Andre Iguodala, overpaid defensive specialist?

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

In the wake of several articles discussing the genius of Iguodala's defense, we will attempt to discuss his value against his defensive contemporaries, as well as other stars in the league.

As I watched Iguodala clang his FOURTH consecutive free throw against the Indiana Pacers, my trolling girlfriend started jumping around my living room proclaiming something I've heard all too often this year:

"Iguodala sucks. Iguodala sucks!"

If I wasn't already full of tension, I would have defended him right there. Unfortunately, the Nuggets were locked up in a dogfight with the Pacers, and my attention was elsewhere. Thankfully 'Dre came through in the end, and I was able to systematically give my girlfriend the reasons why Iguodala is a great player.

...except I failed miserably.

The problem with explaining AI9's greatness to a casual fan is that it's almost impossible to do, his value just comes from a place that is very different from most NBA players. He's not a scorer or a big imposing shot blocker, nor is he a guy who can take over games late on a regular basis.

Everyone knows that Andre Iguodala is a great defender. There have been numerous articles written about this, some of them quite recently (like this one from Matt Moore of CBS Sports.com). What I'd like to illustrate is just how amazing of a defender he actually is, and how that has an effect on the lineups he plays in.

The first statistic we can look at are his Synergy numbers courtesy of mysyngergysports.com, which should give us a decent idea how he performs defensively on individual types of plays against other noted perimeter stoppers:

(Leaders in BOLD)

Name # of Plays Points per Play Rank FG% 3pt% %TO Fouls/36
Andre Iguodala 451 0.75 33 33.7 34.3 13.5 1.6
Loul Deng 442 0.91 263 39.3 41 10 1.2
Metta World Piece 482 0.85 155 39.7 39.6 12.9 2.7
Paul George 600 0.86 178 38.5 41 13.5 2.8
Tony Allen 277 0.79 74 34.5 39.5 11.9 2.6
Arron Afflalo 460 0.89 230 39.5 35.7 7 2.1
Lebron James 376 0.87 192 36.3 40.4 9.3 1.5
Thabo Sefalosha 442 0.91 265 39.3 41.1 10 2.7


Against some of the very best perimeter defenders, Iguodala is far and away the leader in all categories except foul rate. Opponents not only shot worse, but they also turned it over at the highest rate against Andre, all while being fouled at one of the lowest rates compared to his contemporaries.

But what does all this mean? How does Andre's perimeter defense translate to his value on the court? We can get a decent idea by looking his offensive and defensive On/Off numbers courtesy of 82games.com:

Stats ON Court Off Court NET
Offense/100 Poss 109.6 110.1 -0.5
Defense/100 Poss 104.3 112.7 -8.4
Net Points/100Poss 5.4 -2.6 8

Here's we can start to see the difference Iguodala makes defensively. For the minutes he has been on the court, Denver's defense has been 8.4 points better per 100 possessions. Even though this stat can be noisy, it's a nice start in determining his value to the Nuggets. For comparison, Denver's defense with Iggy on the court allows as many points per 100 possessions as the 7th best defensive team in the NBA. When he's off, they allow more than the 30th best team in the league!

It would be disingenuous to say the difference is all Iguodala because On/Off stats can be very lineup dependent, but RAPM does a decent job of filtering out counterparts and lineups to come up with a more accurate number that reflects a players value. Here are Iguodala's versus the players mentioned above:

Name Offense/100 Poss Defense/100 Poss Net
Andre Iguodala 0.5 4.2 4.7
Loul Deng -0.8 2 1.2
Metta World Piece 0.3 1.6 1.9
Paul George -0.7 3.1 2.4
Tony Allen -0.9 3.5 2.6
Arron Afflalo 0.7 -1.1 -0.4
Lebron James 6.4 0.8 7.8
Thabo Sefalosha -1.5 2.5 0.9

What we see here is that, according to their RAPM, Iggy once again has the best defensive numbers by quite a wide margin. The only perimeter defenders who are close also happen to be negatives on offense. How about if we compare the top defensive RAPM guys regardless of position?

Name Offense/100 Poss Defense/100 Poss Net
Kevin Garnett -0.3 5.5 5.3
Tim Duncan 1.7 4.8 6.4
Dwight Howard -0.1 4.4 4.3
Marc Gasol -0.3 4.5 4.2
Andre Iguodala 0.5 4.2 4.7
Nene Hilario
1.1 3.9 5
Joakim Noah 0.4 3.8 4.2

Andre is sandwiched between a slew of elite defensive big men. (Note Larry Sanders is tied with Iggy at 4.2, but he's such a negative on offense at -4.8 that I didn't include him.) So according to RAPM, Iguodala's defensive impact is akin to the very best defensive big men in the league, and miles ahead of any perimeter defender in the NBA.

But what about his offense? If you look at the On/Off and +/- numbers above, you'll notice that his presence neither helps nor hurts a lineup, which is great for a perimeter defender because they tend to be a negative. While his offensive statistics would appear to be slightly below average, it doesn't appear to have affected the Nuggets offense when he's on the court as evidenced by his RAPM and On/Off numbers. Sure his shot selection can be maddening at times, and we'd all love for him to be a better free throw shooter, but I think his play-making and work on the offensive glass make up for those weaknesses.

So where does Iguodala rank against the league in overall production, regardless of position? If you believe RAPM, here is how he stacks up against the top 10 players who've logged significant minutes:

Name Offense/100 Poss Defense/100 Poss Net
Chris Paul 7.1 0.7 7.8
Lebron James 6.4 0.8 7.3
Tim Duncan 1.7 4.8 6.4
Kevin Durant 5.3 0.8 6.1
Kevin Garnett -0.3 5.5 5.3
Paul Millsap 2.3 3 5.3
Andre Iguodala 0.5 4.2 4.7
Tyson Chandler 2.1 2.7 4.7
James Harden 5.2 -0.6 4.5
Blake Griffin 2.7 1.6 4.4

Sure looks like a superstar list to me! I see a whole lot of max contract players, and then Iggy and Millsap.

So what makes an NBA Superstar? Some would say it's a player who can take over late in games and make tough shots. Others would say it's a player who scores 20+ points a game with great efficiency. I happen to think a superstar is a player who makes an impact to his team's overall bottom line when he steps on the court. This can be done by improving your team's offense, defense, or both. By this measurement Iguodala is absolutely a superstar, one who's worth every penny of his current contract, and will be a steal if he re-signs long term.

So why isn't AI9 considered a superstar by most? It's because there is nothing sexy about playing great defense. There's nothing thrilling about watching a player force his opponent into a help defender without fouling, or pressuring an opponent into taking a tough shot. Andre Iguodala's game is not spectacular, but the results truly are.

And this is with "slumping" on offense. If he can somehow manage to muster up the same type of performances he's had in years past, this is going to be a very dangerous team.

So the next time we see Andre Iguodala miss a shot late in a close game, try to remember that he is a big reason that the game is close to begin with.

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