Iguodala plays D, eats vegetables ... always has

465868.jpg

Iguodala plays D, eats vegetables ... always has

Monday, May 9, 2011
Posted: 10 a.m.

By John R. Finger
CSNPhilly.com

There is an interesting interview with Andre Iguodala in a recent edition of the magazine, Food Republic, a slick-looking periodical about epicurean pursuits. It seems to be for those types who use the term, foodie, without irony and look to Anthony Bourdain as some sort of righteous hipster.

In other words, its a magazine not found at the corner newsstand.

Anyway, its not often that pro athletes from Philadelphia talk to slick-looking magazines about their personal chefs or healthy eating habits. Even though its not uncommon for non-baseball athletes to be progressive in the training room and training table, its decidedly a non-Philadelphian thing. Certainly the folks who shell out ridiculous amounts of cash for the tickets arent used to turning over the daily menu to the in-home chef.

Still, the interesting part of the interview wasnt that Iguodala employs a personal chef or knew early on in his NBA career that his diet and performance were linked. Thats just smart and if anything, smart is a pretty good adjective to use when describing Iguodala. No, the interesting part was when Iguodala revealed he liked vegetables when he was a kid.

Really a kid who liked vegetables?

Well, I was weird as a child. I would eat broccoli raw. I would eat cauliflower raw. I also used to love salads. So, yeah, Ive always liked vegetables.

Maybe thats not as weird as it sounds. After all, some kids actually like vegetables. Maybe thats Popeyes influence? Thing is, kids rarely admit to liking vegetables even when they are all grown up. That is, as Iguodala explained, weird.

Then again, it doesnt take a long time spent around the Philadelphia 76ers to understand that Iguodala is different. Hes serious, professional, to the point.

Defenders, after all, have to be serious. Its a thankless job.

Its no secret in these parts that Iguodalas strength is with his defense. Oftentimes, the Sixers swingman will find himself guarding the oppositions best offensive player, which typically means trouble for the other guy.

Monday afternoon Iguodalas defensive prowess was recognized when he was named to the NBA All-Defense Second Team. He becomes the first Sixer to earn All-Defense honors since Eric Snow made the second team in 2002-03.

For Iguodala, it is a nice reward for a difficult season where he struggled with injuries and saw his offensive statistics dip in his role as a defensive stopper. This season, the Sixers ranked 12th in points allowed and ninth in opponents field goal percentage after finishing 18th and 22nd in those categories a season prior.

And maybe thats why after an excellent season of gritty, nuanced basketball, folks still havent warmed up to the Sixers best player. Even though hes played for seven seasons with the Sixers after being drafted with the ninth-overall pick in 2004, hes still an enigma inscrutable even. Though he comes from Springfield, Ill. just like scruffy and popular ex-Phillies outfielder, Jayson Werth, hes more akin to fellow Illinoisan, Donovan McNabb. At least it seems that way in how hes perceived.

Case in point came during the postgame press conference at American Airlines Arena following the Sixers playoff finale on April 27. When asked, point blank, if he wanted to return to the Sixers for the 2011-12 season, Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

Its always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. Im really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. Im 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.

In that setting, Iguodala was presented with a yes or no question. He could have said, Yes, of course I want to play for the Sixers next season. What a silly question. But thats the easy answer. For those who watch him on the floor, doing things the easy way isnt Iguodalas modus operandi. Things are much more complicated than yes or no, sometimes. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer and though Iguodala is contracted to play for the Sixers for the next three years, crazier things have happened.

Think about it think the San Antonio Spurs could use a guy like Iguodala on a veteran-laden team? How about a young team like Memphis? Imagine Iguodala and Tony Allen playing defense on the same team. Or maybe Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Iguodala in Oklahoma City? How about Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki or L.A. with Kobe? Its almost unfair.

Thats the thing, though. There are no easy answers with Iguodala. Even the easy idea that Iguodala is the perfect second or third piece on a contending team the way Scottie Pippen was with Michael Jordan is not as simple as it sounds. Yes, perhaps as a lockdown defender on an established club would be the perfect setting for him, but then again, it sounds like a pretty good place for anyone. Who wouldnt want to be on a team where the task is to simply perform your best skill and thats it? Sign us up!

It seems as if Iguodala is the landing point for where reality and perception fight. Know-nothing fans and media types cite his salary as excessive, yet it barely cracks the top 40 of all NBA players. Quick, name 40 players youd take ahead of Iguodala

Give up. You cant do it.

It seems as if Iguodalas perceived unpopularity comes from his personality. Hes neither boisterous nor zany. Hes not one to suffer fools as evidenced in the 2006 Dunk Contest where he pulled off the most impressive and nuanced dunk of the show only to lose to Nate Robinson because hes short and a better story. Rather than grin-and-bear it, Iguodala hasnt appeared in another competition figuring there are better ways to have ones time wasted.

Iguodala is all nuance and professionalism. There are all the things we can see like the fact that heading into this year he had missed just six games in six seasons and played in 252 regular-season games in a row. Hes led the league not only in games by playing in all 82 in five of his seven seasons, but also minutes played and average minutes per game. The dude plays the game and he's rare in that he's a ridiculously talented athlete with insatiable hard-nosedblue-collar chops, too. He's the best of both worlds and he shows up and goes to work.

He earns his pay.

Defense wins
This year, his offensive stats dipped off only because he ceded some of the load to his teammates. With Elton Brand, Iguodala was the leader of the Sixers, helping Doug Collins further a system that raised the win total by 27 games over last year.

The numbers were down, but in the realm of advanced metrics, Iguodala was charting the best win shares per 48 minutes, assist percentage, the best defensive rating and best rate of turnovers given in a season for his career at stages of the season.

Though he is just one of two players in the NBA to average at least 14 points, five rebounds and six assists a game this season (LeBron James is the other), Iguodalas value is on defense. According to advanced metrics from 82games.com, the Sixers are a much better team because of Iguodalas defense. When he was in the lineup during the regular season, the Sixers were above average in holding down the oppositions shooting percentages and forcing turnovers. Without him, the Sixers were worse than the league average.

Iguodala has three years left on his contract and has relented on carrying the offense, but ideally it could better serve the team to identify its go-to man down the stretch.

These facts might have been lost in the black and white, but not to those who really pay close attention.

I never judge a guy like that based on his statistics," Collins said during the season. "I judge him by the value to his team and how well he plays and if he gives you a chance to win. When we were 3-13 it was his voice that did the most. He said, Guys, hang in there. Were close. That voice helped us battle through that and get us through to where we are today.

Nevertheless, Iguodala was again inscrutable during the playoffs against the Miami Heat. He struggled during the first two games of the series registering as many points (9) as turnovers. In Game 3 Iguodala had 10 assists and 10 points, but shot just 3 for 10 and played much poorly than the stats suggest.

However, in games 3 and 4, he scored 38 points, including 18 during the second half of the season finale where he nearly stole the game from the Heat. In Game 5 he grabbed 10 rebounds, shot 10 for 14 and helped hold LeBron James to his lowest playoff output.

He is a very good player, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Iguodala. He is so unique in terms of how many things he does to impact the game. He is such a good defender, hes long and he moves his feet. Also, he is a very good rebounder and an intelligent defender. Offensively, I think he gets judged on how many points he scores. He does so many other things.

Playing through the pain
Of course, injuries finally caught up to Iguodala in part because he played for Team USA in last summers World Championships. Over the final two months of the season Iguodala played through tendinitis (or chondromalacia) the bared resemblance to the same injury that has sidelined Chase Utley. Needless to say, the injuries were a factor late in the season.

But the injuries will heal. In the meantime were still scratching our heads over hard answers to easy questionsa place where Iguodala might be at his most compelling. Thats where he is a bit of a rarity in sports in that he is a truth teller. Hes immune to clich (well, as much as possible) and actually answers questions. Want an answer? Iguodala has one. And though it could be off the mark like some of his long-range jumpers, hes always provocative. For instance, take his relationship with rookie Evan Turner where a personality clash may have kept the players at odds during the season. When asked about it, Iguodala presented a thoughtful, honest answer.

Evan and I have had a pretty interesting year together good and bad, Iguodala said. Weve always tried to lean on each other. Over the past week we really bonded and I was happy to see him be in position to do something good and follow through with it.

Ive been saying all year that hes a confidence guy and when his confidence is high, he plays really well. When his confidence is down, he has a lot of self doubt and he doesnt believe in himself, Iguodala explained. But we all know he can play ball and weve had many arguments throughout the year in regard to talents and hes going to prove a lot of people wrong.

We had a chance to sit down and we had dinner together and were together for about three hours. We just reflected on the whole year and things that happened and what could have changed and things that made us better people or held us back a little bit. It was a good chat.

When do athletes ever talk like that? Its kind of like when asked a simple question about whether he will return to the Sixers next year and instead chooses to discuss the legacy he hopes to build.

I always think about that, keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain. The franchise has been here forever. And just for my name to be brought up for the guy with the most steals in team history is something I've always thought about, Iguodala said. I want to continue to climb the charts and take the team to the next level.

No, Iguodala is not like most of the athletes that have come through town. He seems to be a strange mix of Charles Barkley and Scott Rolen. Could it be that the best description is evolved more than weird? Either way, hes right about one thing

You should eat your vegetables.

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Related: Iguodala makes NBAs All-Defensive Second Team Buy 76ers Gear

Joel Embiid officially out for rest of season

Joel Embiid officially out for rest of season

MIAMI -- In the end, he played 31 games.

Joel Embiid's rookie season is officially over, the Sixers announced on Wednesday. Embiid has not suited up since Jan. 27 and has missed 17 of the Sixers' last 18 games because of a left knee injury. An MRI taken Monday revealed a bigger meniscus tear than initially diagnosed but significant healing in the bone bruise.

The Sixers have only 23 games remaining and are not in playoff contention, lessening the urgency of Embiid’s return this season. Embiid concludes his rookie season averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.45 blocks in just 25.4 minutes per game.

"The assessment of Monday's follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid's left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan," Sixers chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said in statement released by the team.

Embiid suffered the injury on Jan. 20 against the Trail Blazers, played one game against the Rockets, and has not suited up since then. Last week the Sixers had targeted a return date of March 3 but changed that status changed to "out indefinitely" after Embiid still was experiencing swelling. 

During an MRI taken the night of the injury, the results also revealed Embiid had a slight meniscus tear which the team did not believe was related to the contusion. 

Prior to the announcement, there was a strong reaction from the fans who were looking for transparency on the big man's status. Embiid expressed his displeasure last Thursday with the way the Sixers managed after he was informed he would miss multiple weeks. 

"I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said at the time. "I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled."  

The following day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said he would have done things differently. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that." 

Embiid's short NBA career has been marked by injuries from the very start until now. He sat out his first two seasons with foot injuries. This year the Sixers took an ultra-cautious approach to their starred big man. He was placed under a carefully monitored minute restriction (capped at 28) and did not play on both nights of back-to-back games. Embiid reiterated throughout the season that after missing two years, he was exercising patience to benefit his long-term health.

When Embiid was on the court, though, he shined. He made NBA basketball look easy and he had his way at and away from the basket. Embiid did not appear in enough games to qualify him on the leaders' charts, but based on his raw stats he led all rookies in scoring and in rebounds. Teammate Dario Saric is second in both categories but still trailed Embiid by 8.9 points and 1.6 rebounds. 

Embid ranks second among all players in blocks behind Jazz big man Rudy Gobert. In his first 31 games, he recorded nine double-doubles, which is first among rookies even though he has not played in over a month. 

Embiid scored a career-high 33 points on Dec. 18 against the Nets and 14 rebounds on Jan. 14 against the Knicks. He dished five assists in three games and swatted five blocks in two contests. 

The announcement of Embiid's status comes less than one week after Ben Simmons was ruled out for the season. Like Embiid did, Simmons will miss his entire first year with the Sixers. He suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp. Simmons received a bone marrow injection on Monday speed up the healing. Both Embiid and Simmons are projected to be the centerpieces of the Sixers' future when they return next season. 

Embiid is with the Sixers in Miami. Expect to see him around the team for the remainder of the season as he stays involved to further their team chemistry for the 2017-18 campaign.

While he works toward his return to the court and eyes his next official game months down the road, he will embrace his mantra. 

As he's always done, Embiid will trust the process.

Sixers-Heat 5 things: Waiters welcomes the Sixers to Miami

Sixers-Heat 5 things: Waiters welcomes the Sixers to Miami

The Sixers (22-37) open March against the Miami Heat (27-33) at American Airlines Arena (7:30 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Gold rush
If you would have told the Sixers beforehand that they would limit the Golden State Warriors to 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 20.7 percent from three-point range that included Stephen Curry going 0 for 11 from deep, they might have expected to win the game.

Instead, the Sixers suffered a 119-108 loss on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

While the defeat had a lot to do with the team's turnover problem rearing its head yet again (23 turnovers that led to 23 points), a bigger reason was the Warriors' ability to turn to their multiple stars when things got tense.

"That's the holy grail, what they have. That is the king, in my opinion, in our league as we speak," Brett Brown said.

2. Chasing revenge
The Heat may not be on a likely track for the NBA Finals like the Warriors, but they still have postseason aspirations. They are currently two games back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

If continuing their pursuit of the playoffs wasn't enough reason to be on their game, the Heat will also be out for a little payback against the Sixers.

In the last meeting between these two teams on Feb. 11, the Sixers snapped Miami's 13-game win streak. The Sixers had seven players score in double figures while they limited Hassan Whiteside to 12 points in 34 minutes during the 117-109 victory.

"They were relentless," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after that game. "They had us on our heels from the tip all the way to the end. They never let up."

3. Welcome to my house
One factor behind the Sixers' ability to knock off the Heat that night and snap their streak at 13 was the absence of Dion Waiters. The Philly native missed the game for the Heat with an ankle sprain.

Now Waiters welcomes the Sixers to Miami, where the shooting guard is enjoying the best season of his career. Waiters is averaging career highs in points (15.9, tied with his second season), assists (4.5), rebounds (3.5) and three-point percentage (38.9).

Waiters' scoring has been even better since returning from his ankle injury. He's reached the 20-point mark in three of the five games he has played since getting back on the court.

4. Injuries
Joel Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Willie Reed (calf), Josh McRoberts (foot), Justise Winslow (shoulder) and Chris Bosh (calf) are out for the Heat.

5. This and that
• This is the fourth and final matchup between the Sixers and Heat this season. Each team has protected home court with the Sixers winning in Philadelphia on Nov. 21 and Feb. 11 and Heat victorious in Miami on Feb. 4.

• Whiteside has averaged 24.7 points and 17.3 boards a game against the Sixers this season.

• The Sixers scored 50 points in the paint during their last matchup with the Heat.