Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s Top 50 NBA Players: #35 Andre Iguodala

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Resume: 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 26.9 minutes, 47% FG, 35% 3PT, 60% FT … Team Record in Games Played: 64-13 (3-2 without) … Playoffs: 10.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 30.2 minutes, 47% FG, 35% 3PT, 42% FT, 16-5 record … NBA Finals MVP

It’s been a little over three months since the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Title, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve yet to figure out how to properly rate, discuss or consider the defending NBA champs. Over an eight month, 103 game sample, the Warriors put together one of the most dominant start to finish seasons in league history. They outscored their opponents by 10 points per game in the regular season and went 48-4 on their home floor. It’s hard to comprehend the idea that a basketball team could be perfect, but the Warriors were conceivably perfect; they were the best defensive team in the league and second best offensively. They could beat you in more ways than any other team in the NBA. They could go big or small. They could beat you in an up-tempo game or slow it down. If their best player was off, there were three more guys to pick up the slack.

And yet, it seems to me like the jury is still out on the Warriors place in NBA lore. Maybe I was too close to the situation to see it any other way. I covered the Warriors last season and watched every game that they played. At their best, I had never seen a team that was so dangerous offensively. Almost always, they were disciplined and gritty defensively. They were fun, by any measure you can come up with, and they kicked all kinds of ass from start to finish.

It was John Lennon who said, “Don’t hate what you don’t understand,” and maybe hate is the wrong word here. Maybe in the worries case it should be “Don’t underappreciate what you don’t understand,” because the Warriors have been underappreciate as well as misunderstood. There are still some people who will tell you that the Warriors are “just a jump-shooting team” and that’s such a misnomer. They were incredibly talented and diverse, chameleon-like you could say. The only thing more impressive than their talent was their cohesion. Their offense truly ran like a machine when it was fully-functioning and there were almost never lapses defensively. This comes when you have a roster full of the right kind of young guys and veterans. It comes when you guys are willing to make individual sacrifices for the greater good of the team.

On the grandest stage, the NBA Finals, it wasn’t always a Stephen Curry showcase and in some weird way, that probably soured some who expected the Warriors to win a title on the MVP’s terms, just like the Heat did with LeBron James, the Lakers did with Shaquille O’Neal (and then Kobe Bryant) and as the Bulls did with Michael Jordan. But if anything highlights the Warriors dominance, it’s that they didn’t need just one guy to be the hero. There were plenty of guys on the roster who were capable of stepping into that role and putting on the metaphorical cape. In the Finals, that guy just happened to be Andre Iguodala.

Dwight Howard was the marquee free agent in the summer of 2013, and the Warriors were squarely in the hunt for the multiple time All-NBA center for the duration of his indecision. When Dwight decided to take his talents to Houston, the Warriors moved on to option B, Andre Iguodala. Iguodala wanted to be a Warrior and the Warriors gave up two unprotected 1st Round picks and change for him. Just a year later, Iguodala would be removed from the starting line-up by new head coach Steve Kerr in favor of a youthful, yet terrifyingly inconsistent Harrison Barnes.

Among many other decisions and breaks along the way, Kerr’s decision to move Iguodala from the starting line-up to the bench was a big reason why the Warriors were ultimately NBA champions. Iguodala had started every single game he had ever played in his NBA career, and most guys who had the lengthy and successful career Iguodala has had wouldn’t have let it go that easy. But always the consummate professional, Iguodala lent his unique skillset to the Warriors much improved second unit. Even at an advanced age Iggy remains a smart and stable perimeter defender and a capable creator offensively.

His contributions were more than just what he displayed on the floor. Iguodala’s willingness to come off the bench altered the Warriors ceiling because it set a precedent that sacrifice would be just as crucial of an ingredient to success as anything else would. It was a move that paved the way for Draymond Green to continue to start over a returning David Lee (though Green’s stellar play had just as much to do with that). His acceptance to be a bench player made it justifiable that Steve Kerr would pull center Andrew Bogut from the starting line-up in the middle of the Finals and insert Iguodala in his place.

The Iguodala move may have been the domino that needed to fall in order for the Warriors to ultimately prevail against LeBron James and the short-handed, yet surprisingly game Cleveland Cavaliers. In my opinion, that didn’t mean Iguodala should have won the Finals MVP award, but in a way I’m glad he did. What the Warriors got out of Iguodala was a tempo-changer. He was the final puzzle piece needed to unleash the Warriors devastating small-ball five-man unit. He was the LeBron stopper (if you can call him that; LeBron was shooting a low percentage from the field in the series even before Iguodala was inserted into the starting five) and he was the one guy that the Cleveland Cavaliers felt O.K. with saying “Go ahead, you beat us,” to. And Iguodala beat them.

If the occasionally bricky Iguodala didn’t knock down a bunch of wide open jumpers in the NBA Finals, he’s not ranked so high on this list and the Warriors might not be NBA champions. The saying goes that it’s a make or miss league. It just so happened that Iguodala had more makes when it mattered most.

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