In Defense Of AI9
by Dan Sommer a.k.a. Vanilla Blunder
As this is my first foray into writing for an audience, forgive me if this results in a feeling that you wasted fifteen or so minutes of your life reading this. I do apologize in advance. However, if what I’m about to say next doesn’t hold your interest as a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, I don’t know what will.
Call me crazy, but I like Andre Iguodala.
“What?! Blasphemy!!!,” you say. “He’s horrible. Do you know what he gets paid on his deal??” The short answers to both of these statements are “no it’s not” and “yes, I do.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, allow me to try and explain.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: ‘Dre’s contract. Here’s a hypothetical situation for you. You have a job; it doesn’t matter what it is. For the hell of it we’ll say you make $45,000. A good working man’s salary in my opinion. You perform decently enough at it. Some things you’re good at, some things you could do better. But you show up and you try your best every day you’re there. Then one day, your boss calls you into his office. He tells you that they’ve decided to double your salary for your efforts. In your mind, you know that you don’t deserve this. You haven’t done anything to stand out from the crowd. You come in and grind it out every day to the best of your ability. Still, despite this knowledge, I pose this question to you: Would you turn that money down?
If your answer is “yes,” then you’re a liar. Nobody would turn that down, and that’s only $45,000. Iguodala was offered a 6 year, $80 million contract. It is not his fault that Ed Stefanski (like so many other NBA GMs under the old CBA rules) couldn’t help themselves from offering insane dollar amounts, and too many years to players that would never provide a return on the investment.
And here’s the clincher of that whole situation. ‘Dre has TRIED to give back on that deal. Just last year, he was named to the All NBA Defensive Second-Team, and finished second only to Lebron James in triple doubles on the season, including two on back to back nights. Over the last 3 years, he’s been a better facilitator, and has been an efficient rebounder as well.
Iggy is a player who will give you 16-18 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. That is not bad production. He is not a number one. He was never going to be. So why fight it? Especially with the team that the 76ers are right now? Doug Collins has this team playing stellar team basketball, and has them out to an early lead in the Atlantic Division, in a shortened season that favors their youth. Also, while Andre’s scoring average is down this year, through 8 games he has a career high in WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes) and PER (Player Efficiency Rating) at .214 (league average is .100) and 19.3 (league average is 15), respectively.
Kobe Bryant this year? He’s at .175/24.2.
Carmelo Anthony? .199/25.2.
Dwight Howard? .207/25.0.
While the PERs of this small sample size are better than ‘Dre’s, the difference is the players listed above are their teams first option. I think it’s fair to say Iguodala provides more than a little value to his team.
Up until last year, Iggy had not missed any significant playing time. Last year’s health issues – the tendinitis in his knee – hobbled him for the stretch run to the playoffs. He missed 15 games on the season due to the injury, but came back and played through the pain. That sounds commendable to me. Want to know who wasn’t able to play through the exact same injury? One of Philadelphia’s current fan favorites – Chase Utley! The fact that ‘Dre came back to play from something that was discussed as possibly ending Chase’s career? That takes heart, and that’s coming from someone who has the biggest man crush on Chase Utley out of anyone.
The biggest key, more than anything that ‘Dre does on the offensive side of the court, is what he brings on defense. While he has averaged just under two steals per game for his career, defense is something that is not entirely quantifiable by statistics. You can look at steals and blocks all you want, but they don’t tell the whole story. Ask any Orlando fan how they feel anytime Dwight Howard stupidly blocks a shot out of bounds. I can promise you on almost any defensive stop involving a block or steal by Iguodala, it will lead to transition offense, and points on the board. During last year’s playoffs, he was tasked with guarding Dywane Wade and Lebron James in the series against the Heat. Another question to everyone: besides ‘Dre (with the possible exception of Jrue Holiday on Dywane Wade), who would you want guarding those two? Elton can’t keep pace with Lebron, Lou Williams is an offensive minded AI type (read: undersized) shooting guard, and Thad Young, while growing as a player, is not ready to step into that position. With number 9 on either of those two, I at least feel comfortable with the match up.
Lastly, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Andre Iguodala is the leader of this team. After playing on the Olympic Team that brought gold back to the U.S., it was clear that ‘Dre came back a different player. He grew into what he is. He found the game he can play that best helps his team succeed – driving the lane, rebounding, passing, playing point forward like Lebron, and defending both on the perimeter and at the rim like a mad man. Realizing that he was not “the man” was the best thing to happen to him, even if nobody else thinks it.
I attended the home opener for the 76ers last Friday against the Pistons. The team as a whole looked good. ‘Dre had an off night, shooting only 1-4 from the field in 33 minutes. Part of the reason he only took 4 shots? Possibly the fact that Spencer Hawes has found his inner Beast Mode this year and shot 8-14 from the floor, while Thad Young went 7-11 and Jodie Meeks 7-13, while scoring 17 of his team high 21 in the fourth quarter alone. Yet the entire game, in my section I heard the boos and the cat calls raining down on the longest tenured Sixers player. Nobody seemed to notice that during the game Iggy managed to grab 4 rebounds, hand out 4 dimes, and had four steals, and didn’t do what everybody ripped him for over the the last few years: shooting too much. Nobody seems to understand the reason this team is off to the start they are is because they play team ball. Team basketball. They ride the hot hand, and go with whoever is feeling it. They don’t have a number 1 player like a Kevin Durant, a Kobe, a Melo, a Wade or a Lebron. But for right now, they don’t need one.
As I left that game, someone behind me made a joke about trading Andre to anyone for a case of Keystone Light Beer and a carton of Marlboros, because you’d at least get something for your money. As far as I can tell, Andre Iguodala does provide something for the money, on both ends of the court. And without question, for as long as he’s in Philadelphia – in AI9 fashion – I will play lockdown defense for his case.