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Finding Balance

Andre Iguodala has not been himself over the past three games. Whether it's the swirling trade rumors, the barbs his coach seems to enjoy throwing at him, or something deeper is anyone's guess. He's simply been marginalized in the half-court offense and it hasn't been pretty. After the jump I'm going to examine the Sixers' big three, specifically shot distribution among them.

Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Allen Iverson have played 21 games together so far this season. In those games (9 wins, 12 losses), the trio averages 37 shots per game, 45% of the team total.

I was curious about how shots were split among those three, and what those splits meant to team wins/losses, specifically I was looking to see what happens when Iguodala is frozen out of the offense.

Here's a quick look:

  • When Iguodala takes fewer than 29% of the big 3's shots, the Sixers are 1-4.
  • When Iguodala takes more than 37% of the big 3's shots, the Sixers are 1-7.
  • When Iguodala takes between 29% and 37% of the big 3's shots, the Sixers are 7-1.
Now keep in my mind that these metrics are hardly perfect. They don't include assists, foul shots or turnovers, only shot attempts. They also don't take into account how the shots came to be (half court or transition) but I'm going to make the leap and say they're representative of a trend that's worth mentioning.

This team, as currently constructed, cannot rely on one player to carry the load offensively and they won't be successful unless they can achieve balance. If you look at the numbers above, the team has been wildly successful when Iguodala has taken roughly a third of the shots among AI3, AI9 and EB. The 7 wins came against Dallas, New Orleans, Portland, Sacramento x 2, New Jersey and Denver. The only 2 wins to happen when Iguodala was over or underused came against Golden State (over) and Indiana (under).

I don't have data to support my theory on this, so I'll rely on anecdotal evidence. Think about the Sixers offense for a minute, specifically think about what it's looked like in the past couple of games, since Iguodala took a back seat. Mainly, it's been isolations for Iverson or Brand getting the ball, ideally on the blocks, but sometimes out on the wing. These possessions typically end with either Brand or Iverson creating a shot for themselves. Occasionally, Brand will kick out of a double team for an open jumper. Occasionally, Iverson will use his dribble to set a teammate up for a dunk (though his assist/FGA ratio has dropped drastically), but for the most part we're talking about two versions of one-on-one basketball. Unfortunately, neither Brand nor Iverson are dominant enough to truly punish teams for long stretches of time in these one-on-one situations, and when they do get hot, teams can double or triple team them without fear of open jumpers being hit. It's easy to adjust to slow down or stop those guys in those situations.

Iguodala, when he's at his best, is harder to defend. His jumper isn't great, but you have to honor it. He doesn't drive enough, but when he does it's typically effective. Most importantly, when he has the ball in his hand, every other player on the court is a thread. He'll use the drive to find open teammates for easy looks. He'll use his size advantage to back people down and kick to open shooters, or find bigs rolling to the hole. When Iguodala has the ball, the defense can's simply focus on him. Especially not when you have Brand and Iverson on the floor, or other guys who are capable of making shots.

Now I'm not saying the team needs to run he offense through him every time down the floor. He's not that type of offensive player, but they do need to involve him in the offense enough to keep defenses honest. He needs to be a big enough factor that they can't simply gameplan to shut down Brand on the blocks or Iverson on a wing iso.

In a perfect world, we'd see more of the offensive games of these three players meshing. We'd see pick-and-pops with Iverson and Brand, pick-and-rolls with Iguodala and Brand. High screens forcing teams to switch on Iverson and Iguodala, creating huge size mismatches. We've seen very little of any of these types of plays and it's creating a stagnant feeling in the half court. It's almost as if Jordan has decided to forget about ball and player movement and simply go with the two things he knows will result in decent shots. The end result is that you wind up with your best playmaker standing on the weak side of the floor waiting for a pass that rarely comes so he can take a jumper against the shot clock.

We need better integration, but short of that, balance would be a step in the right direction. Make sure Iguodala is part of the offense, it'll pay dividends.

(If you're a tanking advocate, just read this post as a what not to do and it'll make sense.)