Video breakdowns are a double-edged sword. Or knife. Or whatever highly dangerous weapon you want to insert into the above statement. Steph's jumper? On one hand, there's inherent value is adding graphics - OOH PICTURES! - to the game you just watched in real time. Slowing down plays and habits into little segments gives us evidence and helps us understand the nuanced influence of talents and skill. On the other hand, one would have to watch copious hours to notice a trend, rustle through the rubble and transform it into something coherent.
That's hard, if only because basketball is a game predicated on skill and flow, with an assorted sprinkling of structure. Synergy Sports has a little trouble tracking pick-and-roll and isolations and a myriad of other plays because when do we know what the play actually is? A staggered screen and some looping off-ball action could turn into a last second isolation. Charting that becomes subjective and it's hard to analyze without spending every waking moment searching for trends.
With all that being said, I watch way too much Warrior basketball, and while lacking the keen eye of actual scouts, it's been rather depressing watching the Warriors play both sides of the ball without their most versatile and athletic player. Rich Kraetsch of Hickory High, a site that I also write for, expounded on the effects of the Andre Iguodala absence. There are a lot of numbers thrown out there and without some contextual evidence, there's a chance that some of it is just due to sample size and flukish performance issues -- even he alludes to this near the end. However, Warriors fans know that this little slump isn't so much a flash-in-the-pan as much as a disturbing trend that will likely persist as long as the human Swiss-Army knife is fitted in a snazzy suit on the sideline.
A brief aside: Here is a link to Jonathan Abrams' feature on Andre Iguodala. It's excellent. Did you expect anything less from one of, if not the best, feature writers in the business?
When reports in the summer surfaced that Harrison Barnes was working Andre Iguodala on the offensive end, the visions of a Barnes-led bench became drool-worthy. If he engineered the type of offense that could take advantage of an elite wing defender, the sky is not the limit but the floor. But with all offseason quotes, it was probably more hype and hyperbole than truth. Barnes, on his part, has actually looked much more aggressive, at times. And yet, that remains the key phrase, "at times' and without much fluidness.
Barnes isn't Iguodala on offense; which is good and bad. He has quicker and more athletic isolation moves, a better jumper and the same freakish athleticism. The difference? He often doesn't seem like he knows what his next move is despite the constant mismatch against defenders. And in the NBA, planning your next dribble or step is often the ingredient to telegraphed moves and turnovers. So, more often than not, Barnes has looked hesitant despite holding the largest talent disparity on the court.
We can see here that the Warriors value him in transition, especially as a ball-handler and creator. Curry helps space the floor on the side but Barnes doesn't seem to fully grasp what he can do to a defense and shoots an in-between shot instead of swinging the ball to an open shooter or just going all the way and dunking it. Though it seems like a matter of experience than instinct it's still hurting the Warriors at this point.
Then here is Iguodala, almost running the same type of half-transition (I know it's off a made shot but when the Warriors push the pace, they're tough to stop and some of the opposing players here aren't even turning their heads). You probably don't want Marreese Speights shooting, or on the floor that much, but Iguodala recognizes where the help is coming from and makes a half-drive before swinging to an open shooter. In theory, David Lee can make that midrange jumper (though he hasn't yet) or he can swing that to an open Klay Thompson in the corner on a rotating defense.
This next play exemplified the first ten or so games Iguodala was able to make the type of pass that jumpstarts an offense that fully exhibits the excellent passers on the team. Lee, Bogut, Green, and Curry are above-average passers with non-Rudy Gay vision but you wouldn't know watching the last ten games.
Green made similar passes in the last game against the Dallas Mavericks but it's been few and far between. The type of halfcourt and transition ingenuity can be intrinsic in one's repertoire but it seems like the Warriors are hoping these Iguodala-type traits trickle down to Thompson and Barnes rather than adjusting the offense to the players.
From Abrams' Grantland feature, he writes:
"I can be Tony Allen, but at the same time I can be Scottie Pippen on the offensive end," he said. "I could get 14 assists one night, or 25 points. I always talked about the hockey assist in Philly. The pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score is sometimes more important. I know if I hit Steph, Klay's man's going to have to rotate off the down pick because the big is on me. So there's 4-on-3 on the other side. I know if I swing it to Steph, somebody's going to have to cover him, and Klay's going to be wide open. Before the play is even set up, I know to go this way, so the defense has to shift a certain way. Swing, swing, you get a score every time. I learned this from Andre Miller."
The Scottie Pippen comparison is an apt one but for people my age, a LeBron James-lite works just as well. The way Iguodala thinks about and during a game is a fresh narrative from the usual boring verbiage. Results-based players are fun to root for in the game (think J.R. Smith and Monta Ellis) but process-obsessed artists like Iguodala and LeBron remain the best at their craft.
Ultimately, the offense will always float around the top-ten line with or without Iguodala. Curry and Thompson are elite shooters, with the former functioning as a top-flight playmaker, and the wings and Lee help cobble together enough made shots and looks. The difference between the Iguodala-less games has been the defense.
It's not as tangible as the Bogut effect. Bogut singlehandedly shifts games and rebounds and challenges shots at a high level. The fulcrum of the interior defense, the Warriors are noticeably worse, even to the layman's eyes, the moment Bogut steps off the floor. Iguodala, on the other hand, creates a more subtle impact.
Iguodala's Swiss-Army-like game doesn't restrict itself to just the offense but, perhaps more importantly, to any and all defenders not centers on defense. From Chris Paul to Dirk Nowitzki, Iguodala was able to function as the main cog that allowed ancillary pieces like Barnes, Thompson and Green to pick up the pieces. Shifting everyone down one spot on the proverbial ladder eases the workload that comes with holding more usage on offense (Barnes) or now being asked to shut down top-tier players (Thompson on quicker players).
The Warriors defense posted a 96.5 Defensive Rating with Iguodala in the lineup, good for third in the league. WIthout his versatility, they've dropped to a 104.2 DRating, "good" for 19th in the NBA. That's a double-tier drop - from an elite swarming defense with two lockdown guys to a below-average group that's struggled to contain the likes of Gerald Henderson.
Let's look at the difference between how they recover on pick-and-rolls and off-ball screens. The problem isn't so much in the Xs-and-Os but just how much better Iguodala is as a seasoned wing defender. Thompson and Barnes are by no means terrible but are still missing some ingredients on that end.
Iguodala shoulders much of the burden on perimeter defense, especially when he can effectively chase excellent shooters and screen navigators like Kevin Martin and Kevin Durant. Watch how he contests the shooting hand and keeps his body down and chest out as to not draw a cheapie. It's subtle, yet brilliant.
Barnes, on the other hand, knows where the play, player, and ball are going but cheats a step in and Rudy Gay audibles to a simple flare-out for a wide-open shot. He isn't a good shooter but NBA players are going to drill that most of the time.
Thompson simply loses Monta off-ball here. He's a very solid defender but often loses the battle against quicker guards and turns his head a tad too much when he isn't tasked with a specific assignment.
But there's much more to the disintegration of a defense than shoddy off-ball movement. The ripple effect of an Iguodala-less lineup also puts a strain on the interior. Bogut is unlikely to ever move the way he used to and the more people that attack the basket with or without him in the lineup, the more susceptible he is to foul trouble and fatigue. Even Bogut's looked less spry in several games in the season, which is normal considering he hasn't played this many minutes in a couple years.
Perhaps the best on-ball defender is Green as he was able to take on Dirk Nowitzki and Monta, even once in the same possession. Iguodala he is not, but he offers the closest set of skills. With Jermaine O'Neal out, the Warriors will need to mix and match with Lee or Speights at the five, with Green playing the four. Whatever mixture Jackson cobbles together, the ultimate answer will come in the form of his injured star forward. Because without him functioning at 100 percent -- hamstrings are tricky injuries that can easily be re-aggravated -- the defense, and the team's chances at home-court advantage in the postseason, go down the drain.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com and Synergy Sports, unless stated otherwise.