Andre Iguodala’s case for Defensive Player of the Year and more …

Denver Nuggets’ guard/forward Andre Iguodala is deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

I’m not being a homer in saying that. Until yesterday I scoffed at the notion. But the simple facts are this:

  1. The Denver Nuggets had the 19th-ranked defense in the NBA last year. 
  2. The Denver Nuggets have not had a top-10 defense in the NBA since 2008-09.
  3. The Denver Nuggets finished this season with the 11th-best defense in the NBA, allowing 102 points per 100 possessions. (It should be noted a 102 defensive efficiency rating last year would have given them the 15th-best overall defense in the league — a far cry from their slot in 11th this season.)
  4. The Denver Nuggets allow only 100.5 points per 100 possessions with Andre Iguodala on the floor. They concede 105.3 points per 100 possessions with him off.
  5. Andre Igu0dala shares a good portion of minutes with Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee.
    • The Nuggets allow 104.2 points per 100 possessions with Lawson on the floor and just 98.4 with him off.
    • The Nuggets allow 102.5 points per 100 possessions with Kenneth Faried on the floor and just 101.3 with him off.
    • The Nuggets allow 102.4 points per 100 possessions with JaVale McGee on the floor and just 101.7 with him off.
  6. Kosta Koufos, Denver’s best offensive and defensive center, saw only 1817 minutes of playing time this season (placing him behind Iguodala, Lawson, Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Miller, and Corey Brewer in minutes played).
  7. Gallinari, Denver’s best overall player, missed the final month of the season due to injury. Yet, the Nuggets didn’t miss a beat.
  8. Miller, the Nuggets’ best defensive guard outside Iguodala (and Corey Brewer), is 37 years-old and hobbling as we enter the playoffs.

Name another player who doesn’t reside in Miami able to cover all those holes by himself. You just can’t do it.

While likely winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award Marc Gasol is Memphis’ defensive conductor, he has a whole lot more on which to rely. He’s got Tony Allen wreaking havoc on the wing. He’s got Zach Randolph occupying the opposite block. He’s got perhaps the most underrated player in the entire league, Mike Conley, playing point guard. If Conley isn’t the most underrated player overall, he’s certainly the most underrated defensively at the point. No starting point man outside Devin Harris comes close to his on/off defensive efficiency this season. Jeremy Lin’s backup in Houston, Patrick Beverley, is the only other one in their universe. And Beverley has only seen 712 minutes of playing time.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, another potential candidate, has Tiago Splitter on the opposite block and Kawhi Leonard on the wing. Leonard is so good defensively he could give Andre Iguodala a run for his money. The same goes for Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. He’s got David West’s help in the paint with Paul George and George Hill roaming the wing and perimeter.

The only guy who has a legit gripe is Chicago’s Joakim Noah. Noah shares the court with Marco Bellinelli, Carlos Boozer, and little Nate Robinson. Though the Bulls do have Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler on the wing, the loss of Taj Gibson to injury earlier this season put even more of the defensive burden on Noah. Tom Thibodeau’s system is amazing, but, it can only take you so far. Chicago has the league’s 5th-ranked defense, and in large part, that is because of Joakim Noah.

All that said, based on Denver’s defensive improvement in only a year’s time, my vote (if I had one) would still go to Andre Iguodala. On Iguodala and his activity level, lead CBS NBA blogger Matt Moore said it best:

He switches from pushing Chris Paul away from his right, to switching onto Blake Griffin to deny the post pass, then rotating to the corner shooter. He goes from denying the catch for the shooter to showing on the drive to deter the penetration to recovering and stealing when the ball gets swung back to the shooter. He strips, annoys, blocks, challenges and otherwise smothers the opponent when they decide to try to take him one-on-one.

And he does all of it with a cast of characters only the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ could love. It’s like former Sixers’ coach Doug Collins says in this video clip, Iguodala “is an anchor”. He’s a defensive anchor in the same way Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Roy Hibbert are in Memphis, Chicago, and Indiana, respectively. Except Iguodala is on the wing and responsible for larger swaths of space. This isn’t a matter of opinion anymore. It’s a matter of fact. And the facts support Andre Iguodala as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.

What about George Karl? Is he really deserving of Coach of the Year?

While some very smart people did in fact see Denver winning upwards of 58 games this season, let’s be real:

  1. George Karl has made JaVale McGee a halfway competent basketball player. If for no other reason than that, Karl should win Coach of the Year. 
  2. George Karl has handled Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee’s minute allocation so well that Denver has a nearly top-10 defense.
  3. He’s transformed Kosta Koufos into a quality starter at center.
  4. He’s guided a team that can’t shoot outside the paint to 57-wins.
  5. He’s guided a team among the league’s worst in free-throw and 3-point shooting to 57-wins.
  6. He doesn’t have an All-Star. He doesn’t have a post option. He doesn’t have a knock-down shooter. He doesn’t have a threat from mid-range. He’s won 57-games.
  7. He has extracted from Wilson Chandler the best (half)season of his career.
  8. He’s won 57-games with JaVale McGee playing 1433 minutes.
  9. Andre Iguodala had his worst season since 2007-08, Kenneth Faried experienced a sophomore slump, Ty Lawson had a severe regression for half the season, JaVale was JaVale, and Danilo Gallinari wasn’t the same player without a big who could finish (as his drop in assist rate can attest). And George Karl’s Nuggets still won 57-games.
  10. 57 wins with Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, and Kenneth Faried as his primary front court players.

The only other candidates I believe worthy of consideration are New York’s Mike Woodson (due to his work with Carmelo Anthony and especially J.R. Smith) and Golden State’s Mark Jackson (for completely revamping the Warriors’ defense after injuries to Brandon Rush and Andrew Bogut). All that said, George Karl should win his first Coach of the Year Award in a landslide.

So, just how good is Nuggets’ rookie Evan Fournier and does he have a case for being the steal of 2012’s NBA Draft?

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: Evan Fournier has only played 428 total minutes this season. Even in French that’s a small sample size. Of the 30 first round draft choices he took the stage with last June, only nine have seen less court time — with one of those being Royce White. Of his 428 minutes, 224 have been played in the fourth quarter of games well in hand. You can understand how it might be difficult to extrapolate much from such a limited data set. That fact notwithstanding, it is even more difficult to not like what you’ve seen from Denver’s latest draft pick.

Coming into 2012’s NBA Draft, the biggest cause for concern with Fournier was his perimeter shooting. Per Draft Express:

Had he shot a better percentage from beyond the arc with Poiters this season, it’s reasonable to wonder if he would be considered a legit top-20 prospect in this deep draft.

In other words, Evan Fournier is actually a top-20 draft pick. If you take his age (he’s only 20) and advanced basketball I.Q. into account, he’s a top-15 or top-10 pick in last year’s draft (in the coming weeks I plan to do an in-depth analysis into exactly where Evan stacks up in comparison to his fellow draftees). You don’t need to be a scout to see Fournier’s talents. He’s been absolutely dynamite down the stretch.

Over his last nine games, he’s averaging 12.3 points on 9 shots, 2.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 turnovers in just 22.8 minutes per night. In that same span, he’s been Denver’s best overall player in terms of offensive and defensive net differential. The numbers are astounding. In Fournier’s 205 minutes played over the last nine games, Denver is scoring 116.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and just 105.6 with him off. Furthermore, they are allowing only 92.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and an astronomical 106.8 with him off. That’s just ludicrous. Especially when you consider he was not known as a defender coming into the draft.

It is for all those reasons I was not surprised upon learning of his insertion into the starting lineup for game one of Denver’s first round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors. What Fournier does best is provide a sense of calm, trust, and intelligence to a regularly frantic Nuggets’ attack. He can be trusted to make the right play from opening tip to final buzzer — otherwise the head coach famous for not playing rookies would not be giving his 20 year-old sensation such responsibility.

I do not know what Fournier’s contributions will be against Golden State. No one does. But, if Denver is lucky enough to make a deep run in the playoffs, Evan Fournier will be a major reason why.

Viva France!

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About J.R.
I have been watching basketball for over twenty years. I like to think I've learned a thing or two in that time. Truth is, I've learned just one thing: I love this game.

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