There are no men like me. There's only me.
- Excellent perimeter defender who can guard anyone from quicker point guards to smaller fours
- Solid secondary ball handler who can operate effectively in the pick and roll, very good passer
- Works well pushing the pace, great at penetrating through an off-balance defense
- Great around the basket when he gets there, both at finishing and passing out of a collapsing defense
- A poor shooter whose weakness was accentuated in an offense that asked him to spot up frequently
- Despite being so adept at getting and finishing at the rim, failed to draw enough free throws and shot them poorly when he did get to the line
- Struggles off ball in half court sets, spots up too often in the corners where the defense promptly ignores him
Iguodala's career arc is a fascinating one by all accounts. He was drafted ninth overall by Philadelphia after spending two years at Arizona and quickly found his way into the starting lineup. His usage rate over the years could pretty much tell the story of his time as a 76er, jumping from 14.7 to 22.6 after Allen Iverson was traded in Iggy's third year when the team was more or less turned over to him. He initially responded very well to this added responsibility, posting what would be the best numbers of his career in that three year stretch from '06-'09, but as with Iverson, it never seemed to be enough.
From the very beginning Iguodala's skill set, athleticism, and most of all his incredibly muscular physique worked against him as much as it helped him succeed. He was one of the many players doomed with expectations and player comps that they could just never live up to. If you turned your head and squinted just right you could perhaps see a little LeBron James in this similarly gifted "point forward" and yet he could never be the player James was and is, his offense would never become that refined, and it was an incredibly unfair standard to hold Iguodala to from the get-go. His improved play did little to quell these expectations, as for every improvement in his game the bar was raised a little higher on him, the desperate and perpetually disappointed Philly fan base seemed to never be satisfied with his status quo.
His contract did little to help matters as the 6 year, $80 million he signed for in the summer of 2008 paid him like the player the 76ers wanted him to be, not the player he was. Its hard to assign blame either way for this, Philly was in the unfortunate position both Atlanta and Memphis also found themselves in with Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay; players who were stars but could only take a team so far as number one options, yet whose presence on the team was better than the alternative (although that ironically changed for all three players as they have all since been traded away). This contract came to define Iggy as much as any of his accomplishments on the court, the money he was making only fueling the growing unrest with his inability to live up to this fictional standard that was created for him.
His time in Philly ended fittingly, doing just enough to drag the Sixers past the broken Bulls, but not enough to beat a superior Boston team and despite going well beyond expectations by getting to a game 7 in the second round, ultimately the season was marked as yet another failure. In the offseason, Philadelphia swung a deal to acquire new franchise centerpiece Andrew Bynum, shipping the old one to Denver.
Perhaps it was because there were only two years left on Iguodala's exorbitant contract or perhaps it was because he was brought in not as an individual savior but rather a strong addition to a talented collective, but for whatever reason Iggy was far more embraced in Denver than he ever was in Philly. The baggage of multiple stunted playoff appearances and disappointing seasons were gone and Iggy thrived in his new role as a Nugget.
Like most of the Nuggets, Iggy had a rough first couple months, most likely born from both the brutal road schedule that plagued Denver until February and the adjustment to a new team. He eventually found his bearings and helped propel Denver to a borderline top ten defense, despite playing a breakneck pace. During the playoffs, Iguodala was a lone bright spot, one of the few Nuggets who actually played up to their regular season averages and even a bit beyond them. His future with Denver is currently up in the air, but we'll get to that.
As you can see from the chart, Iguodala is responsible for a big chunk of Denver's total assist (nearly 22% of them to be exact) and for an offense that is predicated on having at least two capable ball handlers with a premium on passing at all times, Iggy is invaluable. Iguodala also happens to be third among non-point guards in the league in assist rate and is one of the most gifted passers in the league. His court vision, his ability to to toe the baseline and make a nearly balletic move to get a bounce pass around a defender, and his cross-court passes in transition were among the biggest catalysts for his numerous comps to the king of the point forward, LeBron James.
IggyPG1 (via David Walker)
IggyPG3 (via David Walker)
Iggy excels as the primary ball handler both in the pick and roll and in isolation, beating his man off the dribble and charging into the teeth of the defense. As he charges, using his perpetually underrated handle, he sees the court splayed out before him like a chess board, with players on both teams pawns he can use in his never ending quest for an easy basket. He also happens to always be four or five moves ahead of these pawns, which helps.
One worrying trend throughout the season was a tendency to accumulate turnovers, and they tended to happen in disastrous bunches. Iggy's turnover rate of 17.1% is not only the worst mark of his career since his third season, it comes in a year where his usage rate wasn't nearly as high. More or less this means that he is turning the ball over more despite handling the ball less. Many of these turnovers come from the fatal mistake of jumping with the ball before knowing what to do with it, a flaw you frequently find in these hybrid passing forward types (LeBron and Paul Pierce come to mind as falling victim to this as well). Hopefully this is a blip and not a trend.
It doesn't really matter how you present it, its pretty easy to see Iggy can't shoot. He remains as efficient as ever at the rim, both in getting there and finishing. Like LeBron, a lot of his shots at the rim come from transition dunks but Iguodala has always been adept at scoring around the rim, in the open court or in traffic. Denver utilized Iggy's touch around the rim by running sets where a big (usually Faried or Koufos) sets a pin down screen for a cutting Iguodala coming from the weak side.
IggyCut (via David Walker)
Iguodala averaged a career high in three pointer attempts (3.7 a game) and it unfortunately came on 31.7% shooting. Taking nearly four threes a game for such a poor shooter can be dismissed partly as a system problem, Denver's dribble drive system produced a ton of threes and Iggy was not the only poor shooting Nugget that took an unusually large number of threes. However Iguodala is not blameless here, many a times he took the always ill-advised PUJIT three or broke the offense for no particular reason to take a three the defense hardly ever bothered to defend (he shot a dismal 26.2% from three out of isolations per Synergy). When he was spotting up at the wings he was at least a passable shooter and thus not as much of a spacing liability. However defenses were soon wise to his inability to convert corner threes (the right one being an especially forlorn graveyard of bricked shots) and nearly stopped closing out on him altogether.
- Creepy Similarity to Josh Smith-
I've always found it interesting how maligned Josh Smith is for his poor shot selection and yet Iguodala usually gets by scott free. Both are excellent defenders and distributors and while Iggy's shooting prowess is not exactly lauded he does not get hit with the type of venomous bile Smith does for every bricked jumper he takes. In fact the similarities between the two's shot distributions are frighteningly similar:
24% of Iguodala's shots come from the midrange, an area he shoots 31% in, while 28% of Josh Smith's shots come from that same mid range spot, where he shoots 30%. The question becomes wether this means we are overrating Iguodala or underrating Smoove, my personal opinion is leaning to the latter. I guess the answer will come in the form of Smith's next contract and how it stacks up to what Iggy got and will get after he opts out.
Alas the greatest part of Iguodala's game is one that is extremely hard to evaluate in the form of the exact statistical measures that we can parse from his offensive game. Yet the rudimentary defensive stats we do have speak volumes to his immense impact. A quick gander at Iggy's defensive splits will show that the Nuggets go from the 7th best defense in the league (tied with Miami) with him on the court to 23rd (just ahead of Detroit) with him off.
Individually, Synergy has him ranked as the 11th best isolation defender in the league (factoring in the contextless way Synergy logs these defensive stats Iggy is probably even higher on the list than that) and in 118 attempts he was only scored on 28% of the time all while forcing 26 turnovers. In summation, don't get caught in an iso with Andre Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M. Get The Money Iguodala Dala Bills Y'all guarding you.
Even taking a step back from the statistics, Iguodala's fingerprints are all over Denver's massive improvement defensively this season. The perpetuating defensive issues that plagued Denver for nearly a decade were threefold: a coach whose tended to forfeit defense in a quest for better offense, a roster that rarely had more than a couple above average defenders on it, and a play style that produced a pace that always found itself near the top of the league (usually a killer for good defense). Its hard to say that much changed from then to now, other than Iggy's arrival. Karl (although perhaps not the defensive illiterate that many make him out to be) didn't change the way he coached, outside of Iggy only three Nuggets consistently played above average defense (Brewer, a gambler even in the best of times, Chandler, gone for most of the year, and Gallo), and they still placed second in the league in pace. The difference was Iguodala, and his absolute evisceration of any type of penetration had just as much impact as any of the league's top defensive centers did at guarding the paint.
There is not much more to say about his defense other than the man is a maestro. He sets his feet and locks eyes with his man, but he knows about every little movement, screen, and switch going on behind him. He laughs in the face of a simplistic pick and roll, blowing them up much like a hedging center would, except he does it by himself, slipping the screen he sees coming from a mile away and cutting off that little bit of daylight into the lane with all the vicious grace of a panther. His isolation defense has been described using such phrases like "defending like he is on bath salts" and "oh my god did he just eat Aaron Afflalo's face????" (those two things may or may not have somethings to do with each other). He swallows dribbles and snips lanes, he implodes the explosive and impedes the careening. He is Andre Cash Rules Everything Around Me C.R.E.A.M. Get The Money Iguodala Dala Bills Y'all and he'll defend the hell out of you.
What happens with Iguodala will really be the biggest tell for how the front office views this team and how they are going to move forward with it. By all accounts Iggy is likely to opt out of his deal, a move most aging players make when suddenly years and security becomes slightly more important than yearly salary. From a purely outsider's perspective, it seems as if Iguodala enjoyed playing in Denver and would likely resign if the money is right. The question becomes, what is Iggy's current market value and how much is too much for Denver to commit.
Iguodala is past his days as a max guy, with both that particular perception of him fading as well as his age making it all the more dangerous to hand a guy who so heavily relies on his athleticism five more years. But even with a down offensive year, Iguodala's sheer defensive impact proved just how valuable he can still be and there are a bevy of teams willing to shell out for an elite wing defender.
The most ideal option for Denver is to remain as flexible as possible going into next year while still trying to see what they have, which more or less means Iggy playing out his final year. This may (and likely will) not be an option however and Denver's decision to match or re-up Iguodala may be the beginnings of a locking in process that they have thus far avoided. Keeping Iggy means the front office feels like they are ready to commit to this team setup and the potential success that it can bring. Passing on him likely means the team is still in a state of flux, where roster flexibility is valued above all else.
Regardless of the decision this is a season that will that no future act can take away. Andre Iguodala played a total of 86 games this season. Most games were rife with bricked jumpers amid gloriously hounding defense and some were full of face-palming turnovers and earth shattering dunks. And then there were those games were everything clicked, the games that wowed you and made you think those unreachable heights of yesteryear were once again possible. After seeing enough of Iggy's work to grow unadulteratedly awed by his efforts, I tried to go out of my way to turn my head just so and squint just right to see the player everyone once wanted him so desperately to be (myself included). But I couldn't. All I saw was Iggy, for all his strengths and faults, and no one else. Maybe he's been in the league long enough to have shed all player comps or maybe he just found his right role in Denver where people have finally accepted what and who he is.
Or maybe we were the ones at fault from the very start, trying to peg down an individual so undefinable. Because there are no men like Andre Iguodala, there is only him.