Two weeks ago, my esteemed colleague, Joe Simmons, announced the 10 most underappreciated players in the NBA today. It’s a very worthwhile list and most definitely worth a read.
One thing I noticed about the list is that only a few of the players – Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldrige, Monta Ellis and Andrea Bargnani – can be considered the best player on their respective teams, and only Bargnani was drafted to be the guy on his respective team.
Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers to take over the reigns once Allen Iverson’s time was up. Then he went out and got paid like a franchise guy and has developed into the unquestioned best player in Philadelphia over the past few seasons. And yet, it seems Andre Iguodala has done nothing but draw fans’ ire in the City of Brotherly Love and beyond because he’s not the other A.I. He’s not the best go-to scorer. He’s not clutch. The list goes on and on.
It seems like everyone spends so much time focusing on what Andre Iguodala doesn’t or can’t do that they overlook what he does do on a nightly basis. Make no mistake, Andre Iguodala is the best player on the upstart 76ers, and this season, the 76ers have flourished in the early, condensed season and shot up to third in the East (just two games behind Chicago and a game behind the Heat) thanks in large part to the play and leadership of Andre Iguodala.
He is the engine that makes the Sixers go, and after hearing all the things he can’t do over the past few years, he’s doing the best job of his career of focusing on the things he does so well. After Iverson left, Iguodala struggled to be “the man,” the guy tasked with carrying the offensive load. Now, thanks to the coaching philosophy of Doug Collins and a deep roster full of versatile players who can all put up points, Iguodala has embraced the role of facilitator, lockdown defender and leader. As the elder statesman, along with Elton Brand and Tony Battie, he doesn’t worry about how many points he gets or who takes the last shot any longer. All he cares about now is winning.
The proof is in the pudding. With players like Louis Williams, Brand, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday, the Sixers are at their best with a balanced scoring attack. In years past, Iguodala was hesitant to defer to teammates, even though he’s never had the best shot or the best handle. This season, he’s taking just 10.1 shots a game, his lowest total since his second year. As a result, he’s also averaging just 12.9 points per game, the lowest total since his sophomore season. But those numbers don’t tell the real story.
By taking less shots, Iguodala has elevated the play of his teammates and himself. He’s shooting a career-high 37.3 percent from beyond the arc and connecting on 45 percent of his shots because the shots he does take are better looks. By spending less energy jacking up shots, he has more in the tank to do all the other things he’s so good at. As it stands, he’s averaging a career high in rebounds (6.6), while also doling out 5 assists and swiping two steals a game, all while guarding every team’s best perimeter scorer night in and night out.
And while he’s always been given his due as an elite defender, he’s been criticized for his decision-making on the offensive end for what seems like his entire career. If you’ve been paying attention, that criticism no longer holds any weight; at least, not so far this season. That’s evident by an insane stretch he’s on right now. In the past 11 games, Iguodala has 68 assists to just 19 turnovers, including a 10-10-10 triple-double and an all-around dominant performance Monday night against the fledgling Magic. I repeat, 68 assists to just 19 turnovers. As a small forward. On a young team. Playing 5-6 games a week. Show me another small forward with those type of point-guard-esqe numbers, and I’ll show you a player who gets a ton of praise.
Yet, here we are, with Andre Iguodala flying under the radar and still having more fans talk about the Sixers trading him instead of enjoying the ride he’s leading this fun Sixers team on right now. Monta, LeMarcus, Z-Bo, Andrea – they’re all underappreciated players, but none of them can do as many things on the basketball court as Andre Iguodala. It’s about time everyone in Philadelphia and across the country takes notice.