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How Iguodala’s Injury Has Changed Warriors Offense

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

“He’s a bigtime playmaker on the offensive end. He’s another ball-handler for us. He’s a guy that has an extremely high IQ, understanding the offensive end and the defensive end. He helps out depth also, because now you bring Harrison (Barnes) off the bench. Now you have, I don’t want to say no nowhere to go with Harrison not on the bench, but that hurts us.”

The above quote is from Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson speaking on the impending return of Andre Iguodala, who on November 22 suffered a strained left hamstring and has now missed nine consecutive games.

Iguodala was supposed to be important for the Golden State Warriors, no doubt, he was another piece to a white-hot team on their ascension to the NBA’s elite. I’d be lying if I told you I thought they would miss him as much as they do, though. Sure, they were only 8-5 with him but their 4-5 record since he went down suggests an under-appreciation of just how important he was to the team.

It’s simple to merely look at the Warriors record and assume what Iguodala meant to the team, but we all know wins and losses aren’t created equally. Their five losses came against the likes of Portland, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Houston and… well… Charlotte. Yeah, the Charlotte loss last night was bad.

On the flip side, their wins have come against New Orleans, Sacramento, Toronto and Memphis, not exactly world-beaters.

Regardless of the record and opponents, fans and observers of the Golden State Warriors can tell you how differently the team has played in the absence of Iguodala. The most obvious tradeoff was Harrison Barnes to the starting lineup, which on its face seems like a decent exchange. However, the 5-man unit of Barnes, Stephen Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson has simply not played up to the standards of an elite NBA team, or really, a good NBA team.

Their -7.8 net efficiency is a result of a putrid 108.7 defensive efficiency rating. Opponents are shooting 45.7% from the field on this unit and 44% from three. This is a stark contrast from the 100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions with Iguodala in that same lineup. This isn’t a total surprise. Iguodala is one of the NBA’s best defenders and Barnes, well, isn’t. This is the type of numbers we should expect when a team and a unit loses their defensive anchor.

What I didn’t expect was the crazy differential in offensive numbers. Full disclourse, I started researching this article to discuss the Warriors’ drop in defense and came away shocked at how differently their offense has performed. With Iguodala, the aforementioned starting five had a 118.8 points scored per 100 possessions, in the last nine games without Iguodala — 100.9. The Warriors have went from elite offense to ever so slightly above league average.

The unit with Iguodala had a higher percentage of their points come from beyond the arc, more shots overall assisted, more fast-break points, more points in the paint and almost 10% better in eFG%. They were better by just about every measure.

What the hell? Haven’t we all been talking about Harrison Barnes emerging as a consistent NBA option in the absence of Iguodala?

We have and it is true, Barnes has played well score 14.3 points-per-game since Iguodala went down. Moreover, the Splash Brothers (greatest nickname in sports, by the way) haven’t seen significant drops in their scoring or overall play, the 2-man unit had a net efficiency of 9.7 before Iguodala was hurt and a 2.4 in the last nine. Sure, that’s a drop but is it significant enough for them to be as different of a team as they’ve been?

The real difference I see is Curry and Barnes mixing like oil and water. The two-man unit of Curry and Iguodala was a spectacular +19.9 (with 119.3 offensive efficiency) while Barnes and Curry are -9.1. That’s significant even if Curry’s points are slightly up. The offense just doesn’t run the same and for whatever reason, the threes aren’t hitting with the same frequency.

Pre-injury, the Warriors were hitting 47.1% of their corner threes and 44.4% of their above the break threes. Post-injury, 36.8% on corner threes and above the break has fallen to 38.4%. Is it just a lack of open looks due to Iguodala spacing or just nine game, small sample size randomness?

Barnes has evolved his game into a mostly drive to the basket, one-on-one breakdown offensive player and a majority of his shots have come in the restricted area. This would suggest that spacing could be better with Barnes, but that clearly isn’t reflected in the raw numbers. I thought perhaps Iguodala was outclassing Barnes from three and while he was doing well (47.9%), Barnes is holding his own at 41%.

You could argue Barnes’ penchant for isolation plays has slowed the entire offense down, but it still doesn’t quite explain why the threes have suddenly stopped hitting. Video of last night’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats doesn’t suggest any spacing issues either, Thompson is closely guarded by Gerald Henderson but also missed a number of wide-open looks, ditto for Curry who still put in 43 points but shot only 5-16 from deep.

Who knows? I wonder if we’re just attributing a shooting slump to the injury of a single player which is lazy and not necessarily fair without a clear reason why, but, it seemed to flip a switch on the Warriors. It could be the increase in tough opponents which is evident for in their recent schedule but doesn’t explain Golden State having issues with the Charlotte Bobcats and needed a historic fourth quarter to beat the Toronto Raptors.

The Warriors will play every other day for the next two weeks so hopefully we get some clarity soon. Iguodala is due back “very soon” according to Jackson and the Warriors, it will be interesting to see if the switch gets turned back on or if the struggles continue.

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