Andre Iguodala's Return Puts Warriors Back Among Western Conference's Elite

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Andre Iguodala's Return Puts Warriors Back Among Western Conference's Elite
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

After coming into the year with high expectations, the Golden State Warriors have seen the start to their 2013-14 season not go according to plan.

Fortunately, the return of Andre Iguodala will help get the team back to where it belongs near the top of the standings.

The free-agent signee started for the Warriors on Tuesday, Dec. 18 after missing the previous 12 games with a hamstring injury, via The Washington Post.

Although he scored only two points in 17 minutes, his presence was felt immediately as the team was able to come through with an easy 104-93 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Sam Amick of USA Today provided this tweet to describe the return:

The Warriors are back as contenders now that Iguodala is back in the lineup. 

Golden State started the year 8-5 and displayed much-improved defense compared to last season. The squad allowed only 96.1 points per game during that 13-game stretch and did an especially good job of defending the perimeter.

Unfortunately, the starting small forward injured his hamstring and was unable to play the next 12 games, during which the Warriors went 5-7 and allowed an average of 105.3 points per game. Only two opponents were unable to top 100 points against the Golden State defense.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It is pretty easy to notice the difference. Iguodala has been one of the best on-ball defenders in the league throughout his career, thanks to his strength, athleticism, length and overall effort. He does a good job of slowing down an opponent's best player or simply closing on open three-point attempts.

Without him, the Warriors simply do not have someone who can perform in that role. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group was one of many who noted how much the small forward was missed over the past few weeks:

The good news is that he was clearly healthy enough to compete on Tuesday, which means he will contribute at a high level going forward.

If this is the case, the Warriors will be tough to beat in the West. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lead the top outside-shooting offense in the NBA, while David Lee and Andrew Bogut represent a solid frontcourt tandem that provides some balance.

The key is Iguodala, who was recently compared to Scottie Pippen by Jonathan Abrams of Grantland. The author quoted former Chicago Bulls guard Steve Kerr who said:

Both guys are more natural passers than scorers. They are both incredibly versatile defenders. Obviously, the athleticism is off the charts, and just the length. One of the reasons why Andre has become — and Scottie did become — distributors is that they weren't great shooters. So when you're not great at something, you figure out what you are really good at and you always work on your weaknesses.

This is certainly high praise for the 29-year-old player, who might have finally found the perfect role for himself. He is not asked to carry the team offensively, but he instead can utilize his versatility to provide a boost on both sides of the ball.

With Iguodala healthy and competing at his best, the Warriors have a chance to go far this year. When he first joined the squad, he told Marcus Thompson:

I just have really high expectations for us. I won't say too much about wins. I'd rather fly under the radar...We're setting the bar high for ourselves.

 

The bar is certainly set high, as Golden State can do some serious damage in the postseason this year. Although it is currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs, the squad has the ability to move up to a top-four seed and be a legitimate title contender.

This was not considered possible during the time Iguodala was out, but things are looking bright now that he is back in action.

 

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