Warriors

Wiggins helping Warriors' D emerge from Iguodala's shadow

Warriors
Andrew Wiggins, Andre Iguodala playing defense

For the second time in just over a year, former Warrior Andre Iguodala will play against his former team at Chase Center. Iguodala and the Miami Heat will notice plenty of differences in Golden State when the teams tip off Wednesday night.

Steph Curry's mere presence is perhaps the most obvious change, followed closely by his re-emergence as an MVP frontrunner. Also apparent will be the absence of the fans Iguodala endeared himself to over six seasons in the Bay Area, a constant consequence of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But it shouldn't go unnoticed that one of the players tasked with filling the defensive void left behind in the wake of Iguodala's departure is enjoying arguably his finest season on defense to date. Andrew Wiggins, traded for the player (D'Angelo Russell) whose acquisition necessitated the Warriors offloading Iguodala's salary to the Memphis Grizzlies two summers ago, has been one of the NBA's best on-ball defenders this season.

Wiggins has improved the Warriors' defensive presence on the wing, helping Golden State play elite defense for the first time since Iguodala's departure. That's not to say Wiggins has been a like-for-like replacement.

The Warriors relied on Iguodala for his versatility in Steve Kerr's first five seasons as head coach, whereas Wiggins has been deployed as an on-ball stopper.

"The similarities lie in their athleticism and their length," Kerr said Tuesday in a video conference with reporters. "They're different players. They're very different."

 

Wiggins was by no means a lockdown defender in parts of six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he has become one this season. So far this season, the players Wiggins guards are shooting 38.5 percent from the field, 53.1 percent within six feet of the basket and 30.0 percent from beyond the 3-point line, according to NBA Advanced Stats.

Each of those marks would be the lowest by Wiggins' opponents in a single season, and, for the first time, the players he's guarding are shooting 7.8, 5.7 and 8.0 percentage points worse from those aforementioned areas than when defended by somebody else. Iguodala never touched those differences in defended field-goal percentage with the Warriors.

Still, Iguodala made his mark on Golden State's defenses. The Warriors allowed at least one fewer point every 100 possessions with Iguodala on the floor than when he wasn't in each of his five seasons playing for Kerr, giving up nearly eight fewer points per 100 possessions during Iguodala's minutes in the 2017-18 season.

This season, the Warriors' defensive rating with Wiggins on the floor (107.8) is slightly worse than when he's off it (107.3). The Warriors also forced a higher percentage of turnovers with Iguodala on the floor -- as many as 2.4 percentage points more in 2015-16, which Cleaning the Glass pegged as in the NBA's 92nd percentile that season -- than they have with Wiggins so far this season. Golden State's opponent turnover percentage is almost a percentage point worse with Wiggins on the floor than when he isn't.

"Andre was more of a jack of all trades defensively," Kerr explained. "He guarded everybody, on or off the ball. He just had a knack, much like [Draymond Green], for blowing up possessions by understanding what was coming when he was on the weak side of the floor."

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No matter the differences in their respective roles, Wiggins' emergence has helped the Warriors' defense reach a level it hasn't since Iguodala departed. Golden State's defensive rating entering Wednesday (109.0) is right around where it was in Iguodala's last season with the team (108.6 in 2018-19).

Those Warriors benefitted from Iguodala's IQ, Shaun Livingston's length, Klay Thompson's array of defensive skills and Kevin Durant's sneaky-good rim protection, while this iteration has had to rely on Wiggins, Kent Bazemore and Juan Toscano-Anderson -- among other unsung heroes -- with Thompson injured, Livingston retired and Iguodala and Durant playing in the Eastern Conference.

Green remains the centripetal force of the Warriors' defense, but it's not otherwise a very recognizable group from the last time Iguodala donned a Golden State uniform. Wiggins' role epitomizes the difference, especially as the Warriors' defense finally seems to have escaped Iguodala's shadow.

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