To put it mildly, it really has been an interesting season for Sixers’ forward, Andre Iguodala. He has missed games with an injury, struggled with his shot from time to time, and been a consistent source of fuel for the rumor mill.
In fact, most close observers of the 76ers fall on the side of trade/no-trade argument with very little middle ground when it comes to Iguodala, often citing the remaining years and money on his current deal as the grounds for moving and/or keeping him.
Shoot, to hear Iguodala describe it, his season has been nothing but a struggle. This season, he has missed 12 of the Sixers’ 60 games after missing a grand total of six games and playing in 252 consecutive games in his first six seasons in the league. His shooting percentage dipped last season and has remained low, while his foul-shooting percentage is at a career low. Most noticeable, of course, is the scoring average, which has dipped three whole points per game from 17.1 last season (and a high of 19.9 in 2008) to 14.1 this season.
“It’s been up and down, but I really just try to look at it from a team standpoint,” Iguodala explained after Thursday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “We started slow when we were trying to find what our niche was and different roles. Then, we started to win and we continued that trend of playing good basketball.”
But there’s a lot more to Iguodala than that. In the realm of advanced metrics, Iguodala is charting the best Win Shares per 48 minutes, assist percentage, the best defensive rating and best rate of turnovers given in a season for his career.
As head coach Doug Collins explains it, Iguodala just might be having the best season of his career.
“I think Andre with his defense and his leadership has been terrific,” Collins said. “He’s averaging about 15 [points] a game, but he had two of the best defensive plays that I’ve seen all year long the other night against Dallas. Unfortunately, we did not convert, but Andre is a playmaker for us. He’s a rebounder, he’s a defender and I think he’s been terrific.
“I never judge a guy like that based on his statistics. I judge him by the value to his team and how well he plays and if he gives you a chance to win. When we were 3-13 it was his voice that did the most. He said, ‘Guys, hang in there. We’re close.’ That voice helped us battle through that and get us through to where we are today.”
More than anything else, it has been Iguodala’s defense that has sparked the Sixers’ turnaround. Whether it’s conscious or not, Iguodala has taken fewer shots – especially from behind the three-point arc – ceding some to up-and-comers like Jodie Meeks, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams.
Offensively, Iguodala has put aside his contract and ego in order to get the kids involved more.
“I’ve been trying to be a leader and do what I can to make some of the guys become better,” Iguodala said.
Where he has made the team better, however, is on the other end of the court, where Iguodala’s most important effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. Collins has encouraged Iguodala to continue the role he carved out for himself last summer playing for Team USA in the World Championships, where he was the team’s shutdown defender. With Kevin Durant the team’s top scorer and an NBA All-Star like Derrick Rose commanding the ball, Iguodala’s contribution was to guard the opposition’s best scorer in order to make life tough.
In fact, that has been his job with the Sixers, too. With Iguodala hanging all over him, Kobe Bryant hit just three of 11 shots from the field against the Sixers in December. Meanwhile, the Sixers won a tough game in Cleveland last weekend despite the fact that Iguodala didn’t score during the second half.
They say the NBA is all about defense right now and Iguodala is one of the best in the league in that regard.
“If you would talk to the best scorers in the league that he’s guarded and say who is one of the toughest guys you have to go against, they would say, Andre Iguodala,” Collins said, noting that Iguodala is the Sixers’ modern-day Bobby Jones.
“He’s played well against the likes of Paul Pierce, which has given us a very good chance to hang in there with Boston. We have played some of the better teams very well and it’s because of the job he does against the key people.”
Still, the trade talk persists around Iguodala, even though the Sixers have turned into a team that no one wants to see in the first round of the playoffs. They are a team with nine players age 23 or younger, with Iguodala the elder statesman on the team at age 27.
Iguodala is coming into his own on the court, but away from it some wonder why he’s still with the Sixers.
“What happens in business and in sports – it could be an executive or whatever – is that you look at the bottom line of a person’s paycheck and you expect X number of numbers. And I think a lot of players in this league you place a value not of numbers, but their presence and who they are,” Collins explained. “They could be on a rotation off the ball where you get into another spot where a guy couldn’t get, so now that play gets blown up and it wins the game. But there is no stat for that.
“From a coaching standpoint, you understand what he brings. I love what Andre does for us.”
Collins says Iguodala reminds him of another player he coached when he was with the Chicago Bulls.
“[Iguodala is] an intangible man. I’ve coached guys like that. Scottie Pippen was an intangibles man. Grant Hill is another,” Collins said. “They will throw up numbers, but they are also All-Defense and ‘Dre plays both ends of the floor. He’s our best individual defender on the team that is pretty good defensive team because we play really good team defense.”
So is it possible for a player to seemingly struggle yet make bigger contributions to the team that can be measured? If so, that’s what Iguodala is doing this season.