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Ball Don't Lie

Andre Iguodala can’t understand why scorers aren’t good defenders

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Louis Williams and Andre Iguodala learn about teamwork (Melissa Majchrzak/ Getty).

All NBA players, from stars to the guys at the end of the bench, have a role. For much of his career, Philadelphia 76ers wing Andre Iguodala had a hard time figuring out exactly what that was. At various times, he's been a secondary scorer, a go-to guy and a defensive specialist. Now, he's finally found his ideal role: doing a little bit of everything on a deep, defensive-minded team. Oddly, it took him dabbling in every role to find out that he's probably best suited to be used in as many ways as possible.

Iguodala is best known for his defense, and he's learned a lot about that craft over his career. In fact, he even says that being called upon to be his team's leading scorer has given him firsthand experience on how to defend. From Lee Jenkins for Sports Illustrated (a piece noted earlier in the 10-man rotation):

"I learned from being a go-to guy what I didn't like," Iguodala says. "Coaches tell you, 'Get to the hole. Don't settle for jump shots.' So when I guard somebody, I want them to settle for jumpers—outside the paint but inside the three-point line—and then use my length to contest late." Iguodala memorizes where opponents hold the ball before they raise it up. Bryant is the toughest to strip because he cradles the ball by his hip; Lakers forward Metta World Peace might appear to be the easiest, because he puts it in front of his body, but he is trying to draw cheap fouls. "It makes no sense to me why so many good scorers can't defend," Iguodala says. "Like Lou Williams. He's one of the toughest guys to guard in the league, but he can't guard anybody. I don't get that."

Iguodala's describing how the offensive game can inform his defensive play (and presumably vice-versa). It's an interesting idea, and one that makes sense if players are willing to think of various aspects of the sport as related to each other.

It's also a little questionable, though, and not just because players probably shouldn't call out their teammates in national magazine stories. Iguodala is right to have taken lessons from his time as a go-to guy, but he's also forgetting that he wasn't a great fit for that role. In part, that's because he also had to exert so much energy on defense. There was simply no way he could excel in all aspects of the game at the same time.

Williams isn't an elite scorer, but he's good enough that the Sixers depend on him to create a lot of their offense. The coaching staff has effectively made a choice about where to maximize his effort: by placing a great deal of the offensive burden on him, they're asking him to focus himself on offense more than at the defensive end. Iguodala is right that Williams could learn from his offense and become a better defender, but it's difficult to imagine him doing so without also seeing his offense suffer. It's not quite a zero-sum issue — paying more attention to defense won't necessarily hurt his offense to an equal degree — but Williams only has so much energy. It's difficult to be an offensive linchpin if you don't devote yourself to it.

Williams might eventually become a better defender. However, if he does so, it's likely that it will come at a time when he's not as adept at creating his own offense. Until the Sixers ask him to focus on defense, he's going to keep thinking of himself as an offensive player. That's not just a personal choice — it's an issue of how the team has chosen to deploy him.

(H/T TBJ)

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