In a lot of ways, 2018-19 was the worst regular season of Andre Iguodala’s career. He played the fewest minutes and posted career lows in points, rebounds, shots, and usage rate. He was still a positive defensive presence, but nowhere near the world-ending all-encompassing force we’ve seen over the last decade and a half.
It’s probably fair to say Iguodala coasted through the regular season, knowing that it was all simply a preamble to the handful of games that actually matter come April, May, and June. It’s a point of view that prevailed throughout some of the league’s top teams, all of whom were armed with the knowledge that the regular season matters just a bit more than the preseason, but not enough to warrant giving 100 percent effort each night. Iguodala’s primary defensive assignment in the upcoming NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard, is a perfect example of this mentality. Leonard played just 60 games this season as the Raptors managed his quad injury and saved him for their playoff run; he was even quoted as saying that the regular season is essentially no more than practice.
Iguodala’s 68-game regular season was just enough to put Golden State at the top of the Western Conference without pushing him too far. Once the calendar flipped to mid-April and the playoffs began, it was an entirely different Iguodala that graced the floor for the Warriors.
All of a sudden, he was willing to take and make three-pointers again and got back to being an All-NBA level defender. One Steve Kerr cannot take off the floor. These playoffs have been his best run in the last four years, with contributions all over the floor in the absence of Kevin Durant. He’s hitting his threes again, which really shouldn’t surprise us at this point – he’s been a quality three-point shooter in every Golden State playoff run save for a tough 2017 campaign. The defense is as good as it ever was, with late-game heroics surrounding his typical stout possession-by-possession stopper mentality.
The Finals will be Iguodala’s biggest test, as Leonard comes into the championship round with one hand firmly around the Best Player in the World title belt. A pair of Iguodala’s teammates have a claim to the belt as well, but Leonard’s playoff performances over the last six weeks have him in the driver’s seat for the title going into this summer. With one of those superstar teammates missing for at least Game 1, it will likely fall to Iguodala to do what he does against Leonard defensively. Swiping at the ball and finding ways to overpower opponents may have worked in previous rounds, but Leonard has the strongest hands in the league and gives as much as he takes in the physicality department. Iguodala and the Warriors will have their hands full with Leonard’s scoring ability.
Iguodala’s presence on the other end of the floor is more muted; teams help off him and are happy to watch him shoot three-pointers. He doesn’t have the same burst around the rim he once did, though he’ll still get up for a dunk or two to remind defenders of what he can do. Rather than being a focal point, he’s a player within the system offensively, taking his open threes when the ball finds him and otherwise keeping the offense humming with his ball movement and active screening for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
While the preternatural instincts and athletic ability show up on the defensive end, his offensive game is more cerebral. He shows off his decision making and basketball IQ every time he makes an extra pass or steps just inside the three-point line to screen for a relocating Curry. His superstar teammate gets all the plaudits for those relocation threes, but it takes a full team to get him the ball in those spots; Iguodala and Draymond Green are masters of screening for Curry to get him that last bit of separation or being the one who gets credit for the assist in the box score. When the ball finds Iguodala, he’s rarely the most dangerous player on the floor, because he’s always looking for his teammates.
Several plays a game, Iguodala will take his place in the most deflating three-man pick-and-roll in the league today. Curry strings out a pair of defenders 30 feet from the rim, Green catches the ball right around the free throw line, and Iguodala skies in to finish the play, often cutting from the weak side of the floor an easy lob. There are a lot of defining characteristics of this particular Warriors team, but if you had to boil this historic run down to a single play, it would have to be the Curry-Green-Iguodala pick-and-roll.
Golden State doesn’t necessarily need Iguodala to win their fourth ring in five seasons, but his added value as a role player who fits the ethos of their team perfectly is an important part of what he brings to the team. The Warriors identified him as a former star who could pivot his game to a more muted role while retaining what made him great – an immense basketball IQ, quick hands defensively, and a willingness to play within the team concept, the defining trait of this iteration of the Warriors.