From top 10 pick to franchise cornerstone to NBA Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala seems to finally be receiving the recognition he deserves.
As a rookie in 2004, Iguodala played in, and started, all 82 games for the 43-39 Philadelphia 76ers. On a team that consisted of Allen Iverson, Kyle Korver, Chris Webber and Marc Jackson (the lesser known 6-foot-10 center from Temple), Iguodala already seemed like a player ahead of his time.
Standing 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Iguodala possessed the size and athleticism to guard any perimeter player in the league, and was one of the main reasons the 76ers decided to trade Iverson – who had been the face of the franchise for the better part of a decade – giving Iguodala the reins to the team.
Iguodala proved to be one of the most reliable players in the league, playing over 38 minutes per game during his time in Philadelphia (not including his rookie season), but was unable to obtain the same success Iverson did with the team. After four playoff appearances post-Iverson and a 12-18 playoff record, Iguodala was shipped off to Denver as part of the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers (who was drafted in the same season as Iguodala).
Iguodala helped Denver to the third-best record in franchise history. At 57-25, the team was awarded home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs in what would surely be an easy victory. The opponent in that first-round series was a team from Oakland led by a young point guard, one that was too skinny to play in the NBA. That series didn’t end well for Denver and included one of many highlights for Stephen Curry:
On July 10, 2013 (less than one full year after being traded to Denver), Iguodala was traded to those same Warriors to help build on an impressive playoff appearance.
Iguodala’s first season in Golden State was unlike any he had been through before. He averaged the fewest minutes per game of his career (32.4), averaged the fewest points per game than any season other than his first (9.3), but was arguably the most productive on defense as he was able to focus almost exclusively on that end of the floor.
After that season, the team decided to make Steve Kerr the new head coach, and Iguodala saw a significant decline in his usage for the second straight season.
Iguodala set career lows in minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game and field goals attempted per game, but more impactfully, agreed to come off the bench for the first time in his career. Most former stars aren’t willing to sacrifice statistics at the end of their prime years, but Iguodala decided he had achieved everything he could short of a championship. (Although, it seems he’d have been just fine with starting.)
Iguodala was a calming influence throughout the season for the Warriors. Although they won a league-best 67 wins, the few times they were in need of a big play and Curry couldn’t provide it, they often turned to Iguodala. However, none of those games were bigger than the last three of the season.
The first 17 games of the playoffs saw Iguodala post relatively pedestrian averages: eight points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 28 minutes per game. But when the goings got tough, the team turned to Iguodala a final time.
With the Cavaliers leading the Finals 2-1, Kerr and the rest of the coaching staff made a conscious decision to start Iguodala in place of Andrew Bogut. Iguodala happily turned back the hands of time, averaging almost 39 minutes, 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals over the last three games, but Iguodala’s value was more than just counting stats.
LeBron James was a one-man wrecking crew to the Warriors’ defense in the first three games of the series. Averaging 41 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, the Warriors struggled to contain the 6-foot-8, 270-pound freight train coming full steam ahead. Inserting Iguodala into the starting lineup didn’t stop James – as he so eloquently reminded us, nobody lets him get 40, he’s more than capable of doing that on his own – but pairing Iguodala’s minutes with James’s made it more difficult for him to find a rhythm from the tip, and fighting with Iguodala from the opening minute meant more fatigue in the latter stages of the game for the four-time MVP.
While watching the Warriors celebrate after their first title in 40 years, I fully expected Curry to be announced as the series MVP. Although he struggled to find his shot early in the series, the Cavaliers seemingly doubled him every chance they got and Curry made the right passes over and over again. He initiated the offense with his passing early on, and when the floor opened up due to the insertion of Iguodala in the starting lineup, Curry responded by shooting almost 48 percent from three in the final four games of the series.
However, watching Iggy turn from freakish athlete with potential to franchise cornerstone to an overqualified sixth man to NBA Finals MVP was a wonderful surprise. Maybe he won’t have to kick Kerr’s ass after all.