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March 7, 2011
Trend Watch
Iguodala, Denver D and Ts

by Kevin Pelton

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Trending player: Andre Iguodala, SF, Philadelphia 76ers

When Iguodala recorded triple-doubles in Philadelphia's wins on Friday and Sunday, he joined an elite group. Iguodala is now one of just five players in the league--LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook are the others--with multiple triple-doubles this season. In Iguodala's case, all three have come in the past three weeks.

The triple-doubles are part of a trend toward increased playmaking for Iguodala. Since the start of February, he's averaged 7.8 assists per game and has recorded double-figure assists four times, after doing so just twice during the season's first three months.

For the entire season, only one non-point guard (James) is averaging more than Iguodala's 6.1 assists per game. For the past month or so, Iguodala's numbers have been very typical of a lead ball handler. His average of 7.8 assists would be good for 11th in the NBA. Naturally, there has been a corresponding change in the assist numbers of teammate Jrue Holiday, nominally Philadelphia's point guard. Having averaged 6.6 assists per game through the end of January, Holiday is down to 4.4 since then. Essentially, the two players have swapped spots.

The impact of the change can be seen at the team level. The 76ers have gone 11-4 in February and March. While the Sixers' defense remains their strength, their offense has scored 3.0 more points per 100 possessions than average since the start of February when adjusted for schedule. Before that, Philadelphia was a below-average offensive team.

So why has the change been so successful? A key explanation seems to lie in the fact Iguodala is less prone to turnovers than Holiday (Iguodala's fourth in the league, in fact, in assist-to-turnover ratio). Despite increasing the amount he's handled the basketball, Iguodala's turnovers per game have gone up only marginally (from 1.8 to 2.1) since the start of February. Meanwhile, Holiday's turnovers have decreased by more than half (from 2.9 to 1.4). The 76ers were always good at taking care of the basketball but have become elite with Iguodala's emergence as their leading ball handler. Since Feb. 1, they've turned the ball over on just 11.7 percent of their possessions, far better than any NBA team has done this season.

Trending team: Denver Nuggets

After the trade deadline, Nuggets coach George Karl stirred up a mini-controversy by criticizing the defense of Carmelo Anthony in an interview that aired during the team's nationally televised win over the Boston Celtics. "Defensive focus, his demand of himself, is what frustrated us more than anything," Karl told TNT.

While replacing Anthony hardly represents the only change the Nuggets made in the 13-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks that sent Anthony to the Big Apple, it's interesting to note that Denver has been significantly better at the defensive end since the deal.

n the six games the Nuggets have played with their new cast, they've held their opponent below their season-long offensive rating each time. (Previously, Denver had yet to put together more than three consecutive above-average defensive outings all season long.) Included is a pair of lockdown efforts in the win over the Celtics and a blowout against the Charlotte Bobcats. Though Boston was shorthanded and Charlotte recently dealt starting forward Gerald Wallace, the Nuggets' defense was impressive in those games, holding the two teams below 90 points per 100 possessions.

One surprising key to Denver's defense has been the team's dominant defensive rebounding. The Nuggets have grabbed 84.6 percent of all available misses on the defensive end during the past six games, a rate that is so far off the charts it can't possibly be sustained. The league's best defensive rebounding team, the Orlando Magic, is at 77.1 percent of available defensive rebounds for the season.

Alas, we can't trace this change to Anthony, an above-average rebounder for his position. It is explained by big men Nene and Kenyon Martin cleaning the glass with surprising help from J.R. Smith.

Denver has missed Anthony on offense, struggling badly to score in Saturday's road loss against the Los Angeles Clippers. The league's No.1 offense at the time of the trade, the Nuggets have been little better than average since a fluky shooting night against the Memphis Grizzlies that featured 12 three-pointers. Still, average offense can be good enough to win if Denver keeps defending at anything close to its current rate.

League trend: Checking in on technicals

After picking up his 16th technical of the season on Friday against the Chicago Bulls, Magic center Dwight Howard will sit out Monday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Howard is the first player suspended this season due to accumulation of technical fouls, so his suspension seems likely to focus attention on the NBA's "Respect for the Game" initiative intended to reduce complaining to referees with stricter standards for technicals.

According to dougstats.com, there have been 676 technicals called this season in 928 games (through Saturday), an average of 0.73 per game. That's the total number of technicals whistled and includes some (four in Howard's case) that were subsequently rescinded when they were reviewed by the NBA league office. Last season, by comparison, there were an average of just 0.59 technicals per game and a total of 730 technicals, which figures to be surpassed soon.

When we last considered this issue in Trend Watch in late November, it appeared a rash of technicals early in the season had quickly slowed down. Since then, however, the rate of technicals has gone back up--not quite as high as it was during the first week of the regular season but much higher than it has been since 2006-07, the last time player reactions were a point of emphasis (see chart at right).

That could spell trouble for a couple of other players. Amar'e Stoudemire of the Knicks is a technical away from being suspended, while Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson has picked up 14 total. No other player has more than 11 Ts thus far this season.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Recapping Sloan (03/07)
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Premium Article Trend Watch (02/28)
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Premium Article Trend Watch (03/18)
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Premium Article On the Beat (03/08)

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