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Andre Iguodala: The NBA's ultimate role player of the last decade

Adithya Ravi
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Modified 07 Jan 2020, 21:33 IST

“…Love to inbound… finds James… James blocked by Iguodala!”. LeBron James pounds the ball in frustration after yet another brilliant defensive play from the veteran in the clutch. This was Game 3 of the 2017 finals.

The swingman’s play is not talked about as the absolutely crucial and essential contribution it was when discussing Golden State Warriors' success over the past five years. And it starts with his defense.

2015 NBA Finals - Game Four
2015 NBA Finals - Game Four

Iguodala is never quite mentioned in the conversation about the greatest defenders ever, though he has been a holy terror to go up against year after year. A highlight reel of his signature move, the strip steal, invariably features the crème de la crème of elite offensive players of this era, including Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James.

As a swingman who can guard all five positions on the court, Iggy has been one of those rare defenders who’ve consistently had the King’s number in the playoffs. In the famed 2015 finals, James shot only 38% from the field, and had a net rating of -15.5 with Iggy on court (a performance that resulted in a hotly debated Finals MVP). These numbers shot up to 44% and +18.8 when Iguodala was off the floor.        

A look at his efforts on Kawhi in the 2019 finals reveals that he limited the latter to 23.8 points per 100 possessions (per Second Spectrum). Along with Klay Thompson, he was the most successful defender on the Klaw in the 2019 playoffs.

The Dubs’ revolution on the defensive end is somewhat less talked about, given their overwhelming brilliance on the other end.

This video is a great demonstration of their creativity on D.

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Their lineups consisted of versatile defenders who could switch assignments easily to guard big man and fleet-footed guard alike, stifling offenses in the playoffs. After Draymond Green, Iguodala is probably the most important player to make that happen.

Iggy’s centrality to the Warriors defense was most acutely felt when he was sidelined with injury in the midst of their legendary 2018 series with the Rockets. Right up to Game 3, when he went down, Andre was choking the life out of the Rockets, holding Chris Paul and James Harden to a combined one field goal on 41 matchups (per Second Spectrum).

Now, matchup data is noisy and may not present the full picture, but a look at the film corroborates the story. Here’s a perfect defensive possession on Harden right before he goes down with that injury.

His strength, sound positioning, incredibly quick hands, and the intelligence to adjust to the playstyle of his opponent all make him a nightmare on defense. That IQ and athleticism also make him a great help defender, with well-timed double teams throwing offenses off their rhythm.

This last play at the end of Game 5 of the 2019 finals started with a quick double from Iguodala getting it out of Kawhi’s hands. It eventually ended in Draymond blocking Lowry’s shot to finish the game in victory.

At this point, you’d probably conclude that this prodigal defensive value was what enabled Iggy to transform the Warriors into a juggernaut. But there’s more to him than that.

Watching the aforementioned strip steal highlight reel, it’s striking how many of those led to fast breaks with Iguodala handling the ball, and the possession ultimately resulting in an open three, layup or dunk. This is where Iguodala’s secondary value comes in, as yet another playmaker who can make quick decisions in transition and otherwise.

Oh, and he can throw these ridiculous touch passes too.

His cunning is also on display in plenty of offensive situations as an off-ball screener and cutter. To the ball-watching amateur viewer, screening is not something they usually observe closely, though it is every bit as important as other aspects of the game, like passing and dribbling. And Iguodala is one of the league’s smarter screeners, fitting perfectly into Golden State’s chaotic player movement centered offense. 

In this clip (at 40 seconds), he gives up the ball to Curry as if to screen his defender and get him free, but immediately slips it to get a dunk. Also, his aggressive cutting in transition usually opens up baskets and driving lanes for his team mates.

Last but not the least, he’s CLUTCH from downtown, with that infamous dagger at the end of Game 2 of the finals last season. The man has ice in his veins, and has repeatedly showed up for the Warriors in the big moments.

But that’s just the on-court stuff. Off the court, Iggy was the wise old veteran (sort of like Yoda or Alfred Pennyworth) keeping up morale in the locker room, as well as being the leader of the bench. Every player on the roster unanimously respected Andre’s leadership and his knowledge of the game. These things can’t be quantified, and yet they are so, so valuable in a league full of volatile tempers and egos, especially in a super team like Golden State.

Iguodala’s jack-of-all-trades, master-of-defense style of play, as well as his leadership is an important story, because it’s practically a parable on the significance and importance of role players. Narratives in sports usually boil down to a couple of star players (“Kawhi beat Giannis”, or “LeBron lost to Nowitzki” and so on) when the true story is way more granular, and depends a lot more than you think on players who don’t seem as significant in the grand scheme of things.

The Raptors’ success last season is also predicated on the same principle: a star, a maverick coach AND a whole bunch of role players doing their jobs exceptionally well, led to a championship.

This narrative has never been more important in an era where players with overwhelming star power frequently switch teams, leading to tectonic shifts in the league. The job ain’t over when you sign a Kevin Durant or a Lebron James; the Iggy’s of the world are the ones who put you over the top.

Published 07 Jan 2020, 21:33 IST
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