Several years ago the author Michael Lewis wrote a piece about Shane Battier called the "No Stats All-Star," in which Lewis set out to capture all the things Battier did well that didn't appear in the box score. Because Lewis is Lewis, Battier emerged as a kind of noble craftsman in a world that wasn't quite ready to understand what it was watching.
The role player has long been a hallowed figure on winning teams, but the appreciation for someone like Battier who didn't need to score, rebound or dish to make a meaningful impact was on the verge of becoming a major component of roster building, thanks to analytically-inclined GMs like Houston's Daryl Morey.
Andre Iguodala needs a better biographer.
He is Battier with numbers and in some ways he's the Too Many Stats All-Star. He does so many things well -- but few of them exceptionally well -- that he has been relegated to a supporting role in today's pantheon. He can score, but at a tick below elite level. He can pass, yet point forward isn't really his job description. Additionally, Iguodala's shooting percentages are just meh and his efficiency numbers don't exactly jump off the spreadsheet.
What Iguodala can do better than almost everyone else is defend all types of wings, and for that he finally gained a small measure of appreciation as evidenced by a second-team All-Defensive nod in 2011, his first All-Star appearance last season, and a spot on the Olympic team. He is perhaps the finest role player in the league and that presented a problem.
As a friend in Philadelphia put it, "Big contract. Good, not great player."
Ah yes, the contract. In August of 2008 the Sixers signed Iguodala to a 6-year deal worth up to $80 million. That's not max money, but it's close enough to superstar dough to carry the expectations with it and Iguodala has never worn that mantle particularly well. He's not a scorer in the traditional sense, nor is he the guy you want trying to take over games in the fourth quarter. The post-Iverson Sixers were Iguodala's team as much for his bank account as anything else. Like their signature player, they were often good, never great and generally first-round fodder.
There are fewer places that are tougher than Philly on "good, not great" players. It's a city steeped in basketball tradition and just as importantly, it's a place that has seen its share of the real thing when it comes to larger than life superstars. From Wilt to the Doctor and from Sir Charles and the original A.I., Philly knows an icon when it sees one is and Iggy simply wasn't it.
It took a catastrophic injury to Derrick Rose to break that first-round hex and even after taking the Celtics to seven games in the conference semifinals it was generally understood that this was as far as they could go with Iguodala.
There is no one -- not even his most ardent defenders -- who thinks trading him for a package that included Andrew Bynum was a bad move, even with the knowledge that Bynum's knee requires more maintenance than a ‘57 Chevy. At the risk of pissing off the NBA's Twitterati, we have ample evidence to indicate for all his talent Iguodala is not a player who can make a franchise. Bynum can be that player, and hope in the NBA, even false hope, is better than riding out the wave of mediocrity.
He did himself no favors by telling CBS' Matt Moore in October that he was tired of the criticism and that he didn't enjoy basketball the last few years; i.e. playing for a coach like Doug Collins who wanted him to be a facilitator and stop jacking so many threes. That pretty much sealed his fate on opening night, when the Nuggets were scheduled to open their season in Philadelphia. But it says something about Iggy's tenure in Philly that the reaction was largely mixed upon his return.
He was booed during the intros, jeered when he had the ball and given a standing ovation during a timeout video montage. If that seems oddly schizophrenic, well, it's not. It's just Philly. There are layers upon layers of subtext to booing in that city that would take a team of anthropologists years to dig through, but that are nonetheless natural to its citizens. On the scale of one to J.D. Drew, Iggy received far less than say, Scott Rolen got, and a bit worse than the Eagles' long snapper who was oddly introduced as a courtside celeb.
Time and place are everything in the NBA and with that offseason trade to Denver, Iguodala may have finally found the perfect match for his talents. GM Masai Ujiri has loaded the roster with very good players, albeit none in the traditional superstar mode. The Nuggets don't need Iguodala to be great, they just need him to be him and together with Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee and others, Ujiri has assembled one of the most fascinating teams in the league.
They may also be mortally flawed. Without Gallo, who was out with an ankle sprain, the Nuggets badly needed a shooter who could open up the floor when they weren't trying to play at a helter-skelter pace. They turned it over 22 times, missed 14 of 18 three-pointers and shot 38 percent. Iguodala also seemed out of sorts, going 5-for-13 with an unsightly minus-19 next to his name, and the home folks jeered knowingly when he lost the ball out of bounds late in the fourth quarter.
That's our Iggy, they were saying and for one night at least, the Philly fans were content in their victory and comforted by the notion that Spencer Hawes had one of his occasionally brilliant performances. The larger issue, namely Bynum's knee, could be left for another day. Their biggest problem was gone and they could finally turn the page on an era that left so many of them wanting more.
All of which is to say that perhaps no player needed a change of scenery more than Iguodala this offseason. He finally appears to be in the right system with the right cast of characters and the ideal coach in George Karl to bring all those wonderful qualities to fruition free of the burden of expectations that weighed so heavily these last few years. If he can do that there will be a host of writers, pundits and analysts ready to tell his redemptive story.