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An Appreciation for Iguodala's Defense

As a fan base, one aspect of the Sixers that people over the last couple of years have come to a general consensus on is that Andre Iguodala is a great defender. This has always been true of course, but it's about time people around the country start taking notice.
Of course, amongst our small fan base, this hasn't been a secret. Brian has done a good job publicizing Andre's defensive exploits over here by creating The Iguodala List. For those who are new to it, the concept behind it is simple: It's a record of the opponent's best wing player's offensive output against the 76ers. Now I can admit that it isn't the perfect way to measure defensive value as basketball has many variables, but still it is something to look at. Since I went into detail explaining it, you can guess that these players struggle against the Sixers and that is pretty much completely due to Iguodala. The list includes guys like Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and many more. The idea reminds me a lot of a power hitter in baseball, who is said to "have a pitcher in his book" after he homers off him. In this case, he has him on his list.

Nationally though, Iguodala doesn't get a lot of respect. It's not like the Sixers are a glamour franchise or contending for a title, well, ever. It is a shame that he's not getting really any attention for his work this year. I've read at a lot of places that advanced stat guys have a lot of trouble trying to properly rate wing defense. It makes sense, point guards pressure the ball and big guys block shots and rebound. The thing is, it's invaluable to have a guy that makes the other team's scoring wing at least work hard for their points. Iguodala has done more than that this year, which is why I find it insane teams aren't trying harder to pry him from the Sixers. Yeah, I know that the Sixers took him off the proverbial trading block as they are playing playoff-caliber basketball, but that was partly because they were discouraged by the offers they were getting. Does a Western contender like Dallas realize that by getting him, at the very least you have a guy that will play world-class defense on the Kobes, Manus, Durants, and Carmelos of the world. Mike Krzyzewski could tell you that.

In my (very biased) opinion, he's THE BEST wing defender in the league, yet he's never made any NBA All-Defensive Team, first or second. I personally am not very big on complaining about national exposure, but in this case it's a shame that Iguodala's defense is a secret to many people. Looking over the past couple of years, there seems to be two types of wings who get this honor:

  1. Super-duper Stars: Kobe is a mainstay on the team. LeBron is getting there too. Wade is featured from time to time.
  2. Guys with Defensive Reputations on Good Teams: Raja Bell, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, Thabo Sefalosha. You know, the types of guys who are lauded for their defense.

Quickly, I feel that Iguodala's heavy offensive burden that is scrutinized nationally and locally hurts him against both types of players. No offense to guys like Kobe or LeBron, but they don't guard the best wing all of the time. This isn't to say they don't do it (very well I may add) in critical junctures, but their offensive loads are too heavy for them to expend energy on the defensive end on every possession like Iguodala does. Their offense overshadows him though, and these are the guys I would take off. How do you get all defense when you are the roamer against Rondo in the Finals? Also, I feel like voters love these "defensive specialists" as if it makes sense that guys that are solely defenders are on the All-Defense team. That's not to say that these guys aren't great defenders either (Oh boy, they are), but the fact Iguodala has an offensive game to analyze hurts him here in my opinion. Regardless, I'd probably take someone like LeBron off over a guy like Sefalosha who has the tough assignment all game, every night.

All right, enough with the griping though. Let's take a look at how Doug Collins is using Iguodala. If you have ever read my comments, I think Collins is an absolute genius defensively. How could you not be good if your team is a Top 10 defense in the league and have a starting lineup boasts the likes of Jodie Meeks (plays hard, but is overmatched athletically) and Spencer Hawes (overmatched, and is lazy to boot)? Here is a quote from Collins' first presser after getting the job (via Kate Fagan):

"To me, if he's an all-league defender at that three spot, that means we're going to be able to get out and run and that's what we do best."

That means causing turnovers and then getting out and running. The Sixers are only average in turning the other team over, but when they do, they score off them. Again, they are near the top of the league in fast break points at third (according to Team Rankings). Iggy's averaging 1.57 steals per game, which would be good to put him in the Top 20 if he played enough games to qualify. Let's just say that some of the top guys aren't known as good defenders. Some are definitely guys who can play passing lanes like Allen Iverson once could. Not only that, his teammates Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand also have enough steals to put them in the Top 50. That's not to take anything away from those guys who are good players there, especially Brand (Jrue is still way too inconsistent on that end), but having a shutdown wing like Iguodala certainly helps.

The other thing Iguodala does extremely well is play defense without fouling. He averages less than two a game, and normally they are hard fouls when he or his teammate gets beat to prevent a bucket. Describing his defensive game is pretty hard. He's not a guy who uses his great strength to bully players like a young Ron Artest or Bruce Bowen and he's not a guy who is all length who contests every shot like Shane Battier. Actually he's unique in that he strikes me as a little bit of both. I'm far from a one-on-one defense expert, but the Bowens of the league seem to like to get up in guys chests, make them put it on the floor, and and steer them one way until they cut them off again. The longer guys like to play off and use that length to take away the drive and then have the ability to contest well. Iguodala kind of does both because he does play off guys at least to arm's length until they hit the three-point line. He does this by sticking his hand out in a guy's face as a deterrent for jump shooter. As soon as the player starts driving, he changes to playing physical by getting up right next to you, trying to keep you out of the paint. How does he do this tough task against people? Well, that one's kind of easy: He's simply a freak athlete, with strength, length, and quickness.

I'd love to say Doug Collins uses Iguodala as a "Revis Island" type player every game and tells everyone else that he's to be left alone to stop his man. It would be lying if I did, though. The NBA isn't the NFL with ridiculous complex schemes where you try to outsmart the other team. Everyone knows the other team's plays, and the coaches' job is to try and put his players in a position to take away the other team's strengths. Gameplans change every night. With regards to Iguodala, the task is easy for Collins. He can always pencil him in to play the other team's best player. The real work for him is the other four players on the floor, and there are plenty of below average defenders after Hawes and Meeks for him to consider.

Let's go to the video to look at a few of Iguodala's big late game defensive plays to preserve Sixers wins:

All right, this one might be fresh in everyone's minds. No great strategy here: Collins definitely thought one of two things here. The first one is if they are smart, they'll attack the Duncan mismatch with Brand. I'll have to think of a way to double that. The second is they may go to Manu, and if they do he's Andre's responsibility. It's kind of a broken play but it looks like they were trying to free Manu on a backscreen. That's probably the best way to score on Iggy, run him off screens. The play gets screwed up by good ball pressure from Jodie and good ball denial from Brand, a specialty of his. Manu gets the ball and he has to attack Iguodala one-on-one. Smartly, Andre realizes to take away the three in this spot because a two can only tie it, so he gets up on him. Then on the drive, he completely takes away his left hand, Manu's specialty. As he goes behind the back, Dre completely anticipates it and shows no hint of fouling on a pump. Manu fumbles the ball, pumps, and well, flops. Great defense.

Here's another one:

This one's on Scott Skiles. Go to Salmons against the rookie or something, but this? Again, not much but just good defense here. He's not worried about the three with Maggette, so he plays a little further off and sticks with him the entire way. As soon as he shows the ball, he strips it. Of course with the luck the Sixers have had, it somehow ends up in Boykins' hands for a good look, but that would have been just cruel after that one-on-one stand. This time, the ball didn't lie. The one thing I LOVED about this was that Jrue had a chance to leave Boykins in the corner and help on the drive, but he stayed home. If he helps, you are conceding an open Boykins three. Ironically, that's what they got but that decision shows trust that Iguodala could get the job done and he did.

In closing, I'd like to say it would be a shame if Iguodala didn't make First Team All Defense. I completely admit that I'm biased, but he continually shuts guys down that aren't used to being defended. If he isn't on the second team then it's an outright travesty. The thing that makes me feel good about playing a team like Boston in the playoffs is that I know that Pierce won't have a good series, because Iguodala continually plays great defense against him. Will that be enough to win the series? Probably not. It sure is a competitive advantage that most teams don't have, though.
by Rich on Feb 15 2011
Tags: AI9 4 DPOY | Andre Iguodala | Basketball | Sixers |