"It has taken its toll, but it has helped me really understand how to prepare for each night, being that I am the go-to guy and just having that mental preparation."
This is as good a time as any to break down exactly what this season has meant to the Sixers, and Andre Iguodala specifically.
To say that Andre has matured this year would be a gross understatement. For the first two+ seasons of his career Iguodala never looked to create his own shot. In fact, last season he averaged the fewest field goal attempts of any player who logged as many minutes as he did. When Allen Iverson was traded, no one knew where the offense would come from. In fact, no one gave this team a chance.
So what happened? Why have they played playoff-caliber basketball since their superstar left? You could look at the stabilizing influence of Andre Miller, that’s definitely been part of the equation. You could credit inserting Stephen Hunter into the starting lineup, the added size has helped on the boards and on defense. You could even look at Joe Smith, he’s given the Sixers a big off the bench who can battle for boards and step away from the hoop and hit a mid-range jumper. These are all factors, but the definitive reason for the rebirth of basketball in Philadelphia is the emergence of Andre Iguodala, and more importantly, the way he’s handled being the focal point of the offense.
If you look around the league at young players who are basically handed the reins of their team on offense, you’ll see a pattern emerge. The green-light to shoot turns into the red light to pass. The exceptional thing about the way Iguodala has stepped into the role of the leader is that his assist numbers have climbed as well. Iguodala is a true leader on the floor, he makes everyone around him better. Stephen Hunter gets more opportunities to finish close to the hoop, Dalembert gets the ball in a position to score, Andre Miller gets wide open shots. Iguodala drives to the hole with a lob on his mind rather than a wild shot, but he can finish himself if it isn’t there.
See Andre dunk, see Andre pass, see Andre lead.
The more I watch Andre play, the more I’m convinced he was stifled by Allen Iverson’s presence. Now that he’s got the ball in his hands his confidence is growing and we’re just now getting a glimpse at what he’s capable of. Earlier this year I wrote that Iguodala would never be a great scorer because his game lacked fluidity. I stand by that statement.
His jumper is always going to be somewhat streaky, he’s a great finisher on the break, but when he goes into the lane and absorbs contact he rarely makes the hoop. These things are key, if you’re looking for a guy who can average 30 points a game. That’s not Iguodala’s game. Iguodala’s game is to average in the low 20’s on about 12–15 shots per game, dish out assists and grab rebounds, and you know what? That’s exactly the type of player you need to build a champion. Name the last team to win a championship with a 30 ppg scorer.
Iguodala is the type of leader who will play the entire game making his teammates better, but won’t be afraid to take matters into his own hands when the game is on the line. He’s got the intestinal fortitude to take, and make the last shot of the game, and most importantly, he’s the type of superstar who you can surround with the best available talent. You don’t have to worry about his ego, you don’t have to worry about how their games mesh with his game, because his game is to make their games better.
There’s been plenty of skepticism about how Billy King is going to handle the upcoming draft, and rightly so. King’s track record in the draft is questionable (less-so, now that we’ve seen what the team he assembled is capable of without Iverson), but this is really the first draft King is going into where he only has to worry about evaluating talent. He doesn’t need to find the right kind of guy to fit in with his superstar, he just needs to get the best possible player to play alongside him, and he can rest easy because he knows he’s got a superstar who will make whatever choices he makes look better.
For any Sixers fans out there who have forgotten what a post-season atmosphere is like in Philly (and from the attendance numbers, I'd say just about all of us have), I found this clip at YouTube from 1999. I was at this game. I’ve been at World Series games, I was at game 7 of the Yanks/Sox in 2003 (Aaron Boone game) and neither one of those games came close to the noise level at this Sixers/Magic game. Maybe next year this atmosphere will be back.