Ahsan S Nasution
Basketball is all about scoring points. This is true in a way, as the point (pun unintended) of any basketball game is to score points and outscore the opponent.
But does scoring points in abundance guarantee an NBA player a ticket to play in the prestigious NBA All-Star game? This year, apparently it does not. You can look as far as Sixers’ forward Andre Iguodala’s first-time inclusion as a reserve player as proof that individual scoring is not the only thing that matters.
Of the 24 selected players and one replacement invited to Sunday’s All-Star game in Orlando, only 14 players were among the top 25 scorers in the league. This means that 11 of the better scorers in the league were passed over for players who scored fewer points for their respective teams. Iguodala is the main culprit, guilty of leapfrogging past numerous hopefuls who outdid his measly 12.4 points per game through the All-Star break. In fact, as many as 93 players, including three of his own teammates not chosen as All-Stars, are averaging more points per contest than Iguodala.
Ironically, in previous seasons, he was one of those top scorers who never received an All-Star invite despite averaging between 17.1 and 19.9 points per game between the 2006 and 2009 seasons.
How is it, then, that the 2010 Team USA Basketball member got his first All-Star invitation during a low-output year in scoring? The answer lies in his non-scoring contributions in helping the Sixers thus far achieve arguably their best season in nearly a decade. It is a reward for Iguodala’s invaluable veteran leadership, willingness to sacrifice his own offense and increased role as offensive facilitator and defensive stopper. Often these intangible qualities are overlooked by All-Star voters.
Iguodala’s makeover began with the hiring of head coach Doug Collins – best known as a former NBA commentator and analyst for NBC and TNT and one of Michael Jordan’s first coaches at the NBA – a season ago. Since his rookie year in 2004, the high-flying, athletic Iguodala, who modeled his game after Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, has been known as an above-average passer, solid defensive player and a complimentary-type offensive player. Yet since the departure and eventual retirement of former Sixers stars Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, Iguodala has had to shoulder the responsibility of primary scorer.
With the emergence of younger talents in Jrue Holiday, Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes along with the presence of veteran Elton Brand, Collins understood that Iguodala no longer has to be “The Man.” Much like Pippen – who also played for Collins’ Bulls teams – Iguodala has been asked to focus less on scoring and to become a more versatile player on both ends of the floor.
A year removed from a miserable 27-55 season under head coach Eddie Jordan, Collins’ balanced offense helped the Sixers reach the playoffs last year, albeit with a loss in the first round to the NBA Finals-bound Miami Heat. A stronger commitment to defense helped the Sixers begin this season with a sizzling 18-7 start and enter the season’s second half with a 20-14 record, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Leading his team in steals and assists, Iguodala is at the forefront of the defensive-minded and unselfish Sixers squad.
Playing in Sunday night’s All-Star game, Iguodala showed that he belonged. Scoring an efficient 12 points and filling up the stat sheet in only 14 minutes by playing a supporting role to more prominent scorers like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony, Iguodala demonstrated that he could play the “Pippen” role just fine. With all due respect to his Sixers teammates, however, Iguodala does not have a teammate to play off of in the same caliber as his All-Star counterparts.
Just as the Oscars on the same night crowned the film industry’s best actors and supporting actors, Philadelphia has a strong nomination for the NBA version of the latter but not for the former. With the trade deadline of March 15 looming, one can wonder if the Sixers will bring in the Jordan to Iguodala’s Pippen, the Batman to his Robin. Can the Lakers’ Pau Gasol supply that Batman “Pow?” Or would a certain Superman in Orlando by the name of Dwight Howard make his way as Philly’s Batman? With the influence of new Sixers minority ownership from Indonesia, which can bring a sizable fan base, it may be more than just a possibility.