On August 10, the basketball world was set ablaze by a four-way trade that ultimately sent Dwight Howard from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers. The talking heads all agreed that this move made the Lakers the number one contenders to Oklahoma City’s Western Conference crown.
But what about another team that came out of this deal a contender? Surely, it is hard to ignore the significant upgrade that the Denver Nuggets made. For their part in the deal, the Nuggets sent out point guard Aaron Afflalo, power forward Al Harrington and a couple of picks, and in return received All-Star point forward Andre Iguodala from the 76ers. To many, this was a tremendous bargain for Denver, who got to dump two, large contracts and add one, manageable deal that expires in 2014. These same people established that this was enough to cement Denver’s status as a playoff team, maybe increase their standing by a spot, and build on those expiring deals in 2014.
But this would be a gross underestimation of a team that is poised to make a big push today, due in large part to the dynamic addition of Iguodala.
What Andre Iguodala brings with him to Denver is one of the NBA’s most underrated all-around games. He is most noted for his lockdown defense, averaging nearly 6 rebounds and 2 steals a game throughout his 8-year career. Going even deeper into the numbers, we see that Iguodala has averaged a defensive win share (or number of games won based on defensive performance) of 4 games per year (for reference, Dwight Howard lead the NBA in DWS from 2007-2011, averaging approximately 7 per year). What’s more is that these statistics have remained virtually unchanged in the 35-playoff games that Iguodala has been a part of. Beyond statistics, Iggy has demonstrated the ability to guard spots one through three, a much-needed talent in today’s NBA.
This defensive aid is the most crucial component to turning the Nuggets into a real contender. Denver ranked as the 10th worst overall defense in the NBA, allowing their opponents to score an average of 101.2 points per game. This issue really came to light in Denver’s playoff series with Los Angeles last year. The Nuggets shocked many by largely holding their own against the Lakers, coming back from a 1-3 deficit to force a Game 7. That being said, Denver still let up an egregious 96.3 points per game during the series.
Iguodala will immediately turn things around by simply taking over the two-spot that once belonged to Aaron Afflalo. While Afflalo had a career year last season, he is simply not a starting shooting guard capable of going up against the likes of Kobe Bryant and James Harden every night. In last year’s series against the Lakers, Afflalo was exposed by Kobe, who went for over 29 points per game, shooting 45% from the field. Beyond his predecessor, Iguodala will also help the rotation-heavy defense that George Karl employs, by using his height to aid whoever is occupying the 3-spot.
Beyond upgrading the D, Andre Iguodala will also impact the Nuggets in other ways. He has long been an undervalued asset on the offensive end, averaging 14.6 points and 4.6 assists per game in his career. While not astonishing, Iggy has demonstrated an ability to rise to the occasion, putting up 18 points per game in 07-08 and 6.2 assists in 10-11. This versatility on the offensive end will come in handy, as the Nuggets have a number of streaky players (Lawson, Gallinari and McGee, just to name a few) that might require Iguodala to turn it on at any given point. Finally, no matter what his offensive output has been, he has managed to average a very respectable PER of 17.1.
Finally, there is the matter of intangibles. Iguodala has shown tremendous heart throughout his eight years in the NBA, missing only 21 games during that span. He also brings a level of veteran leadership that has been missing from the team for years. With only Andre Miller having played more seasons, Iguodala joins an extremely young core of players, who are not without their mental lapses (looking at you, JaVale). No disrespect, but it’s likely that the locker room will view Iguodala’s recent All-Star nomination and Olympic gold medal more highly than Miller’s WAC Player of the Year award.
When you combine the impact of an All-Star like Andre Iguodala with a young, talented core like that which already exists in Denver, you have a recipe for immediate success. While I’m not claiming that Denver will win the title (or even the West), I feel that it is a mistake to immediately disqualify them from competing with the likes of San Antonio, Los Angeles and OKC. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this team is how long they could be together. With Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari signed up through 2016 (along with having the first crack at Iguodala), the Nuggets could potentially field the same starting five for the next four years. If this winds up being the case, it is not out of the realm of possibility to imagine a championship coming to the Mile High City in the near future.
(Photo Credit: ESPN.com)