When you look at Andre Iguodala, it is fairly easy to conclude that he is not what he used to be. Every statistical column is down, his minutes are reduced and he has only started one regular season game in the last two seasons.
Don’t let that fool you, though. Andre’s game may have (d)evolved since he arrived in the Bay Area, but he is still a tremendous player and proved how important he is during last year’s Finals. In a series with superstars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, it was Iguodala who walked away with the Finals MVP award.
The 32-year-old could be the deciding piece in the NBA Finals again this year. He will be vital in containing LeBron all series long, which is the biggest task you can give a player, and with how well he can do all of that, Andre will be the X-factor for Golden State.
Sometimes, for as good as the Warriors are, they need more. Sometimes, as in game one, their shooting is awry and sometimes a dominant opponent hurts them. It happened with LeBron in last year’s Finals and it happened with Kevin Durant in this year’s Conference Finals.
So, who is it the Warriors turn to in these situations? Two words: Andre Iguodala (you probably guessed).
Iguodala - I don’t know him well enough to get away with calling him Iggy- was put tight on LeBron and KD in these situations and, in both, the Warriors then surged to win three straight games and the series.
“(He guarded) Kevin Durant last series, LeBron this series,” Shaun Livingston said to Reuters’ Jahmal Corner. “He’s our most valuable piece on the team…”
This defensive prowess is perhaps Golden State’s best weapon in tough games. He sticks to his man like glue and is a pest all game long, putting off LeBron every time.
Andre is a very astute and intelligent defender and, even though he is now 32, he still has bags of stamina and hustle to burn.
That style of defence isn’t always flashy. The All-Star can steal - just ask James and Kyrie about that in game one - but his best defence is simply being there and being unshakeable. As Fran Blinebury of NBA.com put it:
“Andre Iguodala doesn't take your breath away in the shock and awe fashion of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson… but by squeezing the air steadily out of your lungs with his defence and making you light-headed and worn-out from all the other things he can do on the court.”
This versatility and endless commitment to defence is what makes him such a great defender and such an important cog in a machine more known for its flashy shooting.
"… he just appears to be the kind of player that whatever their team needs against a specific series or opponent or player, he's able to try to provide to the best of his ability," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said about Iguodala, via Blinebury.
And for as good a defender as he is, it’s not like Andre is incapable of providing offence also. He may not be the player who nearly scored 20 points per game in 2007-08, but Iguodala still contributes. Obviously, as a Warrior, the swingman is not a first, second or third option of offence, but if you leave him alone, he will punish you.
“Cleveland’s complete disregard for Iguodala’s offence comes at its own risk,” Rob Mahoney of SI.com explained, “Iguodala flows through possessions as a facilitator before settling in for scores out of the flow of the offence. Teams rightly sag off of Iguodala because he doesn’t present an immediate scoring threat.
"Give him any angle, however, and he becomes a resourceful one—slicing into the lane, working over smaller defenders for rebounds, and lining up trebuchet jumpers with no reason to rush.”
Iguodala doesn’t force his offensive game. He is happy to take the backseat on this offence when the scorers are on and fit in to the system, focussing on his defensive game. When they sit, though, as they did in game two, it is his time to shine.
“Much of the offence, especially when Curry sat with foul trouble, was orchestrated by Andre Iguodala, who was brilliant defensively yet again,” Ethan Sherwood Strauss said for ESPN.
For both his offensive and defensive contributions, the former Sixers man has so far been key for the team, just like he was last season. He plays big minutes as a defender when Steph, Klay and Draymond are on the court and then leads the Warriors’ bench unit - who have been so important in this series - on both ends when those three sit.
Although the swingman puts in his fair share of work during the regular season, in the last couple of years it is the postseason that has become his stage.
"Part of the plan during the regular season is to try to keep his minutes down so that we can run him into the ground during the playoffs because we need him," Steve Kerr joked, according to Courtney Cronin of Mercury News.
Iguodala hasn’t been run into the ground yet but he has certainly hit the ground running. He played 36 minutes in the first game of the Finals and, in that time, scored 12 points while adding seven rebounds, six assists and both a block and a steal.
He couldn’t replicate that in game two as the Warriors’ big guns started to fire but he was still important. With his complete play, Iguodala looks set to continue his terrific form from last year’s Finals. Chris Fedor of cleveland.com made a similar suggestion, saying:
“While his scoring and playmaking gave the Warriors' offence a much-needed boost with Curry and Thompson out of rhythm, Iguodala was named Finals MVP because of his smothering defence, something on display throughout the Western Conference Finals against Kevin Durant and once again Thursday night.”
Cleveland knows about Andre on the court. They saw it last year and they have seen it so far this campaign but they still can’t stop him, no matter what they try. Instead, they resort to avoiding him as much as they can.
“Any valuation of Andre Iguodala’s game one defence should begin with the great lengths to which the Cavaliers went to avoid him… When Cleveland’s offence settled into the halfcourt, it ran screen after screen to first pry Iguodala off of James by triggering a switch and then tried to send the long, lithe defender as far from the action as possible,” Mahoney said.
If the Warriors are to win these Finals again, they are going to need this out of their sixth man every night. That’s hard to say about a team who went 73-9 in the regular season and have won five straight games against the Cavaliers over the last two Finals, but it's fair.
The small forward's efforts against LeBron were the deciding factor last year, that's why he was the Finals MVP. This year, James has not been a mouse on the court, but he has not been a lion either, turning the ball over seven times in game two, as Golden State's defence, led by Iguodala, won the game.
Some nights, he might not be needed. Some nights, as they started to show in game two, the Splash Brothers will make their shots at a worryingly high percentage and all will be well. But when they don’t, Golden State should turn to Iguodala’s smothering style of defence.
"He's always kind of our unsung hero… he's a phenomenal defensive player and he's an incredibly intelligent player," is how Kerr put it, via Blinebury.
Well, we’re singing about him now, Steve. We are singing loud. The Illinois native has been the Warriors’ ultimate clutch player recently and fans have to be glad Golden State did sign him when it seemed they wouldn’t.
“If [Warriors GM] Myers doesn't pull off that deal, none of this happens for Golden State,” says Matt Moore of CBS Sports.
That is how important Andre Iguodala has been for Golden State’s rise overall and that is how important he will be for their chances of back-to-back championships.
As the reigning Finals MVP and my pick for the same award this year, the Arizona product will be the X-factor in this series because he will be smothering one of the superstars on the court in LeBron James, who is a central figure for Cleveland’s performances.
If the Warriors emerge victorious in the Finals, don’t be surprised if Andre Iguodala picks up an extra trophy again this year.