Three potential contenders suffered grievous setbacks this past Friday as Marc Gasol (C-Memphis Grizzlies), Andre Iguodala (G/F Golden State Warriors), and Derrick Rose (PG- Chicago Bulls) all went down with various injuries mid-game. What effect will these injuries have on their teams? Will they be able to persevere these early season calamities on the way to a storybook ending? Or will they collapse into nothingness before our eyes? It depends! These players all mean something very different to their squads, though unfortunately for the teams in question, the common denominator in all three cases is one of irreplaceability.
It’s a classic Wizard of Oz triple-header the loss of heart, brain, and courage, respectively.
The Tin Man
Watching Golden State’s loss to Portland the other night you see that they didn’t just lose a capable wing defender and consummate glue guy, but they lost their brain. Golden State boasts a bevy of what astute watchers would call “high IQ” basketball players: Stephen Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, even Draymond Green. But it’s their newest marquee acquisition, Andre Iguodala that personifies the “brain” of the Warriors and thus what gives them a true shot at contention. This team will never overpower you with athleticism. The way they beat you is by playing to their strengths, deadly shooting, sharing the ball, and playing smart. Andre Iguodala is essential to this scheme.
On paper it seems like the loss of Andre Iguodala is not such a back-breaking proposition. Golden State boasts weapons up and down their roster and their centerpiece, Stephen Curry has resumed the duties of superstar bomber after he weathered Marvin Williams falling on his head for no particular reason. But to even a casual Warriors fan it is clear that Igoudala immediately revealed himself as the necessary component for the Warriors to push themselves into the elite strata. He’s a Superstar Glue Guy, a jack-of-all-trades athletic opportunist that can create his own offense but is more willing to create for others, as evidenced by this lovely quote about teammate Klay Thompson: “My motto is we all eat. And I’m personally going to make sure he eats. Klay’s my man. He’s weird, but like a good weird. I like his weird. So I’m going to look out for him.”
Iguodala gives the Warriors yet another elite passer at his position, making their starting five’s ball movement acumen both dangerous and aesthetically pleasing. Iguodala also acts as Golden State’s ad hoc point guard as the trio of Toney Douglas, Nemeda Nedovic, and Kent Bazemore are either injured or severely underperforming. In short, Iguodala is the versatile missing piece from the scrappy but incomplete team that knocked Denver out of the first round and gave the Spurs a legitimate scare in the second round. And hey, scaring the Spurs is somehow even more impressive than beating Denver!
Igoudala makes things happen. He sees the court beautifully. He has already synced up with his new teammates miraculously fast. Free from the shackles and curse of “Under Performing Franchise Player With A Huge Contract” and can just be the smiley intense guy who makes everything a little bit easier for everyone else. Watching the Warriors crumble against the Lakers and the Trailblazers, I couldn’t help but feel a palpable brain drain. Even this early in the season Iguodala can bail them out with his solid play. Not hero ball (his game winner against the Thunder is not something I’d like to see him try to replicate too often) but with his harassment on defense, his predatory passing lane habits, his ability to finish at the rim or get guys like Steph and Klay and even Bogut easy shots.
Something you may have learned in school: being smart doesn’t mean you are going to get good grades on that big group project. Sometimes it is the smartest kids that slack off because they figure they can take a few nights off and party or turn it on when they need to. Well, the Warriors aren’t going to be able to go anywhere in the West if they think they can take nights off against any team (except maybe the Jazz). They need Andre to push them towards their potential. And it’s yielded great results thus far. When the Warriors are on, they are on. But when they play brainless…well, then you get a lot of tragic David Lee post-ups and Marreese Speights three-pointers. Come back soon, Andre. Save Golden State from a C+ season.
The Warriors without their Brain: Lose a ton of winnable games. Squeak into the playoffs.