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Andre Iguodala Is Whatever the Warriors Need Him to Be

When this Golden State run is over, the first names we mention will be Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. But none of it would have been possible without the subtle play and great sacrifices of Andre Iguodala. And he proved that in Game 2 against the Raptors.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

Some players love talking trash. Not Andre Iguodala. After practice one day in Toronto last week, he said it’s never been his thing. Even so, Iguodala would have been forgiven had he momentarily suspended that personal policy at the end of Game 2 and talked all the trash to all the Raptors—and maybe all of Canada, too.

It wasn’t a proper buzzer-beater or technically a game-winner, but it was just as important to the Warriors. If Iguodala had missed that shot, maybe the Raptors would have found a way to steal the game and head off to the Bay Area up 2-0 and in full command. Instead, he made it, and the proceedings are tied. Iguodala was left so wide open that Steph Curry called it “disrespectful” in the postgame television interview. Raptors coach Nick Nurse said the defense wasn’t meant to be seen as an indictment of Iguodala, and Fred VanVleet explained that Toronto simply and understandably did not want Curry to take that shot. The Raptors wanted someone else to shoot. Anyone else. Iguodala was anyone.

In the locker room afterward, Iggy was typically measured about the whole thing. Someone else might have been more animated or crowed about the achievement, or maybe picked up on Curry’s disrespect take and brayed about the insult, but Iguodala passed it off as just another workday. There was some concern about his health and availability ahead of the game—he had an MRI on his leg after the opener—but Iguodala played 28 minutes, including almost the entire second half. His reaction to that, too, was basically no biggie.

“Not saying it’s smart, but you only have about a week left to gut it out,” Iguodala said.

That’s music to Steve Kerr’s ears—especially with Klay Thompson’s hamstring making his status unknown for Game 3, Kevon Looney out indefinitely, and Kevin Durant in the will-he-or-won’t-he stage. On Sunday night, Kerr joked that Thompson could be “half dead and he would say he’s fine.” I saw Thompson in the hallway at Scotiabank Arena after the win. He was hobbling, but judging by the rest of his body language he was saying not to get the body bag just yet.

With a limited or unavailable Thompson—to say nothing of Durant—Iguodala’s versatility and, crucially, availability becomes all the more important. Kerr said Iguodala was “unfazed” after he hit the shot Sunday, and Green said he’s seen Iggy ice the Warriors’ cake before. They have faith in his ability to contribute. But if giving Iggy all that room really had been intentionally disrespectful, it wouldn’t have been all that surprising. He’s won the Finals MVP and made the All-Star team, but the longer his career has gone, and the more star power the Warriors have added, the more he’s been overlooked. That’s sort of been the story of his career. People sleep—and then he wakes them right up.

Andre Iguodala was supposed to be a superstar. That’s what so many people in Philadelphia expected from him when he signed a six-year deal worth $80 million in 2008. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t drafted where superstars generally are (he went ninth overall in 2004), or that the Sixers envisioned him as a complementary piece to Allen Iverson. When the organization finally traded the old AI, the new one became the best player on the team by default. He was good, too—but not always great. Not in the traditional on-court eye-test sense, and not off the court where we tend to promote characters who promote themselves.

When he signed that contract, a lot of people in Philly figured Iguodala would magically morph into all the things he wasn’t—someone who would dominate the league with his game and grab headlines with his personality. It didn’t matter that the market dictated his price point and that it wasn’t his fault the Sixers offered to put so many zeroes on his check. Who wouldn’t take a big raise? It didn’t make any difference to a certain contingent of fans and select members of the media that it wasn’t their money, either. All anyone seemed to care about or talk about back then was that he was paid like top-tier talent. They wanted a big return on someone else’s investment—and when they judged that his performance wasn’t commensurate, they gave him heat. Lots of it.

I always felt like the expectations were out of whack, considering Iguodala was the best two-way player the organization had fielded in a long time. (He averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.7 steals during his time in Philly, with a 55.4 true shooting percentage and a 17.1 PER.) But the biggest moment he managed in a Sixers uniform came in the 2011-12 postseason, when he made a couple of free throws against the Chicago Bulls to help the Sixers advance out of the first round. The Bulls had lost Derrick Rose to an injury earlier in the series and became just the fifth no. 1 seed in the history of the NBA playoffs to lose to the no. 8 seed. Iguodala celebrated those free throws by hopping up on the scorer’s table to play to the crowd.

It was out of character. After that game, then-head coach Doug Collins said, “I don’t know how you could write a better script than for Andre Iguodala to get the rebound, drive the length of the floor, step to the foul line, and make two free throws to get us to the second round.” The whole thing seems quaint in retrospect, given what we know now about what Iggy has done since leaving Philly.

When Iguodala was shipped out of town as part of the ultimately disastrous Andrew Bynum trade, I was almost relieved for him. Denver seemed like a good fit for his personality, and the Nuggets an equally solid match for his skill set. Denver fans aren’t nearly as grouchy or demanding as Philly fans, and the Nuggets saw Iggy for what he’s always been—an excellent defender, rebounder, and passer who can influence the game in so many ways beyond getting basic buckets.

But it wasn’t until he went to Golden State that his brand of basketball was fully appreciated. Kerr famously convinced him to come off the bench for the Warriors, something Iguodala had never done before and was reluctant to try. Kerr realized something that seems obvious now but wasn’t back then. At previous stops, so many people wanted Iggy to be the tip of the spear that led the attack, but in reality he was more of a multifunctional Swiss Army knife best used when the Warriors pulled him from their back pocket. This is what he was always meant to be.

Stepping into that do-anything role helped secure that first championship for these Warriors—but even that accomplishment came with criticism. Iguodala won the Finals MVP in 2015 over Curry, something that is still brought up as a blemish on Steph’s résumé and often hurled at Iggy as an insult, as though he wasn’t worthy. The Washington Post ran a breathless piece declaring Iguodala the “worst NBA Finals MVP in the last 30 years.” I suppose someone has to be, but I’m still not entirely sure why it matters. Iguodala averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and four assists in that series on 52.1 percent shooting from the floor. He also drew the unenviable assignment of guarding LeBron James in those Finals. He didn’t stop LeBron—no one stops LeBron except LeBron and maybe Magic Johnson—but James wasn’t nearly as effective with Iguodala hounding him. LeBron shot 44 percent from the floor and was plus-30 with Iguodala on the bench, as opposed to shooting 38 percent from the floor and being minus-55 with Iguodala on the court. Still, he was derided as a fluke MVP and (rightly in this instance) knocked for shooting sub-40 percent from the free throw line.

Whatever you think about Iguodala’s winning that award, it’s hard to imagine this era of Warriors basketball being so fruitful without him. That first title run unlocked Golden State’s small-ball future and led to the advent of the Death Lineup. That was made possible, in part, because Iguodala does the off-ball dirty work. That’s as true now as it was back when he first went to Golden State. There’s a reason the Warriors were so worried about Iguodala’s health between games 1 and 2 against the Raptors. With a healthy Iguodala, they had options for how to guard Kawhi Leonard. Without him, they would have had to use up a lot of Thompson on defense when what they really needed was for Klay to do his best work at the other end of the floor. Not having Iguodala in the mix—either off the bench or in the starting lineup—creates a ripple effect of unwanted consequences. He’s 35 now and he’s slowed a step, but he’s still an integral part of what the Warriors do. It doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but Iguodala’s presence permits the other Warriors to go do what they do best while he fills in the empty spaces around them. He’s the putty for whatever they need to patch.

Kerr said as much after Iggy knocked down that 3 on Sunday evening. The head coach rattled off some of Iguodala’s career highlights: the Olympics, three rings, two All-Defensive nods, and an All-Star team. Kerr called him “one of the smartest players” he’s ever been around and noted that before Iguodala hit that fateful final shot in Game 2, he was instrumental in helping the Warriors go on an 18-0 second-half run—he made a 3 early in the third quarter, ran the break, made plays for his teammates, and naturally aided the defensive effort—that changed the momentum of the game and possibly the series.

“I think,” Kerr said, “he sensed what we needed.”

That’s kinda his thing, isn’t it? Maybe Iguodala has never been a superstar, but he’s pretty good at helping the stars around him be super.