The list of reasons why the Sixers are playing so much better this year than last is a long one, from the second-year leap of Jrue Holiday to the resurgence of Elton Brand to the new leadership of coach Doug Collins. But two of the biggest reasons are players who have been the core of the team's offensive attack since the first time the team made the playoffs in the post-Iverson era. It's been an awesome season for both Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young, one which has seen both players playing their role on the Sixers better than ever before. And the people have begun to take notice.
Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News writes about Thad's rise in Philly this season, and calls him "perhaps the primary reason for the Sixers' meteoric rise from bottom-of-the-standings dwellers to one of the best teams in the league over the past month and a half." Cooney points out Young's career-high field-goal percentage (55%) and his wise decision to stop launching so many threes (only 18 attempts after 302 his first three years) as evidence of his better fit with the Liberty Ballers this season. "This year, I've laid off the jump shot a lot because I know what my strengths are and what to do to get where I need to be," Young is quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Coach Collins salutes Thad in the same article for his effort on the other side of the ball. "The one thing about Thad is his defensive growth has been the key to our team,'' quoth Collins. "He has done an amazing job with his quickness and his speed and guarding screen-and-roll and covering space with speed. He has been a huge part of why we're a good defensive team." Interestingly, the article barely even makes mention of Thad's move to the bench this season--good to see that the Sixers are above getting hung up on such roles these days.
As for whether Young, whose contract expires at the end of the season, has earned himself a place in the team's future..."We hope," says GM Ed Stefanski. Fair enough for now, I suppose.
While Thad's improved numbers speak for themselves, you have to dig a little deeper to appreciate the year that Andre Iguodala has been having, writes John Finger of CSN Philly. Finger acknowledges that 'Dre has dipped in most conventional statistical categories, seeing his points per game drop from 17.1 to 14.1, his free-throw percentage from 73% to 71%, and his field goal rate hover once more around an uninspiring 44%.
But, Finger points out, these metrics don't tell the whole story. "In the realm of advanced metrics," he writes, "Iguodala is 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." Indeed, Coach Collins supports the idea of 'Dre having a career-best year in '10-'11. "Andre is a playmaker for us. He’s a rebounder, he’s a defender and I think he’s been terrific," says Collins. "I never judge a guy like that based on his statistics. I judge him by the value to his team and how well he plays and if he gives you a chance to win."
Defense and leadership seem to be the buzzwords when describing 'Dre's impact ont he Sixers this season. The defense should be obvious to Sixers fans by now, as Finger and Collins point out the excellent job that Iguodala has done defending such all-world scorers as the Celtics' Paul Pierce and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, but the leadership has been somewhat new to this season--something attributed by many to his experience with Team USA over the summer. "I’ve been trying to be a leader and do what I can to make some of the guys become better,” says Iguodala.
Whether or not you agree that this is a career year for either player, you have to agree that this feels pretty far away from the 'Dre and Thad that sulked through a 27-win season for Eddie Jordan last year. And for that, we should be very thankful.