(Eric Risberg/AP) Andre Iguodala has emerged as a vital member of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Iguodala has been tasked with guarding LeBron James, and has done a good enough job that he stole a starting spot from center Andrew Bogut in a series-changing adjustment from coach Steve Kerr.
While nobody "stops" LeBron, Iguodala has done a commendable job on him. According to ESPN's Micah Adams, LeBron is shooting just 18-for-54 (33%) when guard by Iguodala.
In Lee Jenkins' excellent SI article on Iguodala's importance to the Warriors, Jenkins notes how Iguodala has literally been preparing for his matchups with LeBron for 11 years. Over the course of his career, Iguodala has noted how to defend LeBron's every move:
"[Iguodala] entered the NBA out of Arizona a year after James, drafted ninth by the 76ers in 2004, and immediately began composing a mental manual on how to halt him. The 6' 6", 215-pound Iguodala developed a similar guide for every small forward, but James was a particularly compelling subject, and they faced off regularly in the Eastern Conference. With each matchup Iguodala added another page, until he knew James’s tendencies as well as his own. 'That book is crazy big now,' says Iguodala, 31. 'What he does in the post, what he does when he goes left, what he does when he comes at me like this.' Iguodala wriggles his shoulders, miming James’s open-floor shimmy. He has spent more than a decade preparing for the assignment that will define his career."
When judging LeBron's basic numbers these Finals, it doesn't appear that Iguodala has done much to slow him down. However, James has been taking a ton of shots this series, and his efficiency has decreased as a result. Iguodala, one of the few players physically capable of keeping up with James, has helped make the high volume of shots even tougher.
Iguodala can't flat-out stop LeBron from getting into the paint, but he's got the speed, length, and agility to then force him back out into tougher shots:
Iguodala's defense, along with his playmaking, respectable shooting, and rebounding, have made him one of the frontrunners for Finals MVP. There's an argument that LeBron should win it, even if the Cavaliers lose. However, of any player on the Warriors, Iguodala has had the most impact on both sides of the ball, and he's been the most consistent over six games.
Iguodala's impact on the Warriors has been profound. When he's on the court in the Finals, the Warriors are only giving up 92 points per 100 possessions and outscoring the Cavs by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions. When Iguodala is on the bench, the Cavs are scoring nearly 98 points per 100 possessions, and the Warriors have a minus-2.8 net rating.
Iguodala has gone from an important sixth man for the Warriors this season to arguably their most important player in this series. Though LeBron has still had his way, the series turned after Kerr went small, put Iguodala in the starting lineup, and stuck him on James.
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