Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

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Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

NEW YORK -- It’s been a season filled with adjustments for the 76ers. Just when they were preparing to adjust to life with a superstar player as the focus of the team, the plan changed.

Instead, the Sixers have spent the 2012-13 season adjusting to life without their superstar, Andrew Bynum.

The season has been one of adjustments for a bunch of the players involved in the four-team trade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has seen his every turn treated as part of the daily soap opera that is the Lakers. Even the tiniest minutia of Howard’s relationship with new teammate Kobe Bryant is fodder for public debate. It’s gotten to the point that even Howard’s father is approached by reporters to weigh in on what’s going on with his son and the Lakers.

For Andre Iguodala, the longtime Sixer and 2011-12 All-Star who was the key piece in the acquisition of Bynum, it’s been a season of adjustments, too. However, the difference in Iguodala’s case is that all of the adjustments he’s had to make have been basketball-related.

“That’s been the story of the season so far,” Iguodala said before Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nuggets and Nets at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I’ve had to adjust to my new teammates and adjust to the attitude and things like that. It’s all been good though because we’ve been winning ball games and that makes everything easier.”

Because there are just a dozen or so players in the locker room for every game, personnel changes can have a major impact on a team. And given how the last few months have been a whirlwind for Iguodala, the adjustment period may last a bit longer than it would for other players. Plus, Iguodala, who sat out of Wednesday’s game with a stiff neck, has always been different from the typical pro athlete. Rarely is a question given a simple yes or no answer because to Iguodala, things are much more complicated than yes or no. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer.

That’s the same way for when he plays, too.

“He’s a very cerebral player,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said. “He probably thinks too much and he probably worries too much.”

It’s never easy …
Could Iguodala ever lighten up? Is it too much to ask? Once, shortly after the Heat eliminated the Sixers during the 2010-11 playoffs, Iguodala was asked, point blank, if he wanted to play for the Sixers the following season. Instead of saying, “yes” or “no,” Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. I’m really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. I’m looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

“I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.”

Of course, Iguodala did return to the Sixers in 2011-12 and that’s when the whirlwind began. Last year at this stage of the season he was headed to Orlando for his first All-Star Game. This year, even though some of his statistics are more impressive, Iguodala is going to the All-Star Game to participate in the NBPA annual meeting in his role as the Nuggets’ player representative.

Then again, maybe it’s fitting that such a “cerebral player” and worrywart would be traded hours before the biggest basketball game of his life at the tail end of his most successful season.

First came the All-Star Game and then, a couple of months later, Iguodala led the No. 8-seeded Sixers to an upset victory over the top-seeded Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It was Iguodala’s two foul shots with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 that gave the series its dramatic crescendo.

That led to a nearly as dramatic seven-game series in the Eastern semifinals in which Iguodala’s defense nearly helped the Sixers to another upset. The Sixers’ unlikely playoff run was followed by a berth on the U.S. Olympic team and a gold medal in the games in London.

But in the middle of playing for the gold for the red, white and blue, during warmups before the semifinals game, Iguodala was told that he had been traded.

Fitting in with Denver
Since then, Iguodala has tried to relax and to fit in. Playing for the Denver Nuggets, apparently, is a bit different than playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. In Denver, Iguodala said, he’s been trying to teach himself to be calm and to relax and even to let his guard down sometimes.

After eight years of playing in Philadelphia, relaxing just might be Iguodala’s biggest adjustment.

“It’s different. You catch yourself being too guarded at times, especially when dealing with the media when you’re always on guard,” Iguodala said. “But it’s a lot friendlier [in Denver] than it was in Philly. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, ‘Just have fun with it.’ I don’t have to be so defensive all the time. Then with the fans, it’s different. In Philly they are a lot more passionate and up in your face and in Denver they’re calm and collected and they’re enjoying themselves.”

Iguodala is enjoying the basketball, too. At 33-21, the Nuggets have won nine out of their last 12 and 15 out of their last 20 games after Wednesday night’s first-half finale at the Barclays Center against the Nets. With Karl’s uptempo offense, the Nuggets have scored at least 97 points in 21 straight games and have the third-best scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 105 points per game.

Part of that has to do with the Nuggets’ running style and their ability to hit the offensive glass. Headed into Wednesday’s game, the Nuggets led the NBA with an average of nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game.

But mostly the Nuggets’ success has to do with what Iguodala brings to the team. Though they surrender 101-plus points per game, the Nuggets’ offense is fueled by their defense. They lead the NBA in rebounding, which is the perfect way to start a fast break, and also are second in steals, third in blocks and second in creating turnovers.

Karl says his team wouldn’t be nearly as good without Iguodala.

“We brought him in to bolster up our defense and I think he’s turned us into a good defensive team -- not a great defensive team,” Karl said. “It’s a luxury to have a guy like [Iguodala] that you can put on any player from a two, a three or a four, and feel pretty confident that you don’t have to help all the time.”

Then again, the Nuggets’ style of play has been another adjustment for Iguodala to get used to, too. In Philadelphia, the offense usually flowed through Iguodala. The Sixers ran when they could, otherwise they slowed things down and tried to win the battle in the halfcourt.

But in Denver the plan is to attack and attack and when the Nuggets finish with that, they want to attack some more.

“It’s different than the East where it was more … controlled,” Iguodala said, choosing his words carefully. “It’s not in a bad way. That style was good for me, so now I have to adjust to it. It’s just two different styles and I’m getting used to it -- I’m picking it up.”

Karl is pretty sure that Iguodala will be instrumental for the Nuggets as the season progresses. By the time the playoffs roll around, that adjustment period should be complete.

“I’m confident and satisfied with what we’ve gotten out of him and I’m excited about what he’ll give us in the second half,” Karl said.

In the meantime, Iguodala is doing his best to fit in. The offense doesn’t flow through him in Karl’s no-stars credo. In fact, Karl’s style might just be the perfect fit for Iguodala. Still, it just might take some time to get used to.

“Everything is a tough adjustment in its own little way,” Iguodala said. “With my teammates it’s been good because I have a good relationship with everyone here. The situation was a little better in Philly because I had been there for seven or eight years and I could control the environment. Guys knew certain things and I didn’t have to tell them things twice. That’s the only real thing that’s different here, so you have to build that. It’s not going to happen over night.”

No, nothing ever comes easy for Iguodala. It just looks that way. But in a season of big adjustments for a lot of teams, it’s Iguodala that might be headed in the best direction.

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”