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A Closer Look: Iguodala as Sixth Man of Year

A closer look at the numbers reveals that Andre Iguodala deserves Sixth Man of the Year, writes Ben Dowsett.

Ben Dowsett

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Former players and television analysts alike continue to fruitlessly (and hilariously) fight the numbers movement in the NBA, but even the staunchest among them can’t deny the cumulative advances in basketball understanding made over the last decade-plus. It requires no advanced mathematics degree to get on board with the idea that there are more descriptive qualifiers of a player’s strengths and weaknesses than a two-number per-game average (Player A averages 17-10) or a single, context-absent counting stat. Even if you don’t subscribe to some of the heavier empirical metrics out there, the consciousness of the average fan has reached this point.

It’s strange, then, that the voting process for the league’s most prestigious awards still often reflects an electorate stuck in a more primitive time – despite its ostensible status as a collection of relatively highly informed basketball minds.

Rest easy, beat writer friends around the country – this isn’t a shot at any of you. Rather, it’s a recognition of a simple fact: A voter group comprised almost exclusively of people whose job is to watch and catalogue a single team in copious detail often won’t do a good job accurately researching and voting on awards that involve 29 other teams’ worth of players. It’s not a question of commitment, but one of available time and job description.

What often results is a shorthand of sorts; those with understandable time constraints look to simpler, less time-consuming ways to make the process easier for them. This can manifest itself in word-of-mouth evaluation, small memory samples (typically the few games per year a given voter saw a given opponent) or, by far the most common symptom, over-reliance on the low-hanging fruit represented by simple counting stats (particularly points per game).

Nowhere is this reality more readily apparent than in recent voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. A table from Hardwood Paroxysm’s Jacob Rosen in a recent article on the subject showcases the somewhat incredible degree to which voters gravitate toward scoring alone within the confines of this particular award: No winner in the last 14 years finished outside the top three in scoring among eligible candidates, and only on one single occasion did any top-three selection for Sixth Man average single-digit nightly points (Anderson Varejao finished third in 2009-10 while scoring 8.6 points per game).

An examination of each individual race would surely reveal that this bias rewarded the “right” guys on many occasions, but it’s plain to the naked eye how this sort of extreme reliance can lead to issues. While it’s understandable that points are the first go-to for many while evaluating players given their importance on the scoreboard, it’s very strange to see such an overuse persist even as it’s exorcised from most areas of general basketball consciousness. There are better ways of determining player value, whether a guy starts or comes off the bench.

 


 

Andre Iguodala doesn’t average a gaudy point total. Given the roster around him, it’d be a bit silly if he did. His 7.1 points per game are all the Warriors need from him, with myriad other duties on his plate that mean more to team success. A couple decades ago, tracking and understanding the impact of these other elements of Iguodala’s game might have been tough given available resources. Today, it’s a couple clicks away and frankly it’s becoming a bit strange to see these resources widely ignored in some circles.

Under the simple assumption that NBA awards like Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year are attempts to qualify overall value added by a player within the category, the fact that Iguodala trails guys like Jamal Crawford and Enes Kanter – gunners who have demonstrably hurt their teams in vital areas while on the court – on many hypothetical ballots is nearly laughable at this point. At best, it’s a recognition that Iguodala’s impact is harder to quantify empirically (probably lazy, but somewhat fair); at worst it’s conscious ignorance, not of some complex analytical rocket science, but of basic arithmetic and basketball logic.

Crawford is a popular name with a glorious history as the prototypical “sixth man,” a guy who comes in and props up bench units with mostly individual creation and shot-making. Many NBA players even feel Crawford deserves the Sixth Man of the Year award for a record third time, as Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy detailed here. Here’s the problem: He hasn’t propped up anything but opponent plus-minus figures this year. He’s having his worst year as a Clipper by a wide margin, and arguably his worst overall season since his rookie year in 2000-01.

Crawford barely nudged himself over 40 percent from the field in the last week or so, and is assisting on the lowest percentage of teammate baskets in his entire career. Worse yet has been his team impact – a small drop-off while Crawford plays would be understandable given the top-heavy nature of this Clippers team, but the degree to which L.A. improves when he leaves the floor is staggering. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, a metric designed to weed out teammate and opponent noise in this category, places him 73rd overall among 97 shooting guards (Iguodala rates eighth among 81 small forwards – the highest of all realistic Sixth Man of the Year hopefuls excepting Portland’s Ed Davis, who’s a fringe candidate).

RPM hates Kanter too, rating him 53rd among 77 centers – and dead last among these 77 for isolated defensive RPM, even behind rookie Jahlil Okafor in Philadelphia. This metric is far from an end-all and isn’t perfect, but it suggests (strongly, given the gap between Kanter and nearly everyone else at his position) that he’s among the most detrimental defensive players in the NBA, if not the very worst. Should a few extra points and rebounds a game next to his name really smother the blatant reality that Kanter damages his team on one side of the ball more than his value impact suggests he helps on the other?

There are other semi-realistic choices without such glaring holes in their candidacies, but Iguodala’s overall impact swallows them up. An injury that caused him to miss just under 20 games comes up most often as a detractor to his case, and while it certainly doesn’t help, a few bits of context beg attention. Easiest is the fact that his minute totals are still comparable to other major candidates – Iguodala played just 18 fewer minutes on the year than Kanter prior to Wednesday’s games, and wasn’t so wildly far behind others that his broad impact can be ignored.

More importantly, though, one must consider the circumstance and quality of the minutes played. The timing of Iguodala’s injury means he was active for a huge percentage of the most important minutes and games played by Golden State this year (from a strict standings perspective, excluding their run for 73). Through March 11, Iguodala’s final game before his stretch on the sidelines, the Warriors were 58-6, all but locking up the top seed in the West. It absolutely matters more that he was present for their historic first few months, a stretch that furthered their title goals significantly more than their results during the time he missed.

The in-game importance of the minutes he played also stands out from his peers, an even more vital consideration. Iguodala is a constant presence in crunch time for a team that’s been historically dominant during these high-leverage situations – none of his competition for the award even comes all that close. Take a look at this chart, gratefully borrowed from Matt Femrite in a recent blog post, which shows the percentage of team crunch minutes played by various other Sixth Man of the Year candidates as of early April:

bandicam 2016-04-14 01-11-20-786

Iguodala’s total before his injury was 89 percent, mostly as part of the most dominant single lineup in NBA history. Not only does Iguodala close tight games much more often than his competition (over four times as often as Kanter, for instance), he plays a vital role, defending top opposing wings in every situation and often sliding up or down a position to check a particularly potent ball-handler.

If the quantifiable aspects make the point, the intangibles drive it home. Iguodala isn’t a flashy shooter like teammates Steph Curry and Klay Thompson or an uber-talented spark plug like Draymond Green, but his value to his team is much closer to these other three than most would believe. He’s nearly as indispensable to “the Death Lineup” as Draymond, a long and versatile defender who doesn’t need to see the ball at all to make a significant impact. It’s an imperfect science, but a look at other variations of the Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Iguodala-Green unit that’s destroyed the league suggests that removing Iguodala is more damaging than swapping any other single piece besides Curry (yes, including Green).

Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect the electorate to consider all the detail herein. Maybe it’s not. The answer likely depends on who you talk to, including those who believe the voting process should be scrapped altogether and started fresh. That’s a conversation for another time, but this pen would be in support of any changes that encouraged real research and effort by those voting. Sure, they aren’t NBA championship rings, but these awards mean real things to the players considered – from pride and legacy concerns all the way to a real, tangible impact on the checkbook in many cases.

In the short-term, here’s hoping the current voter group makes the right call. No primary bench player has added anywhere near as much value to their team as Andre Iguodala this season, particularly with any weight whatsoever given to the high-leverage minutes that often separate the champions from the also-rans. Give the man the hardware.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors

If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.

Moke Hamilton

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For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.

Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.

A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.

In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.

The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.

At least, that was the case until Saturday night.

* * * * * *

With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.

Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.

Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.

It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.

This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.

With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.

At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.

Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.

In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.

Poetic, indeed.

* * * * * *

With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.

At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.

What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.

For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.

Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.

Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.

While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.

Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities play a direct role in causing the loss.

Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…

And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.

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NBA

G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs

On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.

And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.

Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.

Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.

Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.

Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.

It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.

That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.

Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.

Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.

Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.

The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.

Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.

While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.

Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.

Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.

Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.

Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.

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