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Revisiting Iguodala At The Two

When Ed Stefanski sits down with Eddie Jordan today, the first question he needs to ask is, "Do you believe Andre Iguodala can play the two guard?" If the answer is no, the interview should end right there. You may think this is hyperbole, but it's not. After the jump we'll take a look at some splits and talk about the future of this franchise, at least in the near term.
Here are some facts.

  1. The Sixers played their absolute best basketball of the season with the lineup of Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert
  2. Andre Iguodala got off to a horrible start shooting the ball last season
  3. 21 games into the season Mo Cheeks pulled the plug on the "Iguodala SG experiment"
  4. Moving Iguodala to the three, Willie to the two, and Thad to the bench made the Sixers a much, much worse team
  5. Mo Cheeks was fired two games later (both losses)

Now here are some popular misconceptions:

  1. Iguodala's poor start was due to the position change
  2. With Iguodala and Miller in the backcourt, the defense suffered
  3. Willie Green had to start at the two to guard quicker points
We can dispel the second and third quickly. Miller, Iggy, Thad, Brand and Sammy was easily the most efficient lineup the Sixers used all year. It was also the most-efficient defensive lineup with at least 130 minutes of game time in the league this season. This unit played 343 minutes together with a 92.01 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), the next closest unit with at least 250 minutes of floor time was Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard with a rating of 95.06 in 256 minutes of work. Those numbers are mind boggling.

Mo Cheeks' first failure was to only use this lineup at the beginning of the first and third quarters of virtually every game. He almost never used the lineup down the stretch. He rarely went to it in the second quarter. He only used it for more than 20 minutes in 7 of the 21 games he coached. If he's wondering why he's out of work right now, look no further than those numbers.

Now, let's tackle the "Iguodala got off to a slow start because he was playing the two" myth. I downloaded the play-by-play from each of the first 21 games and went through, separating Iguodala's stats by time spent at the two and time spent at the three. Here are the numbers:

A few things jumped out at me right away. First, Iguodala basically split his minutes evenly between the two and the three. So if the thought process was that playing SG was stifling him and dragging down his shooting percentage, I don't think the numbers bare it out. He shot horribly at SF, his "comfortable" position as well. His overall FG% was lower at SG, but he shot the three ball better. If scoring is the only thing we care about, then yes, he's better as a three. He was more aggressive in that he took more shots and got to the line more often. He also grabbed more boards, which is to be expected. As a SG, his assist-to-turnover ratio was better, he got more steals, more blocks.

Let's be clear here, no matter how you slice it, the shooting numbers were just horrible. So on a team level, I'd say playing Iguodala at the two was a roaring success. It's not hard to guess why. He was defending, distributing and rebounding at an extremely high level for the position and his offense, although terrible, was still better than what the team was getting out of Willie, Lou, Rush and Ivey at the position. Obviously, the team was better with him at the two.

Asking if the two is Iguodala's best position is another question entirely, and honestly, I'm not sure it's even relevant. If you asked me point blank to answer that question right now, I'd tell you I couldn't. Based on the stats above, I don't think Iguodala's slow start was a result of the position change. He struggled mightily no matter what position he played. Had the team stuck with it, or to be more precise, had Mo not panicked and had Brand not gotten hurt, I have to believe he would've broken out of his shooting slump, but I don't have any way to prove that one way or the other. He broke out of the slump when he was playing the three exclusively.

There are reasons to be optimistic that he could succeed at the two. For one, he's a much better catch-and-shoot jump shooter than he is shooting the j off the dribble. For another, he has a size and strength advantage over just about every two guard in the NBA. Add in the playmaking ability and I think you could have a recipe for success.

Now, I want to circle back to the interview with Eddie Jordan later today, and indirectly, we should talk about Avery Johnson's comments in the ESPN interview last week. This team, as currently constructed, has absolutely no choice but to start Iguodala at the two and play him heavy minutes there if they want to put their best foot forward. It's not a debate. If Iguodala isn't playing the two, that means either Elton Brand is playing an under-sized five, or Thad Young is on the bench in favor of Willie Green. Benching Thad is asinine, as is asking Brand to score against 7 footers for 30 minutes/night. The only way the Sixers can afford to move Iguodala back to the three is if they can acquire a player who will provide production equal to Thad's at the three to slide into the starting two spot, AND they either re-sign Andre Miller or acquire a PG who can step in and start right away.

For example, if they could somehow get Ben Gordon and say Ramon Sessions, then fine, go with a starting lineup of Sessions, Gordon, Iguodala, Brand and Dalembert. Use Thad as your 6th man and jockey Iguodala back and forth between the two and three. Let's be realistic, though, it would take a major miracle for the Sixers to land two players capable of manning the guard positions.

Barring something drastic, this team needs to go forward with the same plan they entered last season with: Iggy, Thad, and Brand at the 2, 3 and 4. Only this year, the coach needs to realize why they're using that lineup, and he needs to stick with it. Last season, Cheeks went away from the one thing that was working for his team because he knew his time was running short. He panicked and went with familiarity over production (Willie was his two guard for his strong second half the season before). I have no idea why DiLeo didn't immediately reinstate the correct starting lineup upon taking over, perhaps he would've eventually, but Brand was hurt 60 minutes of game time into DiLeo's tenure, so he never got the opportunity.

I realize there's a contingent out there who doubt Iguodala's ability to play the two. These people are calling for either Thad or Iggy to be traded to ease the logjam at the three. I'm not going to say they're wrong, because there's a chance that's how things will play out in the long run. What I will say is that there's no reason to hit the panic button yet. This lineup has worked, even with a cold-shooting Iguodala and a rusty Elton Brand. At least give it a chance to fail with Brand two years removed from his Achilles injury and Iguodala playing more than 19 minutes/night at the two. Pulling the plug at this point seems grossly premature.

This team, and Ed Stefanski particularly, are facing some serious issues this offseason. I think it's vitally important that whoever they bring in to coach the team realizes that the team needs to start Andre Iguodala at the two. That has to be the plan going in, and if the coach isn't on board during the interview, like I said, thank him for his time and end the interview right there.

As usual, thoughts in the comments.
by Brian on May 15 2009
Tags: Andre Iguodala | Basketball | Offseason | Sixers |