Through the first three weeks of the 2013-14 NBA season, Andre Iguodala looked like just about the perfect pick-up for the Golden State Warriors. Placed in the context of an offense built around the inside-outside duo of Stephen Curry and David Lee, and a defense led by healthy-and-paid center Andrew Bogut, the 29-year-old wing was freed from the burden of being The Man on either end of the floor, and he responded by playing some of the best all-around ball of his routinely underappreciated NBA career, averaging right around 13 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals per game, shooting nearly 55 percent from the floor and 48 percent from 3-point range. A left hamstring strain sidelined Iguodala for nearly a month and left Mark Jackson's club reeling a bit, going 5-7 with the small forward on the shelf; while the Warriors have largely gotten right since his return, rolling up a 28-12 record since Dec. 17 and outscoring opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions over the last 40 games (the league's third-best mark during that span, behind only the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder), Iguodala himself hasn't quite looked like he's 100 percent, trending downward statistically in virtually every category while his shooting has fallen off a cliff (43.4 percent from the field, 27.9 percent from 3-point range) since his return.
Golden State's still been leaps and bounds better with Iguodala on the floor than off it — the Warriors have outscored opponents by a whopping 13.4 points per 100 possessions in more than 1,700 Iguodala minutes, scoring at a rate that would trail only the Miami Heat and defending with a stinginess that only the Indiana Pacers could top over the course of the full season, and they've been outscored by 4.2 points-per-100 with Iguodala on the bench, with their offense falling off a cliff to a tie for the second-worst mark in the league — but Iguodala hasn't looked like the kind of full-court, two-way difference-maker he appeared to be early in the season. One sequence from the Warriors' Tuesday night matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, though, made it seem like the #FullSquad version of Iguodala might at long last be back in the fold:
Shutting down a three-on-one fast break with a perfectly timed block of Shawn Marion layup, followed by a full-court haul to fill the lane on the counter-attack, sky over the unsettled Mavericks to corral a missed Curry pull-up 3-pointer and punctuate the play with a powerful one-handed tomahawk follow dunk? Yeah, it looks like Iguodala's timing, legs and bounce are in decent working order, thanks.
It was by far the loudest play in what was a relatively quiet statistical performance by Iguodala — four points, five assists, two rebounds, two blocks in 25 1/2 minutes — as the Warriors locked down the high-scoring Mavericks, 108-85, to earn their fifth straight win and draw within 1 1/2 games of the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 5 seed in the crowded Western Conference playoff race. (The loss dropped Dallas beneath the surging Memphis Grizzlies into the No. 8 spot, just a game ahead of the ninth-place Phoenix Suns.)
Iguodala's end-to-end exclamation point wasn't the big talking point to come out of Golden State's fifth straight win. Instead, it was the continued strong play of the Warriors bench, led by guards Jordan Crawford (who scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second quarter) and recent addition Steve Blake (nine points, eight assists, three rebounds in 26 minutes), that earned the attention of ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss:
Blake has been a wildly popular addition in Oakland in a way that 8.6-point-per-game players seldom are. Some of that speaks to his pleasantly unselfish play and some of it speaks to the glaring void he patched up. Blake might merely be a "role player," but he's well matched to this particularly role. The bench was adrift offensively before his arrival.
Jordan Crawford hasn't found his way as quickly or easily as Blake has, but he was incandescent on Tuesday, scoring 19 points on shots that few NBA players dare take. There might be an inverse relationship between how open Crawford is and whether he hits the attempt, but Crawford's content to reduce that theory down to: "I just have confidence in myself, always did, and luckily, they goin' in."
Jackson is more declarative, saying, "We have a legitimate second unit with no weaknesses." [...]
"Anytime you have a bench that can play the way they did tonight, that's huge. That's going to help us in the big picture, where we're trying to go. It's hard to prepare for us when you don't know who's going to have the big game," [Curry] said.
And harder still when a once-again-healthy Iguodala can produce the kind of plays on either end of the court that can provide two-possession swings, kickstart the Warriors' open-court blitz and put Oracle Arena over the top, as Jackson recently told Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group:
"We're a better basketball team when he [pushes the ball up the court] and when he does it aggressively to score or to facilitate," Jackson said. "I thought last night he allowed us to get it going in transition because he had that mindset." [...]
"Coming back when he wasn't 100 percent, probably people expected to see the Andre Iguodala that we went and got instead of saying, 'OK, well, it's a process.' But we've been patient with him all along, and we know what type of player he is and the things he does on the floor to make us better. But I understand the pressure of everybody else not knowing that he wasn't 100 percent, that he was stepping into new territory."
If the return to health continues to progress and the Warriors' newfound depth continues to produce, Iguodala could help Golden State step into another kind of uncharted territory — a deep playoff run that builds off last year's second-round ouster.
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