Over the summer, the Golden State Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala by clearing space and then adding him via sign-and-trade after the moratorium. One of the initial criticisms of the trade was that adding a swingman like Iguodala would stunt the growth of fascinating prospect Harrison Barnes who came on particularly strongly in Golden State’s surprising playoff run. While concerns about changing Barnes' role in the offense could be well founded, minutes will not be a problem whatsoever for the Warriors and the overall benefits could be hugely significant moving forward.
In an 82 game regular season without any overtime games, an NBA team will need a total of 7,872 minutes from the shooting guard and small forward positions. That should seem like an awfully large number of minutes because it is. In fact, even the player who logged the most minutes last season (Damian Lillard, surprisingly enough) left 769 to fill at point guard- about ten minutes per game.
Potentially influenced by Gregg Popovich’s success with the aging Spurs core, we have seen a slight downturn in heavy minute players over the last few seasons. None of the 20 highest minutes per game seasons in the last five years came from 12-13 and only two (Kevin Love and Luol Deng) occurred in 11-12. This shift helps keep players fresh and also opens up more playing opportunities for guys a little further down the pecking order, whether that be sixth men or small minute spark plugs. Additionally, it can and should change the way we think about minutes distribution moving forward.
Last season, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes all played in 80 or more games while Thompson and Iguodala each logged more than 35 MPG. Even with all that time on the court, the three combined for 99 minutes less than the full allotment for the swingman positions and that does not include overtime tilts and time spent playing other spots.
In the case of the Warriors, the second one could actually be a substantial factor. David Lee’s injury necessitated an experiment that should have been tried much earlier in the season: Harrison Barnes at power forward. It worked beautifully against Denver because George Karl had trouble adapting to a squad with so much shooting and quickness and poor talent matches on his team. The Spurs did better but still had their struggles with Barnes at the 4. While not perfect against every team, a heavier dose of smallball should help the Warriors in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Additionally, giving heavy swingman minutes to Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes makes sense given the current roster composition of the team. Counting Stephen Curry as a full-time PG, the Warriors only have three other players on roster who can make a strong case for taking swingman minutes: Draymond Green (who played better at power forward last season), Kent Bazemore and rookie combo guard Nemanja Nedovic. Just sliding Barnes to the four at least a few minutes each game should provide enough burn for everything to work out nicely.
The addition of Iguodala also gives the Warriors a series of different defensive options due to his versatility. One of the nice things about Thompson is that he can competently defend both swingman positions, particularly when handling the less dangerous of the two opposing players on the wing. This flexibility meshes perfectly with Iguodala who should handle the tougher cover regardless of position. This can actually extend to Stephen Curry as well since the Baby-Faced Assassin can defend some of the more limited SG’s if need be. Thanks to the Oklahoma City Thunder trading James Harden, no Western Conference squad has three tough covers on the perimeter, allowing Mark Jackson to potentially run some interesting cross-matches at key times. At the moment, these could work as crunch time defensive assignments:
San Antonio- Iguodala on Tony Parker, Curry on Manu/Danny Green, Thompson on Kawhi Leonard
Oklahoma City- Iguodala on Kevin Durant, Curry on Russell Westbrook, Thompson on the other guy
Houston- Iguodala on Harden, Curry on Jeremy Lin, Thompson on Chandler Parsons
LA Clippers- Iguodala on Chris Paul, Curry on JJ Redick, Thompson on Jared Dudley
Memphis- Iguodala on Mike Conley, Curry on Tony Allen, Thompson on Prince/Pondexter
Only Oklahoma City puts Curry on a truly challenging assignment and I am fascinated to see how a Clippers/Warriors series would work out defensively. The Thompson assignments also would work out reasonably well for Barnes should that be a necessity in a given game.
Grouping One: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Grouping Two: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Andrew Bogut and Iguodala/Barnes/Green
Grouping Three: Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Toney Douglas or Marreese Speights
I have written reviously about David Lee’s ideal role on this team coming as a larger playmaking part when Stephen Curry sits. Adding Iguodala made this even more interesting since he can manage an offense in limited periods of time. A unit closing out quarters with Lee, Iguodala, and largely supporting talent could actually work pretty well. That would also allow Bogut to play more minutes with Curry to maximize his offensive value. A grouping like that could also yield more minutes for the Curry/Klay/Barnes/Bogut foursome which played a major role in Golden State’s playoff success.
The other nice component of these groups is that players like Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli (when he comes back) and Jermaine O’Neal can fit nicely into the first two groups as necessary while newcomers Speights, Douglas and Nedovic make more sense in Group Three, at least at first.