SAN ANTONIO — In each of his first three return games, Andre Iguodala was the first to sit on Steve Kerr’s bench. After about five minutes, Kerr sent Iguodala to the scoring table for Kevon Looney. It gives Iguodala some guaranteed nostalgia minutes alongside the other franchise legends. But it also serves a more immediate purpose by allowing Kerr to separate Looney and Draymond Green.
“Right now, he’s our third tallest,” Kerr said of Iguodala. “I don’t know if the rotation pattern will continue like this. We like to always have Loon or Draymond (Green) on the floor. So Andre comes in early for Loon and plays the four with Draymond around the five. Then Loon comes back for Draymond and Andre stays in that lineup and plays with Loon.”
This is both a worrying and revealing reality about the state of the Warriors frontcourt and Iguodala’s versatile ability to still make a difference on the court despite two weeks shy of his 39th birthday.
The Warriors opened a crucial five-game road trip in San Antonio Friday night. They were greeted by an NBA-record crowd of 68,323 fans at the Alamodome and – a bigger gift – the worst statistical defense in NBA history. The Spurs have a 119.2 defensive rating in 43 games. No one has ever dropped points at a higher rate.
The Warriors’ offense did what it should have done to Spurs. They scored 144 points, had 33 assists, hit 18 3s and even got to the edge a lot easier than in the last few weeks. Eight players scored double digits. The blowout allowed them to limit Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to 23 minutes from two back-to-back the next week in growing difficulty – at Bulls and Wizards on Sunday and Monday and then Celtics and Cavaliers on Thursday and Friday.
Iguodala was not one of the eight warriors who became double figures. But he was just as influential in the win as anyone off the bench. The Warriors lead the league in fouls and rank 18th in defensive scoring. They struggle to defend without fouling and need to reduce the number of common defensive errors if they want any real chance of a replay.
Even in this farewell phase of his career, Iguodala is a plus defender. He guards multiple positions, knows where and when to help, understands opposing personnel while still having quick and accurate hands. Here he sinks into the box to prevent a substitution, recovers in time to slow down Jeremy Sochan (who he knows won’t hit with an outside jumper) and then takes off Sochan as he exposes the ball.
It was only three games. Iguodala was only on the ground for 42 minutes in total. But the small sample corresponds to the eye test. The Warriors have an 88.5 defensive rating in his 42 minutes and have outplayed opponents 103-85.
“He looks great,” Kerr said. “He’s so smart. He’s so long and athletic and defensively versatile. He’s another passer, playmaker on offense. Whatever cast he’s out there with, he does it better.”
Iguodala even added a couple of goals against Spurs. He took his first two jumpers of the season, hitting a 3 in the first half and missing a long midrange in the second half. He also had his second dunk of the season. Iguodala’s only shot attempt in his first two games was a putback dunk. Against the Spurs, he had a lick dunk as shown below.
Look at Andre’s young legs ✈️ pic.twitter.com/1jpnxGRmqx
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 14, 2023
Iguodala, in this clip, took off from the dotted line and went in before Sochan, a young and athletic defender, could get up to block. Two dunks in the last two games. That must be a good sign of how his legs are feeling?
“I live,” said Iguodala. “Two (dunks) too many. Too damn long (from a jump). I chased the ball. I wasn’t very warm. Bones creaked a little. Task done.”
“Knock on wood, hopefully he stays healthy,” Kerr said. “We will make sure we give him the proper rest to keep his body healthy. Tonight was tough because we had several guys outside. I didn’t want to play Looney for the last five or six minutes but didn’t have much of a choice.”
After a workout last week, Kerr expressed concern about the strain Looney and Green carry inside. JaMychal Green has been out for almost a month. James Wiseman has struggled to crack rotation when healthy and is out with a sprained ankle. Jonathan Kuminga is close to returning from a sprained foot but has now missed the last five games.
That leaves Looney, who hasn’t missed a game, and Green, who has appeared in 38 of 42 games, to shoulder the load on the inside without proper backup at their backs.
“No. I don’t share the (same) concerns,” Green said of the Kerr comment. “That’s what I train for. You train to be able to give a team everything that team needs. If that’s in the last month or so extra.” minutes, then that’s it. So I don’t really share the concern. But I understand his concern. When you essentially have two guys holding the five, it can get difficult at times. But I’m not worried about that. It is what it is.”
It’s also why the return of Iguodala came at such a needed time for the Warriors. He can take a shift at a center if needed and gives both Looney and Green another high IQ defensive connector to ease their stress. The Warriors have only used Green and Looney as centers for the past few seasons, but their lives got a lot easier when smart, tough wings like Juan Toscano-Anderson or Otto Porter Jr. helped out there in the fight.
But then the question shifts to Iguodala’s health and whether it’s wise to consistently dump him in the land of giants.
“It’s – terrible,” Iguodala laughed. “Nah. I don’t like playing the big guy. But I know how to play the big one. It’s almost like being punished for being good at your job. I say that jokingly. But I don’t like that, s—. I guarded DeMarcus (cousins) for the first round last year. S— is terrible.”
Does it wear out the body?
“Nah. nope Nah,” said Iguodala. “I don’t like it because you can’t move that much. I have to get tired. I like to get tired. Sometimes I have to guard fast guys, so I have to get used to it. When I guard these centers I can really relax.”
It is expected that Iguodala will only play one side of the forthcoming back-to-back. The warriors will rest him selectively when his body demands it. This will be easier with Kuminga, Wiseman and JaMychal Green returning. Kuminga could appear this week.
The Warriors have an open roster slot. The 10-day contract window is now open. They could have looked for temporary help while Kuminga and Wiseman heal. But the front office have shown no urgency on that front and the coaches’ tentative response was Iguodala, fresh off the inactive list and straight in the black eye. He says he feels well enough to be a regular part of the rotation.
“As long as the body is good, I want to play,” said Iguodala. “Then I want to get a good run of 10, 15 games in a row before the playoffs with no problems. So, yeah, that’s pretty much the plan. I want to be comfortable taking photos when I’m tired. Once I have that, I’m fine.”
(Photo: Eric Gay / Associated Press)
https://theathletic.com/4089004/2023/01/14/andre-iguodala-return-warriors/ Andre Iguodala, currently the Warriors’ third major player, has returned at a time of need