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Ball Don't Lie

Denver’s GM Masai Ujiri details his team’s defensive plans for newly acquired Andre Iguodala

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Andre Iguodala, for all his gifts, pictured doing what he does best (Getty Images)

Andre Iguodala remains one of the NBA's strangest players. His enviable talent and ability to contribute significantly in ways that can either be overrated or underrated with typical box score numbers, advanced statistical metrics, and eye-on-the-tube scouting make him one of the league's most intriguing players. And stuck on the weirdness that has been the Philadelphia 76ers for the last eight seasons, watching Dre ply his trade night and night out still hasn't answered the question of what, exactly, he does so darn well.

Denver Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri is attempting to change that. In trading for Andre, the active Nuggets boss is hoping to make the multifaceted wing into a more focused helper. The Nuggets, third in offensive efficiency during 2011-12, don't really need any more scoring. Dre, if he wouldn't mind, is being asked to go guard just about anyone he can. From an interview with Denver-area radio show "Drew & Scott," as thankfully transcribed by Roundball Mining Company:

"We as a team have studied teams that play the way we do. Phoenix did it, even in the past some other teams have done it, we do it. The one thing I think we struggle with is defense, and we thought bringing in a defensive minded player would kind of affect the athletes that we have. We do have good athletes and we do have good players that have potential to be good at defense. We're always going to score.., we're always going to be tough for the way George Karl coaches, but defensively we have to stop somebody. We can't be 19th in the league on defense and think we want to make a jump.

"So I think that was where the upgrade was. We feel Iguodala is going to be able to score a little bit more because of the way we play. I think the Sixers played more of a halfcourt game and they played more in a halfcourt setting. We go up and down, and that's his game. He likes to find people, he likes to make plays, he likes to attack the rim, and that's how he plays. So I think on both sides we have somebody that can play-make for some of our other players and … an elite defender that's going to help us be better on defense."

(We're nearly a decade into helping point out to people of this online, but for the summertime pluggers it's worth reminding that pace added to Denver's defensive totals. The team was 28th in points allowed last season, but once pace is accounted for the team ranked 20th overall in defensive efficiency according to Basketball-Reference.com. Not quite the 19th that Ujiri mentioned, but a lovely thing to behold from an NBA GM; a position that often seems lost to even the most rudimentary of advanced metrics despite all the noises begging GMs to get on board.)

In the four-team deal that netted Denver Iguodala while dumping front-court scoring from Al Harrington and a typically sized two-way shooting guard in Arron Afflalo, the Nuggies saved themselves quite a bit of money while also forcing Dre to work at a shooting-guard slot he might not be best suited for. Within normal basketball terms, it's a risk.

It hardly matters. Denver isn't about spacing. The team is about running, and creating matchup issues on the fly. Iguodala's uneasiness with nailing 3-pointers may have been an issue at times in Philadelphia, but it won't be a problem on a Denver team that can field all manner of shooters alongside the cutters and finishers.

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The 76ers' online goodbye to Andre Iguodala (Courtesy NBA.com/Sixers)

Iguodala's 3-point shooting did jump up significantly in 2011-12 to nearly 40 percent, in a season that saw 76ers coach Doug Collins stiffen the pace to a rate that ranked the team 24th in the NBA in possessions per game. That's a little worrying — perhaps the slow pace did encourage Dre's best output from that particular realm — but that also might either be a statistical fluke or a function of Iguodala entering his prime after a lockout-addled offseason full of tossing up jumpers. Whatever the influence, no matter the permanence, Denver wants to take a chance on turning this formerly multifaceted face of the Philadelphia 76ers into the singularly focused face of the Denver Nuggets.

It makes sense. Iguodala was right to be criticized when his attempts at late-game hero ball fell short in Philly, but he was miscast as that go-to offensive star. On a more free-flowing Nuggets squad, one that badly needs help in shutting down all manner of point guards, off guards and wings, Dre should act as a needed salve. And in a Western Conference full of goofball teams being built on the fly, Ujiri is attempting to give coach George Karl a badass group of talents that could take advantage of mismatches in a seven-game series and possibly make some second or third round noise.

As Ujiri bides his time with all those assets, it's really all he can do. Yes, Iguodala is slated for another year of making over eight figures a season, but he's in a situation that isn't calling for him to act as the star.

The tipping point, perhaps. The game-changer, Denver hopes. But not the star.

It's a fascinating experiment. November, and then late April, can't get here soon enough.

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