Beware of Andre Iguodala

One of the weirder occurrences of the first few days of free agency was when the Sacramento Kings pulled a 4 year, $52 million offer to Andre Iguodala off the table. At first blush, the deal seemed like a move in a new direction for a franchise desperate to start fresh with new ownership in place. Instead of a collection of no-defense gunners, they might be trying to build a team that could potentially work together, maybe even stop someone.

The offer was on the table for little over a day however, and Iguodala was left scratching his head and looking for a new suitor. The Kings may have been on to something though. Everyone (especially coaches) loves for their team to have tough, defensive-minded players available. There is also a ton of value in having players who can keep the ball moving to put pressure on the defense. Iguodala is a great defender. He’s a good passer, a solid cutter, and a tough finisher. He has also declined over the last several years, and will turn 30 next season, the first of what promises to be a big multi-year deal.

Last season offers a couple of cautionary tales for this type of player.

The first is Gerald Wallace. Crash had been a tough defender and rebounder throughout his career, using his athleticism, toughness, and determination to put up the block and rebound rates of a big while primarily playing small forward. When the Nets traded for him (giving up the pick that eventually became Damian Lillard), they thought they were getting that toughness and athleticism.

Unfortunately, years of throwing his body around on the court took their toll on Wallace (he once suffered a punctured lung in game), and with his athleticism diminished there was nothing left to fall back on. Without a reliable jumper, he was awful last season, and was little more than salary ballast in the recent trade with Boston that brought in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. All of this occurred after he signed a 4 year, $40 million deal to stay in New Jersey/Brooklyn.

Tony Allen still manages to be productive, even upping his offensive game as he enters his thirties by utilizing more backdoor cutting to get looks around the rim. However, his lack of a jumpshot can be devastating against good defensive teams in the playoffs, a fact the Spurs exploited relentlessly to clog the Memphis offense in the conference finals. In the current NBA, spacing is key against top defenses, who over help to put pressure on ball handlers and post weapons.

So even if Iguodala can dodge the fate that befell Wallace, his team will have to find unique ways to cover up his lack of a reliable jumper. The bad news is that he may already be headed down Wallace’s path.

His per-minute scoring rate has dropped in all but one of the last five years. Even more troubling is the combination of fewer trips to the line (3.5 per 36 last season, down from 6.5 per 36 at his peak) and the decline in his free throw shooting. Last year he hit a middling 57.4% of his free throws, which is barely acceptable for a center. For a shooting guard it’s atrocious. This isn’t exactly a fluke either – his accuracy from the line has dropped for four straight years, including a 61.7% mark two years ago.

Whoever signs him to a long-term deal may be getting a decent year or two followed by years of a lot of dead weight on their cap.

The one possible saving grace would be increased accuracy from deep. This isn’t outside the realm of possibility, since Iggy hit nearly 40% of his threes two years ago, and was passable last season from every spot but the corner. If he can truly add this facet to his game, defenses would have to respect him on the perimeter, opening driving and passing lanes while allowing for a lower-impact style of play. Spotting up on the wing would also allow him to save energy for defense.

This change would greatly impact his value, but as it stands now, teams should be very wary of offering up big money for a guy who won’t carry a team to the playoffs on his own and may not be worth starting by the time his contract is up.