Nuggets guard Andre Iguodala had 12 assists in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Feb. 25. (Photo by Howard Cheng/Creative Commons)
Denver Nuggets shooting guard Andre Iguodala has struggled on the offensive end this season.
He is averaging 13.1 points a game which is a full two points lower than his career average. He is also struggling from the free-throw line where he is shooting a disappointing 58 percent.
Despite all the problems he has had with his shot, the guard is making his presence known on the court.
Iguodala brings an aspect to the Nuggets that they have not had during George Karl’s tenure as coach. He is a shut-down defender. In the Nuggets’ win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Feb. 24, he frustrated superstar Kobe Bryant throughout the first half. He forced Bryant into taking tough shots as he finished 5-for-13 in the first half. Bryant also took his frustration out on the officials several times. He received a technical foul at the end of the first half.
Bryant still ended with a game-high 29 points and he shot a lot better in the second half but the Nuggets built their lead in the first half when Bryant was struggling. Iguodala was all over Bryant and was a key factor in winning the game.
When the Nuggets were involved in the summer blockbuster trade that landed Dwight Howard on the Lakers, Andrew Bynum on the Philadelphia 76ers and the Iguodala on the Nuggets, experts felt Denver was crazy for helping out a Western Conference rival. Howard was going to put the Lakers over the top and the Nuggets would stay in the same spot as always.
Currently the Nuggets have the best record since the trade and Iguodala is playing the best of the players moved in the blockbuster. Howard seems hurt and not giving it his all while Bynum hasn’t even been on the floor this season.
While Iguodala’s shooting has been not great, he is still contributing on the offensive end. Since returning from a neck injury that forced him to miss a couple games, Iguodala have averaged 8.5 assists a game. That includes the last two where he has 12 and 10 respectively. Ty Lawson leads the team in assists but the speedy point guard is asked to score a lot more than Iguodala. Lawson has become the No. 1 option when the Nuggets are bogged down and running a half-court offensive set. Iguodala becomes the facilitator on the floor.
He seems to be extremely comfortable in this role. He is averaging just under five assists a game this season and has averaged as high as 6.3 during his career. His scoring may be down this season but he is still helping the Nuggets put points on the scoreboard. He is good at penetrating and drawing defenders into the lane with him. He can then find open shooters like Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. The penetration also helps players like JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, as they can cut to the basket for easy layups.
Iguodala’s skill set will be an important down the stretch and in the playoffs. The Nuggets have two more matchups with the Oklahoma City Thunder which Iguodala will have to guard Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. There are also games with the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. All of those teams will pose a tough defensive matchup for the Nuggets as a team and Iguodala will have the task of guarding great players in all of the games. He has already shown he can shut down Rockets scorer James Harden.
He can also take some of the ball handling duties away from Lawson and veteran Andre Miller.
Despite his critics, Iguodala has been an important addition to the Nuggets. He may not be putting the ball in the basket will ease but he is just as valuable as the guys who are.
Follow Chris Schmaedeke on Twitter @ChrisSchmaedeke