time since his second season in the league, and his efficiency has skyrocketed.
He's shooting 60.9 percent from the field and his 72.2 true shooting and 72.8 effective field-goal percentage both lead the league. These percentages are bound to come back to earth over the next few weeks, but the quality of looks he's getting from, and creating for his teammates, and denying the opposition is a real thing that should stay consistent over the course of the season.
Jared Dubin works for Bloomberg Sports, writes and edits for the ESPN TrueHoop Network sites Hardwood Paroxysm and HoopChalk, is a freelance contributor toGrantland, and is coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity.