There may not be a topic more beaten to death than whether or not Andre Iguodala can effectively play shooting guard in the NBA. It's a topic that has been debated for years, and frequently at that. For two consecutive years the Sixers have tried starting the tandem of Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young on the perimeter, only to be abandoned less than 30 games into the season each time. With the coaching search in full swing and the draft inching closer, why bring this up now? Because it's more relevant now than ever.
Should the Sixers not move up in June's draft and remain at the 6th or 7th pick as projected, they're likely looking at a pair of small forwards, Wesley Johnson from Syracuse and Al-Farouq Aminu from Wake Forest, being among the best players available. I've seen the argument, time and time again, that the Sixers are already cluttered at small forward, and that if they were to target a perimeter player in the draft it would have to be a shooting guard, so Andre Iguodala can play his natural position.
I disagree with this statement, for many reasons. First and foremost, I believe the Sixers are too far away from a talent perspective to be worried about fit. The Sixers primary need right now is talent, not a position.
Beyond that, I care much more about the skillset of the player next to Andre Iguodala than what position is scribbled next to his name on the scorecard.
Below is Iguodala's PER, Opponents PER, and PER differential for each year of his career, broken down based on whether he was the shooting guard or the small forward. All data compiled from 82games.com. The better figure for each year is bolded. Thoughts after the jump.
The first thing to jump out is that there isn't a definitive trend. There have been years Iguodala's been more effective at shooting guard and years he's been more effective at small forward.
I also want to put in the disclaimer that I'm not overly concerned with opponents PER. Why? It's not that I don't care about his defensive efficiency, it's that I don't believe his defensive assignment is dependent on which position he's playing. Iguodala's been the primary defender for the other teams top offensive player, whether that's a shooting guard like Dwyane Wade or a small forward like Carmelo Anthony. More or less, he's been paired with a below average perimeter defender during his career, from Kyle Korver earlier in his career, to Thaddeus Young later, or Willie Green throughout. His defensive assignments, by and large, haven't changed based on who he's played with on the perimeter.
Looking closer, there are some trends here. This year he was more effective at shooting guard, by a considerable margin. The previous two years he was equally more effective at small forward, and before that more effective at shooting guard.
Take a look at the roster during his periods of increased efficiency. Since he's been here, the starter opposite Iguodala when he's played small forward has been fairly consistent, either Willie Green or Allen Iverson at shooting guard. It's the player at small forward that has led to the most drastic change.
Early in his career, when Iguodala was playing at shooting guard, he was doing so with Kyle Korver at the small forward the majority of the time. In 2004-2005, Korver started 57 games and averaged 32.5 minutes per game. He followed that up in the 2005-2006 season by playing 31.3 minutes per game and starting 43 games. And, even though Korver only started one game in 2006-2007, he did play 30.9 minutes per game. During the early stages of Iguodala's career, the majority of time he spent at shooting guard he was flanked by the sharp-shooting Kyle Korver.
Korver played in only 25 games in 2007-2008 before being traded. Oddly enough, Iguodala's efficiency at shooting guard took an immediate hit, and for the next 1.5 years he was significantly more effective at small forward. This turned around when? This past season. Towards the end of the season Jason Kapono was inserted into the starting lineup which, when combined with Jrue Holiday and his improved range at point guard, provided court spacing for Iguodala he hadn't had the benefit of the previous two years.
It's also worth noting that in 2008-2009, the only year where Andre Iguodala was significantly more effective at small forward than at shooting guard, Andre Iguodala started the season off in a terrible slump, and starting slow is a problem Iguodala has experienced in the past. Was this the result of being a bad fit next to Thaddeus Young on the wings, or was this simply an extended slump to start the season? Does this show cause and effect, or was this just a correlation? Even with Andre Iguodala's slump to start the season, that lineup had a positive plus-minus.
Who Andre Iguodala plays with is far more important than where he plays.
Looking at the draft
I've seen the argument made that, despite the fact that Wesley Johnson is rated higher on most draft boards than Xavier Henry, the Sixers should target Henry because he's a shooting guard, a "more pressing need for the Sixers". Both wing players share similar strengths, as well as similar weaknesses. Both of them would aid Iguodala in the sense that their outside shooting would provide increased floor spacing. Neither of them have the ability, at the present time at least, to create significantly off the dribble, a skill most deem necessary in a prototypical shooting guard. Neither have the lateral footspeed to defend the top flight penetrating shooting guards in the NBA.
How different of a role, really, would they play? The fact that they list "SG" next to Henry's name on the boxscore really doesn't change his skillsets.
If you have Wesley Johnson rated as a higher prospect, it makes little sense to pass on him due to positional concern.
Things are a little more hazy when determining how well Evan Turner would complement Andre Iguodala. That being said, if the Sixers are lucky enough to be in a position to draft Turner, they won't be wondering how well Turner augments Iguodala in the half court but how well Iguodala works off of Evan Turner. Turner instantly becomes the focal point of the Sixers half court offense, and while their skillsets may not mesh as well as one would like, Turner's ability to take the focus off Iguodala in the half court would alleviate a huge burden on Iguodala's shoulders and thrust him into a role he's more suited for. Also, while jumpshooting is obviously not one of Iguodala's strengths, according to the now fan-available Synergy Sports, Iguodala was an above league-average catch and shoot player this year. If Evan Turner can take enough shot-creation duties off of Iguodala it should help Iguodala limit the number of bad jump shots he takes, and actually improve Iguodala's effectiveness.
The other main possibility at the Sixers projected draft slot is Al-Farouq Aminu, a combo-forward from Wake Forest. Aminu's jump shot -- which is still a long way from being a legitimate weapon -- and rudimentary handles make him a poor fit with Iguodala on the wing. That being said, the Sixers very well may be better off looking at him as a long term option at power forward, which changes the outlook on his viability completely.
Thaddeus Young's future?
Both years the Sixers tried starting Iguodala and Thaddeus Young together on the wings they abandoned the lineup less than half way through the season. Was either a large enough sample size to rule out the duo going forward? Can we say, with any reasonable degree of certainty, that Thaddeus Young -- at a ripe old age of 21 -- cannot progress to be a good enough catch-and-shoot player down the line to make the pairing work? Perhaps not, but by the same token, can the Sixers bank on him developing into that kind of player? With Thaddeus Young on the last year of his rookie contract, he will then carry a substantial cap-hold heading into next offseason, assuming an extension isn't reached. While the decision on Young's future may not have to come this offseason -- although the draft is likely to play a large role in determining his future with the ballclub -- next year is going to be a huge deciding point in determining whether Young is a future cog or an expendable piece for the Sixers.
Does Jrue help mitigate the concern?
The story of the year -- outside of the Eddie Jordan debacle -- has to be Jrue Holiday, and the biggest surprise was his improved outside jumpshot. His jumper was a downright liability for him at UCLA as he tried to succeed at the off-guard position next to Darren Collison. After struggling with the NBA three point line during the first half few months, albeit in limited minutes, Holiday made 1.2 three's per game at over 41% after the all-star break. If Holiday can develop consistency from range that may take off some of the burden of finding a legitimate shooter on the wing.
Does it even matter?
If the Sixers have a player whom they feel is a legitimate star they need to take him regardless of his fit with Iguodala. The Sixers are in dire straights in terms of overall talent and don't have the luxury to worry about fit. The fact that Iguodala can succeed -- and has succeeded in the past -- at either wing position only amplifies the notion of taking the best player available.