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The Wingman

I hope everyone was paying attention to Andre Iguodala's play in the Team USA scrimmage on Saturday night. If you missed it, Iguodala scored 17 points on 6 shots. He picked his spots and facilitated on the offensive end, locked down on defense. Here's the fun thing, this type of play isn't a surprise from Iguodala, it's who he is.

When Allen Iverson was traded away from the Sixers, Andre Iguodala was thrust into the role of lead scorer. Prior to the trade, he was an emerging complementary player. Overnight, he was the guy who had to take the big shots. The guy who had to score for the team to win. Along with the added responsibility came the extra attention opposing teams paid to him. This manifested itself in a couple of ways, teams assigned their best defender to him, and if that failed, they doubled him. We saw it again and again, especially in the playoffs, for nearly three full seasons.

Along the way, a growing contingent of fans soured on Iguodala as a player. At first, it was the fact that he wasn't the type of guy who would drop thirty points with regularity. Then it became this notion that he couldn't hit a big shot (after he hit two of the biggest this team has seen in the past decade). Then it became his "overinflated ego." Essentially, Iguodala was crucified for saying things like, "I want to take the big shot," and "I think I'm one of the best players in the league." I'm paraphrasing a bit there, but you get the point. The first quote is something any player with a spine is going to say when asked why he took said big shot. The second is a fact.

Lost amid all the anti-Iguodala rhetoric is a simple look at the facts. Yes, the guy has been the Sixers' leading scorer since the day Iverson left, but he has found a way to assume that role without changing the player he is. He's unselfish, always has been. Iguodala's usage rate never rose above 23.8%. He didn't suddenly become a gunner overnight, he maintained efficient scoring, worked hard on both ends of the floor, and continued to set up his teammates. He was almost a reluctant number one option, happy to take a back seat whenever someone else on the team had the hot hand, or a favorable matchup (like when Thad went on that hot streak prior to the playoffs in 2009).

I suppose it's understandable how he's been misunderstood and underappreciated, considering the fact that points-per-game is still as deep as most fans and an abhorrent number of sports writers are willing to look at statistics. If you want to look at it bluntly, the fault doesn't lie with Iguodala, it belongs to the front office. Not because they gave him a healthy contract (a contract that's looking better and better as the Rudy Gay's of the world sign max extentions), but because they've essentially asked him to be something he's not. Put it this way, if the opposing team can afford to double team Andre Iguodala, you simply don't have offensive talent on the floor. If he's your best option in the half-court, you've already lost the battle.

Let's put this in baseball terms, say you've got Wade Boggs, in his prime, on your team and you decide to bat him fourth. He goes about hitting .350, getting on base at an insane clip and playing a solid third base for you, but he only hits 15 home runs. Eventually, people start complaining that he isn't hitting enough home runs. You need more production out of your cleanup hitter. Is it logical to blame Boggs for his lack of power? Well, it's no less ridiculous to blame Iguodala for not being a "number one."

When I read about the potential conflict having Iguodala and Evan Turner on the floor together is going to cause, I can't help but shake my head. I've seen people, people who I respect actually, say that Iguodala is going to have to put his ego aside if this duo is going to work together. The notion seems to be that Iguodala has this compulsion to be the alpha dog and take all the shots, when even though he was forced into that position, he never accepted it. He never became a gunner. Even last season, when his coach was complaining that he didn't shoot enough, Iguodala attempted 20 or more shots only 8 times all year. If anything, he seems to enjoy setting his teammate up more than scoring himself. Saturday night's game was a perfect example of Iguodala at his absolute best. Picking his spots on the offensive end, taking his shots when the defense adjusts to someone else, or he has an extremely favorable matchup. Using his dribble to help the guards out against pressure, get the team out on the break or penetrate, setting his teammates up for easy looks. Crashing the boards on both ends of the floor, and taking the toughest defensive matchup, be it a point guard, a wing, or a power forward. As far as shots are concerned, less has always been more for Iguodala, and he's always been fine with that.

When we talk about Iguodala and Turner, the question isn't whether Iguodala will allow Turner to step in and carry the load offensively, it's whether Turner is up to the task. There's one surefire way to judge whether Iguodala and Turner are working as a tandem on the wings, when the second half of the season begins, see who the best perimeter defender on the opposing team is guarding to start the game. If it's still Iguodala, there's a problem. If Iguodala is still getting double teamed, there's a big problem.

People keep saying Iguodala and Turner are similar players. They are, in that they both stuff a stat sheet, but there's also a key difference. Turner is a scorer, or at least he was in college. He was "the man," the guy who took a ton of shots, and was comfortable in that role. Iguodala has never been that guy, and he never will be.

There's an easy way to look at this. For Iguodala to be the best player he can be, he needs Evan Turner to come in here and be the number one option. To be the player other teams have to account for on the offensive end. The guy who will put up points and shots, draw the toughest perimeter defender and possibly the double teams. He needs Turner (or someone else) to be that guy so he can go on being the player he's been since college. Lock down defender who starts the break, picks his spots, sets up his teammates and scores a quiet 18 points on 12 shots night after night. More importantly, if the Sixers are going to escape this death spiral of mediocrity, or worse, they need this dynamic to develop quickly.

Right now, they're looking at the possibility of putting together one of the best perimeter trios in the league, in their primes. It's almost ideal, good size at all three positions, guys who can defend, and defend multiple positions, guys who can all handle the ball, set up teammates, crash the boards. Each one of them capable of triple double on any given night. Unfortunately, it's all going to be for naught if Turner, or someone else, can't step forward as the guy to carry the scoring load in the half court. But if that trio does gel, then filling the other two positions becomes much, much easier. If Turner doesn't become that guy? If he winds up being another complimentary player...well, if that happens, Iguodala's probably going to be the next guy to leave Philly and the search is going to begin anew.

Here's a quick stat I came across researching this post:

Iguodala led the team in scoring 31 times last season, the Sixers were 9-22 (.290) in those games and he averaged 15.23 shots/game. In the other 51 games, the Sixers were 18-31 (.353) and he averaged 12.7 shots/game.
by Brian on Jul 26 2010
Tags: Andre Iguodala | Basketball | Offseason | Sixers | Team USA |