In 2018, as the playoffs were approaching, I noted that the Warriors and specifically Andre Iguodala had been sandbagging all season.
The Dubs, of course, started playing their best basketball late in the campaign and in the postseason, winning their third title in four years.
We’re now four seasons removed from that campaign.
And I’m here to tell you that Iguodala is up to his old sandbagging ways.
There have been plenty of surprises for the Warriors this season — Jordan Poole, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter, and Nemanja Bjelica — but I’d argue that there has been no bigger surprise than Iguodala’s play.
Now in his 18th season, it was fair to wonder how much was left in the tank for Iguodala.
The answer: plenty.
Apologies to the Miami Heat, but we can say now that Iguodala was clearly conserving energy for his return to the Bay.
Friday was Iguodala’s best game of the season — a 10-assist, plus-26 performance in 18 minutes of a 126-85 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Iguodala is the first Warrior to have 10 assists off the bench since… Andre Iguodala, who did it during that sandbagging 2017-2018 season.
Iguodala was a man controlling everything on the court. Along with Draymond Green, he was the anchor of the Dubs’ elite defensive performance.
And with all due respect to Jordan Poole, who scored 26, no one had a better offensive game than Iguodala, who only scored two.
Perhaps it was the slower pace of the game, but Iguodala was the ultimate operator Friday — directing traffic and dishing out nifty passes. This is the kind of two-way wing that can win a playoff game.
I don’t think that these games will be commonplace for Iguodala. In fact, they shouldn’t be commonplace, as there’s only so much a veteran like him should be giving over the course of an 82-game regular season.
But it’s been incredible to see Iguodala, the most ardent believer in the Warriors’ systems, run those systems to perfection once again.
The 2015 vibes are back with the Dubs.
And every now and again — like on Friday — the 2015 Iguodala is back, too.
Payton II is no fluke
We can be honest, the Pelicans — particularly the Pellies that took the floor Friday — are not a good team.
But when you’re the 15th man on the roster — the final add to the team — it doesn’t matter what team you’re playing. Every excellent game is a cause for celebration.
Gary Payton II did it again on Friday. He was an impact player from the moment he entered the contest until the second he left it. Defensively, he was a bulldog. Offensively, he scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, with three awesome dunks mixed in there.
Payton is not a quick flash in the pan — a quirk for the early season. This dude can play. And his fit on his Warriors team is outstanding.
After his three-steal game (you could have convinced me he had 10) on Wednesday, Payton added another one Friday.
There’s something special developing with Payton and Curry in the backcourt.
In less than nine minutes on the court together Friday, Payton and Curry were plus-12 vs. the Pellies.
You could even argue that Curry — who had his best defensive game of the season Friday — is taking after Payton.
The Young Glove (just going off the nickname he prefers) is showing that there’s a tremendous value in having a point-of-attack defender next to Curry, who should be playing off the ball. Payton attacks, gets into the opposing point guard, and oftentimes steals it from him. Curry can play rover, often with Green and him creating two levels of defense.
When the Warriors really wanted to lock down in the past, this is the kind of look Curry and Klay Thompson would run. It’s been a while since we’ve seen that, though, and truth be told, after two catastrophic leg injuries, No. 11 is unlikely to be an ace defender again.
It’s a good thing his shot is the purest in the game.
Payton isn’t going to shoot the lights out, but he plays larger than he is on the offensive end. That faux size also helps him on the glass.
This is a true guard with wing tendencies, and, again, next to Curry, it’s fantastic.
Thompson will return and play often in a month or so, but Payton deserves every chance to play big minutes in the weeks before that moment.
And come playoff time, I wouldn’t be shocked if Payton is reprising the role of Curry’s aggressive defensive counterpart.
The irreplaceable Draymond Green
There has simply been no better defender in the NBA this season than Green, whose brilliance was on full display Friday, particularly in the second half.
Floating in the lane, directing traffic, and dictating what the offense is doing — Green was absolutely masterful as the quarterback of the Dubs’ outstanding team defense against the Pelicans.
The respect won’t come his way, but Green is on another level right now. One that few in the history of the NBA have ever matched.
Complain about the offense (I appreciate his aggression on that side of the court this season), or the turnovers, or the complaints he levies. Green is one of the best players in the NBA this season and is deserving of even more praise than I can throw his way today.