Monday, May 9, 2011
Posted: 10 a.m.
By John R. Finger
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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