Strength in Numbers has always been the main driving force behind the Golden State Warriors’ five-year run as the premier organization in the NBA. It is a principle driven into the very fabric of the team’s identity ever since Steve Kerr took over the head coaching duties in 2014. On the court, it is shown through the synergy displayed between the teams’ multiple All-Stars as well as the support that they receive from the supporting cast. Off the court, it is shown by the joy, camaraderie, and brotherhood that are the links of the unbreakable chain that has bonded them together.
Strength in Numbers has seen so many players come and go over the years. Players such as David Lee, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes, Mo Speights, Andrew Bogut, JaVale McGee, David West, and Zaza Pachulia have all embodied what it means to serve as pieces of a machine that is at its best when all of its working parts are in synergistic harmony.
All of those players are gone, and in their place are a mixture of new faces, young faces, and old veterans. The new faces have shown glimpses of potential, but at times have shown that their youth and inexperience bring their reliability into question. The Warriors’ old veterans are still invaluable pieces mainly due to their bottomless well of experience and high basketball IQ — but father time is undefeated, and their physiological status is on a ticking timer.
Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala both epitomize the kind of role players that the Warriors put a large premium on. Looney is only 22 years old, but he has been in the league for four years. A series of hip problems hindered his development, threw his fitness awry, and generated questions as to his usefulness and value to the organization. But never one to quit, Looney recovered from his hip injury, got himself back into shape, and became a solid contributor as a starter and as the go-to backup center for the Warriors, proving that hard work and determination can go a long way.
Iguodala is the elder statesman of the team, having spent five of his fifteen years in the league with the Warriors. From being touted as the successor of Allen Iverson — to being brought in as the expected savior of the Denver Nuggets after the departure of Carmelo Anthony — he has become the ultimate sixth man in the league.
It has been said that this season’s iteration of bench players is the weakest it’s been for years, and in some ways, that assessment isn’t far off — but Looney and Iguodala prove that that statement also isn’t fully the truth.
Against the Indiana Pacers, Looney and Iguodala both displayed what makes them such crucial and invaluable players off the bench. Iguodala finished the game with only 6 points, but contributed in a myriad of other ways by dishing out 8 assists as well being a pesky presence on the defensive end. Looney finished with a career high 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting; his offensive contributions mainly consisted of being a threat under the rim, using the attention that his teammates generate to catch passes and score wide-open dunks and lay ins.
Let’s take a look at how these two contributed to the Warriors’ blowout victory.
The versatility of Andre Iguodala
Iguodala has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and he continues to be an excellent defender well into his mid-thirties. He has the ideal prototypical traits to bother the speediest of guards, as well as hold his own against bigger and stronger players.
But perhaps the most well-known aspect of his defense is his ability to swipe down on the ball and perform a clean strip, as if Iguodala’s hands and the ball are magnetically linked to each other. In this possession, Iguodala hinders Bojan Bogdanovic’s drive by swiping down and stripping the ball away from him. The commentators argue that there is a foul there, and they might be right — but Iguodala’s reputation for clean swipes may have given him the benefit of the doubt.
Iguodala’s ability to be a stealthy presence when the defense’s attention is preoccupied with more immediate threats serves the Warriors well in this possession. Off of a stop, the Warriors give the ball to Durant on the left side to isolate in the post against a smaller defender. With the defense focusing their attention on Durant, Iguodala is left all alone on the weak side to creep his way along the baseline. Durant whips the ball to Iguodala, who gets up for the easy dunk.
Iguodala returns the favor by displaying his accurate passing skill. The Pacers commit an unforced turnover, with the ball finding its way to Iguodala. The jets are immediately turned on, with Iguodala’s exquisite bounce pass finding its way into the hands of Durant, who throws down the dunk in transition.
The Warriors run a play for Durant to receive an alley-oop dunk. Iguodala plays the role of passer from the strong side wing, a role that is usually played by Draymond Green. In the absence of Green, Iguodala is an equally proficient passer — Durant fakes a pin down toward the perimeter and dives inside, while Iguodala’s pass is perfectly timed for Durant to catch the ball mid-air and throw it down.
Iguodala victimizes Bogdanovic again with one of his patented clean strips. The Pacers get plenty of opportunities to score in this possession, but Iguodala ultimately shuts that down with another down swipe on a driving Bogdanovic that unquestionably catches nothing but leather. As a bonus, the ball last touches Bogdanovic on its way out of bounds.
Another clean strip by Iguodala prevents the Pacers from scoring on a pick-and-roll. Domantas Sabonis sets the pick and rolls his way toward the rim, but a timely rotation from Iguodala allows him to get another clean swipe. The ability of Iguodala to catch nothing but the ball is uncanny, matched by perhaps no other player in the league today.
The reliability of Kevon Looney
Out of the Warriors’ young center roster consisting of Looney, Damian Jones, and Jordan Bell, it is Looney who has the most experience and poise, as well as being the most fundamentally sound. Not blessed with athleticism like Bell, nor the biggest and tallest big man like Jones, Looney compensates for such deficiencies by being a hard worker who has a knack for being at the right place at the right time.
Looney isn’t known for being a jump shooter — he probably won’t be as proficient as David West in that department — but he has worked on his shooting quite a bit, and it shows in this possession. Iguodala throws the ball ahead, hoping that the Warriors will get a quick basket in transition. The Warriors do just that, but in the most unexpected way; Looney doesn’t garner attention from the defense, and he simply walks his way toward the free throw line, receives the ball, and casually knocks down the mid-range shot.
Looney doesn’t possess the skills that a traditional big man has, but his role doesn’t necessitate such a skill set. Having two of the best players in the league on the floor allows Looney to act as a black horse on offense — that is, someone who the defense least expects to be a threat.
When Durant makes his way inside in this possession, he draws several defenders onto him, including Myles Turner. This leaves Looney all alone under the rim and ready to receive Durant’s drop pass.
Despite Looney’s size disadvantage relative to his position as a center, he has proven that he is capable of standing his ground against his counterparts who are bigger, more athletic, and more skilled. He displays good fundamentals by smothering Turner in the paint and putting his hand up to block Turner’s shot without having to jump.
On the other end, the Warriors push the pace while displaying incredible ball movement, with Stephen Curry passing to Durant on the wing, Durant passing to Iguodala in the post, and Iguodala passing to a cutting Looney. Ignored once again by the defense, Looney makes them pay for their ignorance with another dunk.
In this sequence, Looney takes advantage of a Pacers defense that is falling apart with the shot clock winding down. With Iguodala handling the ball up top, two defenders find themselves sagging off of Durant on the wing, and they both hurriedly close out on Durant. This leaves Looney wide open under the basket to receive the bullet pass from Iguodala, and Looney gets another easy dunk.
Another excellent two-way sequence from Looney comes from this possession, where he gets switched onto Bogdanovic and is able to contest his three-point shot to force a miss. Iguodala boxes out Turner for the rebound, and the Warriors push the pace in transition. The Pacers get confused with their defensive assignments, and as a result, Darren Collison gets matched up against Looney, an obvious mismatch. Klay Thompson gets the ball down low to Looney, who puts the ball in and gets fouled by Collison.
Once again, Looney is at the right place at the right time. Curry gets the ball and makes his way inside. His penetration draws the attention of two defenders, forcing him to thread a pass inside to Looney, who has inside position against his defender. He gets up and manages to get the ball past the block attempt of Turner and into the basket.
Iguodala turned 35 years old on Monday, an age where most NBA players start to feel the effects of a body that has seen plenty of years and suffered plenty of wear and tear. But if the game against the Pacers — as well as the entire season so far — was of any indication, Iguodala has plenty of gas left in his tank.
Looney is only 22 years old, an age where most players aren’t far removed from their rookie seasons. Most players in this age range are still prone to mistakes; most would be lucky to see some playing time. But Looney is one of the few exceptions to that notion, having been thrown into high-stakes situations and performing well beyond expectations. The level of trust he has earned from his teammates and his coaches is repaid on an almost nightly basis, and as he grows older and gains more experience, he will become even more of a force to be reckoned with. Teams will have no choice but to start paying him the attention he rightfully deserves.
Strength in Numbers is still the driving force behind the team, despite what many have said about it showing signs of increasing irrelevancy.
“The veterans are getting older. The young players are too green and unreliable.”
Both Iguodala and Looney are challenging those notions. Strength in Numbers is still very much alive — and age is nothing but a number.
Fifty down, 32 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation