For six seasons, Andre Iguodala was the Warriors’ defensive conscience, offensive lubricant and in-house sage. Never averaging more than 9.3 points per game or making an All-Star team, he was definitive proof that winning runs deeper than statistics and accolades.
Iguodala not only excelled at making good things happen over the course of a game but also found ways to assert positive influence before, during and after practices.
“He means the world to us,” coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area recently. “When he left, we kind of lost our soul in a lot of ways. The last two seasons, we’ve been somewhat rudderless in many ways. I suspect we’re going to get our rudder back with Andre.”
There were at least three legitimate reasons why the Warriors, after five consecutive trips to The Finals, fell so hard two seasons ago and did not fully recover last season. One, Kevin Durant left via sign-and-trade with Brooklyn 13 months ago. Two, Klay Thompson, five-time All-Star and perfect running mate for team leader Stephen Curry, has not played in 26 months. Three, Iguodala was traded to the Grizzlies a few days after Durant headed to the Nets.
Durant and Thompson’s absences were striking and conspicuous inasmuch as they rank among the all-time super-elite, two of the best shooters/scorers in NBA history.
Iguodala’s absence was more subtle. He specializes in doing quietly ingenious things on a consistent basis and occasionally making the defining play of the game. He caulked any gaps left by Draymond Green, Curry and Thompson.
Kerr believes Iguodala, even at 37, still has the ability to bring those assets.
“I have no doubt he can contribute,” he said. “I’ve watched him the last two seasons and he’s helped Miami win a lot of games. He looked great to me both times when we played them live. He’s still got something left in the tank, and he’s going to be a big help for us.”
Iguodala started at small forward in his first season with Golden State, under coach Mark Jackson, before moving into the Sixth Man role under Kerr in 2014-15. Initially reluctant, Iguodala eventually saw the benefit to both the team and himself.
He would watch most of the first quarter from the bench, assess what the Warriors might be missing, and deliver. If there was lethargy, he’d increase tempo. If the defense was loose and sloppy, he’d tighten it. If his teammates were sleeping on easy paint points, he’d flash toward the rim.
What’s to be determined is how much of that he’ll be able to bring at such an advanced state of his NBA career span.
What’s certain, and what Kerr is anticipating, is that Iguodala’s presence will be considerable in the role of mentor for the rookie wings roughly half his age. Jonathan Kuminga is 18, Moses Moody 19.
The hope is that Iguodala can do for them as he did for Kevon Looney, who has freely admitted that he owes much of his post-surgery recoveries and staying power to advice he has gotten from his old and new teammate.
With Kuminga’s athleticism and Moody’s shooting and court awareness, both have higher potential than Looney.
“Having Andre takes a lot of pressure off Steph and Draymond and Klay on the leadership side of things,” Kerr said. “But it also adds one of the key people who understand how we operate and how to make things work on the court, with our unique style and unique roster.”
Over nearly two seasons with Miami, which acquired Iguodala from Memphis, he added to his wisdom. The Heat culture is one with a boot-camp mentality. The principles of team president Pat Riley – in place since 1995 – and head coach Erik Spoelstra are to base their foundation on fitness and disposition.
Iguodala, like the three new assistant coaches the Warriors added, will bring a different voice to the proceedings. It just happens to come from a familiar throat.