Andre Iguodala Quietly Silencing Critics With Recent Play

Written By Roy Burton On Saturday, March 05, 2011
The chorus of fans looking to trade Philadelphia 76ers' swingman Andre Iguodala has become a little less vocal these days.

Those beating the drum for his departure have been a bit more reserved.

Over the past several weeks, Iguodala has transformed his game from one of a scorer to that of an all-around threat; locking down the opposing team's primary wing player while filling the stat sheet on the offensive end.

His metamorphosis came full circle on Friday night as he had his best game of the season against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. Iguodala single-handedly orchestrated the Timberwolves' demise, scoring 22 points, handing out 13 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Sixers' 111-100 victory.

It was his second triple-double of season, with the other coming on February 16 when he notched 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Houston Rockets just prior to the All-Star break.

This is the Andre Iguodala that Sixers' fans have long been clamoring for, the one that they expected at the beginning of the season on the heels of his performance at the FIBA World Championships this summer.

That version of Iguodala was the ultimate jack-of-all-trades: defending, scoring, rebounding, and setting up his teammates whenever the opportunity arose. One of those teammates was Minnesota power forward Kevin Love.

"He did a lot of intangible things for us," said Love, prior Friday night's game. "He passes the ball extremely well, can shoot, and in practices he picked us up day in and day out, and I have a very high respect for his game."

That version of Iguodala also brought back with him a sore right Achilles' tendon, an injury that bothered him for the better part of the first two months of the season.

Robbed of the explosiveness that helps define his game, Iguodala took on more a supporting role early in the year, often deferring to Elton Brand, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young on offense.

When the pain from the Achilles' became too much to bear, Iguodala sat out several games in order to heal the injury. For whatever reason, the Sixers appeared to play better at times without him in the lineup.

So with the trade deadline fast approaching, and the team playing well with its alleged superstar in street clothes, the chorus of Iguodala detractors began warming up their voices.

Iguodala's relationship with Philadelphia fans has never been harmonious. A problem that many have with him is that he often appears somewhat aloof on the basketball court. To the passive observer, that -- combined with his questionable body language at times -- creates the impression of a player who doesn't care all that much.

Although he was referring to his team's perceived mutiny last week, Detroit Pistons' coach John Kuester put it best when he said the following:

"Sometimes perception and reality are two different things."

Blessed with a healthy dose of athletic talent, things on the basketball court come relatively easy to Iguodala. Because of his fluid motions and devil-may-care demeanor, it may come across as if Iguodala isn't trying hard, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Philadelphia Phillies' third baseman Mike Schmidt endured similar criticism for his seemingly effortless play some 25 years ago. Schmidt was constantly derided by fans even as he racked up Gold Gloves and homerun crowns during his Hall of Fame career. While Iguodala hasn't reached that same level of acclaim in the NBA, the public perception of the two is very similar.

To make matters worse, Iguodala's contract has been the proverbial albatross around his neck for the past few seasons. Many fans have had difficulty reconciling his statistics (14.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.2 APG this season) with the money due to him for the rest of his deal ($40.6 million over the next two-plus seasons, and a player option for $15.9 million in 2013-14).

"To be honest, I don't really care [what fans think] -- only because I know what I can bring to my teammates," Iguodala said just prior to the NBA's trade deadline this season. "I've been doing the same thing for a long time. Nothing's really changed too much. My peers have a lot of respect for my game."

More importantly, Sixers' coach Doug Collins has respect for his game. So much so that he moved Iguodala into a "point forward" role with the team, and frequently compares the swingman to another player who helped revolutionize the small forward position: Grant Hill.

"Andre Iguodala is a triple-double guy," said Collins back on January 24. "That's what Grant Hill was for me in Detroit. Andre Iguodala guards the other team's best player. He'll give you 16 points, five, six assists, six, seven rebounds and a couple of steals most nights. I'll take that guy on my team every day."

Iguodala has dished out 8 or more assists in half of the team's 14 games since he was designated as the team's primary ball-handler. It's probably no coincidence that the Sixers have gone 10-4 during that stretch.

The newly-minted point forward has changed in other ways as well. He's been less animated when it comes to arguing calls, and is more vocal when it comes to directing his teammates on offense.

The "new" Iguodala isn't perfect, however, as he still has a penchant for taking ill-advised jumpshots. His shot selection isn't the problem -- the fact remains that he still hasn't refined his mid-range game to the point that his jumper is a consistent weapon in his arsenal.

And versatility aside, he still isn't a "franchise" type of talent. While every team would love to have someone who can fill a box score such as Iguodala, the Sixers still lack a player who can carry the team on his back for long stretches of a game.

The fact remains that Iguodala is an extremely skilled player who is not only a proven playmaker on offense (his assist-to-turnover ratio this season is 3.37-to-1, fourth-best in the NBA), but a certified defensive stopper who frequently puts the clamps the opposing team's superstar.

Perhaps one day, those who aren't currently in his camp will begin to sing his praises. Until then, he'll continue to play his game, oblivious to the drumbeat in the distance.

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