iguodala (1)

The Shadow

in Featured/NBA by

Here’s a fun game: Name as many top 30 scorers from the 2007-08 NBA season as you can.

There were quite a few present-day superstars (LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Paul, Dirk, Durant, Howard and Bosh), a couple of former superstars that have since aged into role players (Vince Carter, Amare Stoudemire and Richard Jefferson),  some retired all-stars (Allen Iverson, Michael Redd and Tracy McGrady), a number of career scorers (Kevin Martin, Carlos Boozer, Al Jefferson, Antawn Jamison and Jason Richardson), and one guy in particular whose place on the list would make you say “Really?” based on his production in the 2014-15 season.

That guy is Andre Iguodala.

Although Iguodala barely cracked the list at 19.9 points per game (he ranked 28th), it is still surprising to think of Iguodala as a top scorer based on how he plays nowadays. It was a different league back then. Kevin Durant was a rookie for the Seattle SuperSonics, teams willingly paired big men that couldn’t shoot threes together, there was a bigger focus on isolation basketball as teams had yet to start committing help defenders off of non-shooters full time and the Philadelphia 76ers were actually trying to win games.

Iguodala was the best player on the 76ers that season, although he did share leadership responsibilities with veteran point guard Andre Miller, who was known for more than his professorial post-ups back then. But as Iguodala’s 76er career progressed and he came closer to his peak seasons, rather than seeing his scoring average rise up from 19.9 to the mid-20’s, he started scoring less and less each season. Iguodala’s dip in scoring was balanced out by ever improving assist numbers and elite defense, but it was a rare, passive transition to the backseat for a player coming off of a career year.

By the end of his time in Philadephia, Iguodala’s scoring average had dipped to 12 points per game, he was playing fewer minutes and he was only taking 10 shots a night. At the time, Iguodala seemed to be a crossroads in his career: Since go-to scorer didn’t work out, what kind of role would suit him best?

Fittingly, it was the summer after Iguodala’s final season as a 76er during which he discovered his best identity as a basketball player. His place on the 2012 United States Olympic team augmented his strengths and rendered his weaknesses moot. On a team that talented, a player that can defend like mad, create havoc in transition and move the ball to the stars around him is nothing but a plus. Though he took a one-year detour to Denver after the 76ers nudged their way into the Dwight Howard trade to snag Andrew Bynum from the Lakers, Iguodala finally found the perfect place for him in an NBA context when he made his way to the bay, joining the squad that eliminated his Denver team in the postseason.

This particular Warriors team was always the natural resting place for a player with Iguodala’s skillset; surrounded by magnetic and magnanimous stars like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Iguodala was able to slide into a complementary role that simultaneously propped up his many capabilities while wiping away the excess responsibilities that had previously bogged him down.

When Steve Kerr took over as coach of the Warriors, one of his first acts of business was to insert Harrison Barnes into the starting line-up, a gesture made to communicate his personal faith in Barnes moreso than anything else, which meant Iguodala was asked to accept a sixth man role after starting in every single game of his NBA career prior to this season. Iguodala accepted the transition with little fuss, and as you’d expect, he hit many career lows this season: points, field goal attempts, free throw attempts, rebounds – you name it.

But defining Iguodala based on his raw numbers has never made any sense. This is a player that thrives in the obscurity, someone whose impact reverberates beneath the surface without ever causing the ground to rumble. Iguodala is thriving for the Warriors because they haven’t put him at the top of the pyramid and asked him to supply for those beneath him; rather, Golden State has made Iguodala part of its foundation, allowing him to be an essential part of a championship team without the burden of being “the man.”

Iguodala’s efforts in the Warriors’ conference finals triumph over the Rockets got lost in the midst of Curry’s heroics, but the defense he played on James Harden played a massive role in the team’s ability to overcome Houston. Iguodala has held his man to 15 percent shooting on 15 isolation possessions in the postseason, a continuation of a career-long trend: Iguodala’s unbelievable ability to act as his man’s shadow, engulfing crossovers and swing passes with his long arms and deterring drives with his quick feet. On top of his elite physical attributes, Iguodala also posseses incredible intelligence that readies him for the challenge of stopping some of the game’s greatest individual talents each and every night.

And on the other end, Iguodala’s creative talents and unselfish style have made him the perfect point forward for a team can take two of the league’s moth lethal shooters and run them off screens while Iguodala works to secure the perfect passing lane. Iguodala has 51 assists this postseason compared to just eight turnovers, which is a pretty amazing disparity for a 15-game stretch. His 3-point shot comes and goes, but Iguodala’s passing and athleticism on the break make him a more than competent offensive player for a team that boasts so much firepower elsewhere.

Iguodala is one of the few players whose career reached its pinnacle once he ditched the all-star aspirations and the load that comes with being a team’s No. 1 player in order to pursue a life in the shadows. Iguodala may not even be one of the five most important players on the Warriors right now, but his presence is the coup de grâce for Golden State. And as his Warriors pursue what could be the first of many championships for this core group, it’s time for a little bit of light to shine on Iguodala for his dexterous contributions.

Even if he doesn’t want it to.

Mark Travis is a 22-year old sportswriter that is currently majoring in Sports Media at Oklahoma State University. He started his own website, But The Game Is On, in 2008 as an outlet for his praise of Michael Crabtree and has since been credentialed by major organizations like the NBA, NFL, MLB, Nike and Team USA Basketball. He also covered the past two NBA Finals for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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