No team plays well without key cogs, but the loss of Andre Iguodala to injury was especially damaging to the Golden State Warriors. He returned to action on Tuesday night in an 11-point win against the New Orleans Pelicans, finishing with two points and two assists in 17 minutes.
His only bucket was a familiar sort, with the nine-year veteran soaring high in the air and flushing a backdoor alley-oop.
The box score from Tuesday night won't highlight Iguodala's importance to the Warriors, but his presence in their lineup is paramount and his return is an immediate step in the right direction.
Iguodala strained his left hamstring late in the third quarter on Nov. 22 against the Lakers. If you include the loss that night, Golden State was just 5-8 without the former All-Star and, at 13-12, would miss the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference if the season ended today. The difference between the team with him on and off the floor is staggering and a testament to his overall importance.
In 483 minutes with Iguodala on the floor, Golden State's offensive rating is 109.3 and its defensive rating is 95.4, a plus-14 net rating, according to NBA.com's media-only stats database. That rating would put the Warriors as the second best offensive and defensive team in the league, per NBA.com/stats. Without Iguodala, the offense dips to 100.3, a hair below Memphis' mostly stagnant offense. The defense is 8.5 points worse, at 103.9, which puts them on par with Detroit for 10th worst in the NBA.
On offense, Iguodala serves as the Warriors' secondary ball-handler and playmaker. He excels in driving and dishing to open shooters and in Golden State, there is a slew of which to choose from. His incredibly efficient scoring this season -- 65.6 True Shooting, 65 effective field goal percentage before Tuesday night -- is an added bonus, likely derived from the amount of spacing on the floor at any given time.
Klay Thompson, Golden State's third-year sharpshooter, has taken the largest hit without Iguodala on the floor. His effective field goal percentage plummets from 64.7 to 50.2 and his true shooting percentage dips from 66 to 53.6 when Iguodala is on the bench, according to NBA.com's media-only stats database. Stephen Curry's shooting is nearly identical regardless of if Iguodala is playing or not, but his net rating is 19.1 points worse when the former All-Star is on the bench.
This summer, the Warriors let Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry walk away as free agents in part to make room for Iguodala. They also traded two unprotected first-round draft picks, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush to the Jazz in a salary dump. The latter three guys aren't impact players, but the former were two key cogs in Golden State's playoff run last year.
Jack played the secondary ball-handling role and Iguodala assumed that role this season, while Landry served quality minutes as the third big man in the rotation. Without those two guys and without Iguodala, the Warriors are stretched thin, which is the risk they took in swapping multiple players for one.
Coach Mark Jackson was hesitant to play Iguodala major minutes in his return Tuesday night and, to be fair, he didn't really need to. New Orleans cut the lead to 10-points late in the fourth quarter, but never really posed a real threat. That the Warriors got a 10-point win against the Pelicans on Tuesday night and that Iguodala registered a plus-20 in 17 minutes, is not a coincidence.
Without a healthy Iguodala, the immediate future becomes very bleak in Golden State. With him, however, the Warriors are a commanding apparatus on both offense and defense. If there's anything his absence has taught us, it's that the Warriors can ill-afford to lose him for long periods of time as his presence changes the entire dynamic of the team, one that hopes to contend for a championship.