2013-2014 NBA Season: Did The Golden State Warriors Make A Huge Mistake?

The ‘Strap is taking a brief hiatus from our NBA preview to discuss a more pressing hardwood topic… far and away more pressing than the recent release of the new NBA schedule or photo proof of Chris “Birdman” Andersen getting pleasantly screamed at in Taiwan…

The Detroit Pistons just committed $56 million dollars to Josh “J-Smoove” Smith and the Golden State Warriors just committed $48 million dollars to Andre Iguodala. However, did the Warriors really use their cap space wisely and pick the player that best fits their style of play? After they went all in for Andre Iguodala, giving up a valuable draft pick just to create cap space to sign him, I can’t help but question whether Josh Smith would’ve been a better fit.

He can already act…

And he can carry the rock like a champ…

However, Andre Iguodala has established himself as the jack-of-all-trades type of player. He dabbles the stat sheet with rebounds, strings along some assists, has a block here or there, plays exceptional defense, and can score when needed. In the end, he is good for a line that looks somewhat like this: 14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block… plus remarkable defense of course.

 

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s be clear, Andre Iguodala can be a key starter on your championship team even though much of the time he flies under the radar, but is he really worth $12 million a year to the Warriors? After all, the Warriors formed an identity last year using a team that can stroke the three ball and play supreme small ball. They had two budding stars in Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson and two already-there stars in Steph Curry and David Lee. By clearing Richard Jefferson’s atrocious contract and Andris Biedrins’ appalling contract, they created enough cap space to make the final splash. What was thought to be a big man that could compliment Lee turned into Iggy. Many prayed for Dwight Howard, though the squad quickly swung and missed on Howard, before settling on Iguodala.

Though don’t ever doubt A.I.’s ability to inspire his teammates…

Andre Iguodala plays the 2 and the 3 and the Warriors thought he would fit perfectly in their small-ball schemes. However, is he not just going to take precious minutes from Harrison Barnes that could potentially be instrumental in the latter’s development as a player? Barnes showed us at UNC that he can carry the offensive load, but was best suited as a second option. In the NBA he proved to be a valuable three-point shooter and defender who needed some on-the-court work. He proved trustworthy during crunch time and flashed some real potential, not to mention he is making a bargain-esque $4 million (as are many rookies on that rookie scale).

Iguodala’s signing inevitably moves Barnes out of the crunch time lineup, where Barnes is more useful then Iggy because he is much more efficient offensively. Teams will leave Andre Iguodala open in a game’s waning minutes and have their defense fit to defend Curry and Thompson more aggressively.

Wizards v/s Warriors 03/02/11

Barnes provides a three-point threat and better spacing in case Mark Jackson decides he wants to give a key offensive possession to David Lee. As for the fit in the Warriors’ run-and-gun small-ball, a lineup of David Lee, Iggy, Barnes, Thompson and Curry is simply too small and too ineffective defensively. With no real power forward (Barnes is not quite ready to be considered a stretch-4, but he does have the size to become one) and David Lee “holding down the paint” (failing to), this small ball lineup may be too defensively inept to survive.

Ben Teitelbaum, an excellent columnist for the dailybeast, disagrees with the notion that the Warriors should have made a play for J Smooth. He stands by the Iguodala signing and thinks the signing was paramount. Ben disagrees vehemently with me stating that the Warriors “need an elite on-ball wing defender and somebody that does not care about shots”. However, Iguodala I believe has been falsely profiled as an “elite “ defender. Basketball-Reference.com and their advanced stats page show that Iggy, while he is an above average defender, is not quite nearly as efficient as Josh Smith. In fact, two seasons ago Josh Smith led the league in defensive-win shares, a sabermetric stat that shows how efficient a player is defensively. Smith blew away the opposition and was even more efficient than the then-Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler.  The idea that Iguodala can perform without the ball in his hands is also misconstrued; last season Iggy’s usage percentage (a stat that estimates how much a player is used offensively during a game) was among the lowest on the 2012-2013 Nuggets squad.

If you take a look Smith’s usage percentage over his career, it is 23.5% while Iggy’s is 19.5%. However, last season Iguodala was actually featured more in his respective offense then Smith was, not to mention that Smith was the alpha dog on his Atlanta Hawks team. Smith, though, was victimized by poor play from Jeff Teague last season and thus his usage percentage was uncharacteristically down from seasons past. I believe the reason basketball fans revere Andre Iguodala more than Josh Smith is their respective reputations. Allow me to elaborate…

Iggy has been regarded as a selfless player; Smith a selfish player. Smith has been subject to first round exit after first round exit, and if you ask any Hawks fan they will tell you that there are plenty of times (every night between October and April?) when they want to tear their new perms apart after watching the 6’9″ Smith jack up 54-foot three-pointers with 20 seconds left on the shot clock night after night. Through Smith’s first 9 seasons, we have learned that he not good enough to be your contending team’s best player, but he is also not your typical “good stats, bad team” player. Let’s just pencil him in somewhere in the middle. As the middle man, he would’ve been an excellent piece for Golden State.

As I mentioned earlier, the Warriors love them some small ball. Last season they used Carl Landry as the perfect compliment to David Lee during their small-ball stints. Josh Smith would’ve been ideal, as he is the exceptional wing defender that the Warriors have been yearning and can guard the opposing team’s power forward. Did we mention he brings the size that Iguodala simply does not have, yet equivalent athletic ability?

Josh Smith shoots

Josh Smith shoots (Photo credit: fi_chince)

Smith can open the floor offensively as well. While he is not your prototypical post-up big, he can move out to either edge and has a deadly mid-range jumper (he has always been a better mid-range shooter then everybody thought). Smith will not hinder the offense like Iggy might (because Iggy cannot shoot). Smith also allows Mark Jackson to toy with his lineup. He can do the small ball approach or he can script a bruising frontcourt of Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Smith. Even if you throw Curry and Thompson or Curry and Barnes in the backcourt with this hand of ballers, you still have an above average lineup offensively and a thoroughly potent lineup defensively. Another key factor is that Smith would not have been asked to play alpha-dog on the Warriors as Steph Curry is the de facto alpha dog and will be for years to come.

Critics will argue that there is only one ball per court and the Warriors have to many mouths to feed, however the Warriors were the 10th most efficient team last season. With the youth that this team has it is expected that they will only continue to grow as a whole. The bottom line is that the scorers on the Warriors do not need that many shots to get their points. With Smith, the Warriors could throw three legitimate scoring threats on the court at all times and the lineup of Smith, Lee, Curry, Thompson and Barnes might be one of the most well-rounded lineups offensively and defensively in the league. The Smith for Iguodala swap also opens up time for Barnes to play in crunch time, which as I noted earlier is integral for his development as a player in this league. The Smith signing is also “safer” for the Warriors as Smith is a tough power forward and two years younger then Iguodala.

And perhaps a better dunker…?

DSC_6548.jpg

DSC_6548.jpg (Photo credit: Cougar-Studio)

Iggy’s lynchpin has always been his athleticism and sooner rather then later that is going to give. When Iggy’s contract expires he will be pushing 34, while Smith will be midway through his 31st birthday. The Warriors are all in on a championship and with this contract and the impending Klay Thompson extension, the Warriors’ cap space will have run dry. The bottom line is that as this was their last splash via free agency, the Warriors better hope this unit works or they are going to have to have some serious luck (something the Warriors have never had) to attain a championship.

The Warriors, I believed, were poised to make a serious run at the NBA Title last season before they fell apart against the Spurs. GM Bob Myers thought he had to make one more splash to push this team over the top, and that he did. And while the Josh Smith-Andre Iguodala debate may not be as polarizing as say the Darko-Melo debate, it remains a semi-significant “what if” scenario in the NBA. While I do not believe the Warriors struck out with Iggy (he still has a lot of redeeming qualities), I’m not sold on them having “hit a homerun.”

Is it enough to push the Warriors over the top in the Western Conference? Only time will tell…

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