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August 30, 2012
Top Newcomer
Iggy and the Nuggets

by Bradford Doolittle

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Not surprisingly, ESPN.com's Summer Forecast poll tabbed Dwight Howard as the top "newcomer" for the coming season. It's a reasonable assumption when the league's best center changes teams that it will have a profound impact.

However, in the same megadeal that sent Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, another player may have an even greater say on how things shake up in the West.

I'm talking about Andre Iguodala, who was plucked by the Nuggets from the Sixers in the Howard deal, with Denver sending Arron Afflalo to Orlando in the process. Part of it is net overall value. Howard's 12 WARP was marginally better thanAndrew Bynum's 9.6 mark, while Iguodala (7.6) dwarfed the contribution of Afflalo (1.2).

It's not as simple as all that, but there are plenty of reasons to love Iguodala's addition to the Nuggets.

Howard is the best player to change teams or enter the league this season, so it makes sense to assume he'll have the most impact on the court. As long as Howard's back issues don't prove to be a chronic problem, that will likely be the case in the big picture. But that may be more true two or three years from now when the league's oldest team invariably turns over the roster, with Howard as the franchise centerpiece.

For this season, it's entirely possible that new teammate Steve Nash will have a more practical impact than Howard. Nash came in second in the poll, so apparently a lot of the experts were thinking along the same lines.

It's not always the headline-grabbing acquisitions that carry the most reverberations around the league. Consider two summers ago, when elite players were moving all over the NBA and mostly ending up in Miami. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer were among the marquee players winding up with new addresses.

Yet it was Dallas' under-the-radar acquisition of Tyson Chandler that proved to be the catalyst in lifting the Mavericks to their first title. Since Chandler was coming off an injury-marred season with the Charlotte Bobcats, the deal wasn't considered a sexy move, but it had huge consequences.

With that in mind, let's look at Iguodala, who will be an amazing fit with the Nuggets.

Iguodala's offense
The current trend in championship team building is to focus your cap space on three or so star-level players and hope the allure of that core will allow you to attract serviceable role players to fill out the roster.

Both teams in the most recent NBA Finals fit this model. Miami used free agency to build its foundation while Oklahoma City used the draft, but the end result was the same -- the bulk of the teams' current and future resources are concentrated on a small group of high-end talent. Teams such as the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets have charted similar courses.

At the other end of the spectrum are teams like the Nuggets and Pacers, which are trying to reach the league's highest level by spreading the wealth around a little more while building deep, flexible rosters. Frankly, it might be good for the league if a team like this broke through and won it all, a la the 1976-77 Trail Blazers or the 2003-04 Pistons. Perhaps star players wouldn't be so convinced that they need to cluster together like ions or zombies.

As if the Nuggets weren't already swimming upstream with its roster construction, George Karl has said that he wants his team to play faster. Mind you, the Nuggets have finished with one of the five-fastest tempos in the league in each of their eight seasons under Karl and led the league last season. Judging from Karl's words, that's not good enough. He wants a return of Doug Moe-like paces to Denver, and wouldn't we all love to see that? However, since the ABA-NBA merger, only one of 36 champions has been one of the five-fastest teams in the league -- the 1981-82 Lakers, which were fifth in pace that season. Iguodala fits Karl's system like a glove.

Karl favors a pressure defense that forces a lot of turnovers and wears out opponents dealing with the high altitude in Denver. Except for a one-season blip in 2010-11, the Nuggets have finished in the top 10 in forced turnover percentage every season of the past decade, including ninth last season. Iguodala flourished defensively earlier in his career playing in a pressure scheme, though the past two seasons he was reined in a bit by Doug Collins, who prefers a more conservative approach. Still, just three players have more steals over the past five seasons than Iguodala.

Since Carmelo Anthony was traded, the Nuggets have favored a balanced offense. Denver led the league in points last season, but its leading scorer -- Ty Lawson -- ranked 31st in the NBA with an average of 16.4 points per game. Iguodala fits right into this, as he is at his best making plays for other players and finishing in transition.

The knock against Iguodala has been that he has a tendency to pound the rock and stagnate an offense, but Karl's system simply doesn't allow for that. It's about getting the ball down the court and finding the quickest open shot regardless of who's taking it. This should keep Iguodala from lapsing into his worst habits while capitalizing on his strengths.

Iguodala also can help create offense when games are close in crunch time and the pace invariably slows. Denver will always try to run, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. Last season, the Nuggets suffered when they played slow. According to NBA.com, Denver was 18-16 in games that featured a point differential of five points or fewer late in the game, a large shortfall for a team that finished 10 games over .500 overall. The culprit was offense. Denver was the third-most efficient offensive team in the NBA in 2011-12, but in those late-and-close situations, it ranked 19th.

Iguodala's defense
The biggest boost will come from Iguodala's ability to defend the game's best perimeter players one-on-one, leaving the rest of the defense to pressure and play the passing lanes. This will be especially important if the Nuggets come up against Oklahoma City in the postseason. No one can stop Kevin Durant, but last season, the Thunder's scoring superstar lit up the Nuggets for 35.7 points per game on 59.1 percent shooting. He put up 51 on Denver in one February game.

In six career games against Iguodala and his former team in Philadelphia, Durant averaged 23.8 points on 45 percent shooting. If you factor in Iggy's edge in assists (6.5 to 1.7) and the fact he has averaged 19 points on 53.7 percent shooting against Durant, he actually has been responsible for creating more points than Durant when the two go head-to-head.

Iguodala's skill set and versatility gives Denver the closest thing to star power that a player can offer without being a big-time scorer. He'll help Karl achieve his goal of playing even faster while also creating more turnovers with his defense, which should make the Nuggets a dangerous regular-season team. In the playoffs, where matchups are king, Karl suddenly has an ace-in-the-hole to deploy against the one team and one player that every team in the West has to measure itself against.

Howard might be the summer's sexiest acquisition, but don't be surprised if it's Iguodala who ends making the biggest difference next season once it's all said and done.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

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

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