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Andre Iguodala and nostalgia for a game long gone - Pinwheel Empire
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Andre Iguodala and nostalgia for a game long gone

submitted 5 years ago by in NBA

Go read David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer.

Back? OK. Wallace is talking about tennis, but similar trend appear in every sport. As scouting becomes better and decision makers get better at adopting “best practices,” the competition gets fiercer but something is lost in the process. In basketball, the best offensive players are now relentless and physically gifted attackers of the basket, drawers of fouls, and makers of three point shots. They generate the most efficient shots in the NBA, and convert them ruthlessly. Though it is impressive to watch Durant drain three after three, or Westbrook barrel down the lane in search of yet another two freebies, or watch Kevin Love spot up while his plodding opponent waits hopelessly for a power move that will never come, there is something rote and sterile about the exercise.

Players have become too good at the three part formula for offensive efficiency. That’s why LeBron’s performance in the playoffs was such a revelation. While he maintained the bludgeon-like effectiveness of his drive game, he also won several games simply with his passing, and won game 6 in Boston with a remarkable and out of character mid-range performance. But let’s be clear: it is still LeBron the hammer who allows the space for LeBron the artiste to operate. Without his ability to relentlessly and artlessly attack the basket in search of dunks and free throws, none of the other stuff is possible.

While folks who follow basketball closely like to talk about being a well-rounded player, or talk about how the media overrates points per game, the fact of the matter remains scoring a lot and scoring efficiently are the most important things a player can do to help his team win games (at least on the offensive end). Everything else is peripheral. Outside of scoring, Josh Smith is a lot like LeBron James. And outside of scoring, Iguodala is equal to Kevin Durant. There’s a reason KD and LBJ are two of the best five players in the NBA, and Iguodala and Josh Smith may never make an all-NBA team.

To come roundaboutably to the point, there has to be a reason that a three-team trade involving a swap of Batum for Iguodala floated by a radio producer in Minneapolis (a trade which makes no real sense for Philadelphia in any case) has generated tons of discussion. Iguodala sort of represents the “old” game. Tremendous understanding of angles. Great passer. Good ballhandler. Versatile player. But when you get down to it, he’s just not all that effective offensively.

Yes, he is good at everything except scoring. But that’s sort of like being good at everything, except almost everything. And it’s not like Iguodala is just not at star level scoring, he’s frankly pretty bad at it. Offensive rating is a decent but unremarkable 108, on anemic 17.7 usage. You might say his role was to run the offense. Sometimes part of running the offense is taking the damn shot yourself. That’s especially true when Jrue Holiday of a 99 ORtg is shooting like crazy. And at this point after two seasons in his prime it is fairly clear that Iguodala just no longer has the ability to shoulder an above-average offensive load with good efficiency. This means he is bad at the single most important area of basketball.

For a certain genre of player, their versatility garners such a wave of acclaim, their actual ability to help a team win gets swept under the rug when they are compared to other players. Iguodala is one of these players, at least on the offensive end. He did nothing to ease the burden on Lou Williams and Jrue Holliday, instead point-forwarding an offense that led the league in long twos. When those long twos go in, Iguodala gets an assist. When they don’t, Spencer Hawes tallies a miss.

That’s why in some ways, assists are truly the selfish stat. Rajon Rondo garnered tremendous acclaim for this game. But a crooked boxscore and some virtuoso vision is simply no substitute for getting to the rim, getting to the line, and making your threes if your goal is to win basketball games. That’s why Ty Lawson accumulated nine separate games with a better gamescore than Rondo’s 20 dimer including one against Miami, but you never heard a peep about any of them.

We desperately want to believe in a world where the artist is triumphant. Where diverse play and skills are more important than honing in on the right shots and converting them at a high rate. But that’s just not the case if you are trying to win basketball games. In real basketball, it doesn’t matter all that much if Nicolas Batum doesn’t have a terrific handle or vision, he scores a good deal more than Andre Iguodala and a good deal more efficiently. And scoring is the most important part of the offensive game. Iguodala’s other attributes make him an attractive player, but it’s not nearly enough to overcome the age and price difference.

Like DFW writes, it’s unusual and special when strength, speed, and physical gifts are combined with genius. When art and winning at sports combine. Unfortunately, Iguodala’s versatility and unorthodoxness have made many overlook the fact that he’s just not a particularly high-level offensive player in today’s game where you have to score efficiently first, and everything else comes second.

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