Andre Iguodala is the hidden force behind the best team in basketball, and he deserves some recognition for Sixth Man of the Year.
All of the focus for this NBA award season has rightly been centered around one of the tightest MVP races in decades. The term “valuable” creates hours upon hours of debate over something completely subjective, and while the Sixth Man of the Year doesn’t create the same amount of heated discussion, it is just as vague.
The singular requirement to be eligible for Sixth Man is that you must have come off the bench for more games than you started. That still leaves well over half the league eligible, but despite the large pool of players to chose from, the same type of player gets picked year after year.
Jamal Crawford (three times), Lamar Odom, J.R. Smith, James Harden, and Lou Williams have been the winners this decade, and while they were all deserving candidates, they all fit the exact same role. Scoring 15 points per game off the bench is seemingly the only way to gain attention for Sixth Man, but that overlooks the value of every other type of player.
Voting for that bench scorer will frequently get you the best candidate, but this year there is a player worth of recognition that doesn’t fit into that box. Andre Iguodala has been the best all-around bench player this season, but he rarely gets brought up in the Sixth Man conversation.
Andre Iguodala is the best player in the league who comes off the bench. Few coaches would argue this, yet he has little chance at 6MOY.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) March 30, 2017
While stating that Iguodala is the best bench player as a fact will bring some debate, the point Nate Duncan is trying to make is clear: Iguodala is one of the most well-rounded players in the league, starter or bench player, but he doesn’t fit our conceived notion of what the Sixth Man of the Year is.
The odds-on favorites to win this year’s award are Houston’s Eric Gordon and Lou Williams. Both players have been fantastic this season and will finish first and second in bench scoring respectively; but while they fit their role extremely well, they cannot match Iguodala’s versatility.
This graph shows where Iguodala, Williams, and Gordon rank in a few offensive and defensive metrics among Sixth Man-qualified players who average at least 15 minutes per game.
Iguodala can’t match Gordon or Williams’ raw scoring output, but Iggy comes out far ahead in many of the key advanced metrics. Outside of Defensive Rating where he is 16th, Iguodala will finish first or second in every other category while Gordon and Williams each fall below 50% in multiple statistics.
Iggy’s extremely well-rounded game helps the Warriors play the way Steve Kerr wants to, by switching on almost every pick-and-roll, and having multiple ball handlers on offense.
Iguodala often acts as the stabilizing force for a team known for extreme ups and downs throughout the course of a game. He leads the league with a 4.66 assist-to-turnover ratio, and the Warriors as a whole turn the ball over two percent less when he is on the court. That may not sound meaningful, but those turnovers really add up for a team playing the fourth-fastest pace in the league.
Iguodala’s versatility also translates to defense, where he is usually tasked with guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player. This season, James Harden and Russell Westbrook have both had two historically great offensive seasons, but not when they’ve played against Iguodala.
Against Iguodala this season, Harden was -28 and Westbrook was an astonishing -40. Over the entirety of the eight games against Houston and Oklahoma City this season, the Warriors were an incredible +132 with Iguodala on the floor.
The correlation between Iguodala playing well and the entire team having success is not just limited to those two teams. Over the entire season, the Warriors win 94% of the time when Iguodala ends the game with a positive +/-. However, Iguodala’s impact has become even more vital since Kevin Durant’s knee injury.
Over the seven games immediately following Durant going down on Feb. 28, the Warriors went 2-5. This marked by far the worst regular season stretch in the Steve Kerr era, and Iguodala didn’t take advantage of the bigger role. But, following his rest against San Antonio on Mar. 11, the Warriors ripped off 13 straight wins.
Iguodala without Kevin Durant
|February 28th-March 11th||2-5||10.2||36.9%||2.8||3.8||-3.0|
|March 11th-April 5th||13-0||11.9||40.7%||6.17||4.0||+11.6|
His offensive numbers were great, but they only show half the story. Over those 13 games, Iggy also shut down Westbrook, Harden, and Kawhi Leonard en route to the Warriors locking up the number one seed in the West.
A lot of what Iggy does on the court is not always noticeable to the average basketball fan. His defensive positioning and offensive control are subtle the majority of the time, but they are invaluable to the Warriors’ brand of basketball.
When Gordon or Williams likely win the award in June, Iguodala won’t be too upset because in his words “I don’t do awards,” but maybe he should be. Iggy might like to stay in the background and let Curry and Durant soak up all the attention, but he does deserve some recognition for being the driving force behind the best team in basketball.
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