NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh

Andre Iguodala: The No-Stats Hall of Famer

NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh

Andre Iguodala is not your prototypical Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame candidate. In his 15-year career, he’s made only one All-Star game and has never been named to an All-NBA squad. 

Based on those two pieces of information alone, you might think Iguodala is wholly undeserving of Springfield immortality. But those who doubt Iguodala’s Hall credentials are losing ground in the debate by the day. 

The 35-year-old’s game-sealing, series-tying 3 with 5.9 seconds left in Game 2 added yet another gem to his incredible career. With the clutch shot, Iguodala is three wins away from earning his fourth championship, solidifying a fascinating Hall of Fame case that will surely be debated in TV studios, barbershops and group chats across the world. 

But in Steve Kerr’s book, there is no question that Iguodala belongs in Springfield.

“It depends on your version of the Hall -- if it’s based on stats, maybe not,” the Golden State Warriors coach says. “If it’s based on champions and winners and brilliant basketball minds and impact on the game and impact on championship teams … he’s a Hall of Famer.”

Iguodala is a perfect representation of what the traditional box score misses. He has never led the NBA in a major category in any season, except for games played (82). More damning, he’s rarely thrived as a go-to scorer. How could a wing who averaged 12.1 points per game in his career be a Hall of Famer?

A decade after the New York Times dubbed Shane Battier as The No-Stats All-Star, we have found The No-Stats Hall of Famer in Iguodala. 

 

And we have modern metrics to prove it.

* * *

It’s fair to say that Kerr is the Kevin Bacon of the NBA. He has played with Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Dennis Rodman. He has coached Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. In Phoenix, he was the GM for Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire. He has brushed shoulders with just about every great of the last three decades. 

When it comes to sizing up the all-time greats, Kerr has nearly peerless perspective.

“I think he’s a Hall of Famer,” Kerr said. “To me, he’s on par with Scottie Pippen as a defender. Unbelievably smart. He understands the game as well as anyone I’ve been around -- Scottie included.”

Bob Myers moved mountains just have a chance at bringing in Iguodala. As the general manager overseeing a capped-out Warriors team back in 2013, Myers traded away Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Kareem Rush and five draft picks just to create enough cap space to acquire Iguodala. 

Myers knew it was a gamble. The Warriors had just faced him in the playoffs when he was a member of the Denver Nuggets, averaging 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the surprise team that season. Solid numbers to be sure, but enough impact to attach an unprotected 2014 first-round pick, an unprotected 2017 first-round pick and three second-rounders to get him? Enough to waive Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry -- two contributors to the Warriors 52-win team in 2012-13 --  simply to carve out the necessary cap room?

Three championships later, it’s hard to argue with Myers’ roll of the dice.

“If you think about the Warriors, he saw it before everyone else did,” Myers said. “He took a gamble. He came here and turned down better offers elsewhere (in Sacramento and Denver). He saw something in the team that we didn’t see. He chose us, waited on us and believed in us.”

What Myers acquired wasn’t an MVP player. Turns out, Iguodala was an MVP slayer, and defense is where Iguodala has set himself apart. 

In 2015, Iguodala won the Finals MVP after throwing a blanket on LeBron James. A year later, in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against OKC, Kerr called for Iguodala’s rescue again against MVP Kevin Durant. Down 3-2 in the series after Durant scored 40 points in Game 5, Kerr inserted Iguodala into the lineup to start the second half in Game 6 over Harrison Barnes to maximize Iguodala’s time on KD. (The Warriors won Games 6 and 7 to clinch the 3-1 comeback, with Durant held to 40 percent shooting over the last two games.)

“Every time, every series,” Kerr says. “He guards the hardest guy time and time again.”

 

In the 2019 playoffs, Iguodala did the same for reigning MVP James Harden, putting the clamps on the best scorer the league has seen since Jordan. Thanks to modern-day analytics, we are now equipped with the tools to shed a light on Iguodala’s impact. 

Over the last two seasons, Harden has averaged 40.3 points per 100 possessions against the Warriors and shot 41 percent from the floor, but those rates tumble to 29.0 points per 100 possessions and 31 percent in the 124 possessions he’s been guarded by Iguodala, according to NBA.com matchup data

If you question his role in that matchup, consider the fact that, including postseason matchups, the Warriors are now 8-5 over the last two seasons when Iguodala starts against the Rockets and 2-6 when he doesn’t.

With James, Durant and Harden on his list of vanquished MVPs, Iguodala could have stopped there, but he wasn’t done. It was Iguodala who bottled up Damian Lillard at the end of Game 1 in this year's conference finals. He also stole the ball on the final play to clinch the victory. It’s no coincidence that Lillard had his best game, putting up 28 points and 12 assists, when Iguodala skipped Game 4. 

Here are the five players that Iguodala has defended the most this postseason: Harden, Lou Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Lillard. 

That’s the leading scorer for each of the Warriors’ four opponents and a nine-time All-Star in Paul.

“What gets play out [in the national conversation] is points,” Myers said. “That’s what it’s been and may always be. But when you’re trying to win a game, you ask, can this player provide the best defense against some of the best players in the world? And what’s the value of that? Realistically, what is the value of that? Is he more valuable going out there and scoring 20 points and being a non-factor defensively? Or is he more valuable being the factor that he is and scoring 11 points? 

“To me, it’s pretty simple.”

Says Kerr: “When you factor in winning -- which should count, that’s the whole point -- Iguodala is a Hall of Famer.”

If only there was a simple metric for an individual’s impact on winning. Enter plus-minus. 

* * *

Iguodala’s traditional numbers may not pop off the page, but a more comprehensive modern metric screams Hall of Famer. Plus-minus represents the raw point margin for a player’s team when the player is on the floor. If a team outscored the opponent by five points with a player on the floor, that player is a plus-five. If the team got outscored by five, that player is a minus-five.

 

In theory, this is where a player like Iguodala will shine. If he’s making winning plays, in the long run, it’ll show up in plus-minus. Turns out, Iguodala shines. Guess who has the Warriors’ best plus-minus in the five Finals series? It’s not Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson. 

That’s right, it’s Iguodala. And by a fairly wide margin.

NBA Finals plus-minus
Since 2015

Andre Iguodala        plus-164
Draymond Green    plus-145
Stephen Curry          plus-124
Kevin Durant            plus-119
Klay Thompson        plus-60
Data: NBA.com advanced stats

In fact, once you broaden the scope and look at all players in the Finals since 1997 when the NBA began tracking plus-minus, Iguodala is second only to Ginobili and just ahead of Duncan. 

NBA Finals plus-minus
Since 1997

Manu Ginobili           plus-177
Andre Iguodala        plus-164
Tim Duncan              plus-157
Draymond Green    plus-145
Stephen Curry         plus-124
Data: NBA.com advanced stats

If that doesn’t sell you on Iguodala’s immense value, consider the flipside of the equation. In the last four Finals, the three-time champion Warriors have imploded without Iguodala, getting outscored by 25 points in 423 minutes with the Iguodala on the bench. No other Warriors All-Star has such a strong impact that the team couldn’t outscore the Cavs when he was on the bench— not Curry, Green, Durant or Thompson. 

Legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a term for guys like Iguodala, one that Kerr has adopted for his own locker room: Amplifiers. The so-called “glue guy” pieces things together, but amplifiers do more than that. They make others better by amplifying their skills.

“Andre does that at the highest level,” Myers says.

He’s a battery for his teammates. In the Rockets series, putting Iguodala on Harden freed up Curry and Thompson to allocate their powers elsewhere. Thompson could check Paul and Curry could save his energy for torching the nets. Though Thompson has held his own guarding Harden, the Warriors as a whole were far more porous defensively with Thompson  guarding Harden (116.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) compared to when Iguodala checked the reigning MVP (104.0 points per 100 possessions).

“(Andre) makes the game so much easier for us,” Kerr says during the team’s fifth straight Finals, the first team to do that since the 1960s Celtics. “He’s an integral part of a team that just accomplished something that nobody’s done in 50 years.”

* * *

Channing Frye, who has played with Iguodala as a college teammate and as a Finals opponent, is convinced that Iguodala is toying with us. 

“I think he’s like, ‘How much impact can I have without even being in the box score? I don’t even need to score one point to win. My challenge is to do everything else absolutely flawless.’”

 

Frye remembers when he first played with Iguodala. Back in 2002, on the University of Arizona campus when they were teammates for the star-studded Wildcats, a teenage Iguodala walked into the practice gym and just started dunking on an open basket. Frye was a grade above Iguodala and heard about his hops but to see his dunking prowess in person was a different experience.

Boom,” Frye shouts over the phone. “Boom. Who is this kid?” 

To Frye, it was an elaborate plan to fool the gym. Oh, you think all I can do is dunk? The pickup game started. Iguodala played point guard and brought the ball up the floor. He started alley-oops more than he finished them. He defended everybody and hit open shots almost just to prove a point. He was everywhere.

“He’s the fixer,” Frye said. “If you have a house, you need someone who knows that house inside and out who can take care of everything. Your pool is broken? Andre’s got it. Your door is off the hinge? Andre’s got it. Cable? Dishwasher? Andre’s got it.”

In Iguodala’s second season, he led the Wildcats in rebounds and assists per game. Frye contends that if Iguodala played in today’s positionless era of basketball, he’d average a triple-double in college. After two seasons with Frye at Arizona, Iguodala entered the NBA draft and was picked ninth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. ESPN’s Dick Vitale said leaving college was a huge mistake

Iguodala’s career in Philadelphia was a rocky one. After the team traded Iverson, the Sixers never reached the Finals again and many blamed Iguodala as a bust. In 2013, the Sixers traded him to Denver in a three-team deal primarily to acquire Los Angeles Lakers big man Andrew Bynum. Iguodala’s run in Philadelphia didn’t end on a high note, but he left his mark with teammates. One of those, Evan Turner, shared this opinion on Sunday night.

To Myers, Iguodala’s stint in Philadelphia is an essential part of Iguodala’s story.

“I think that shaped him,” Myers says  said. “In the media and in life, what the NBA means. That early indoctrination that he experienced in Philly, (was his) ‘Welcome to the NBA.’ And he got that at a young age. I think it probably shaped him, hardened him in a way that is somewhat necessary in today’s NBA. It was a fast education. Dropping yourself in Philly with Iverson and then post-Iverson. I definitely think it was a part of his growth.”

Frye understood quickly that Iguodala was different, playing a thinking man’s game. His sophistication wasn’t limited to hoops. Frye remembers Iguodala carrying books in his gym bag to pass the time.

 

“When we were in college, he was actually interested in reading and doing stuff like that,” Frye says said. “He was the most talented guy on our team and getting straight A’s in class. To this day, he has books all over the place.”

Recently, Iguodala walked up to Myers and asked him if he’d seen Barack Obama’s best books of 2018. Myers said he hadn’t. Iguodala kept moving. To Myers, it felt like Iguodala was testing him and Myers had failed. A couple hours later, Myers got a text. It was Iguodala with a link to the Obama list. His GM needed to be informed.

“He’ll enlighten me in many areas mostly things outside of basketball,” Myers says. “He’s constantly educating me on race. Andre has got some ... there’s an edginess to him sometimes. There’s a great depth to him. There’s layers to Andre. It took me years until I feel like I had a sense of Andre. And I think it’s a compliment. The easiest people are the ones you figure out in five minutes. The ones you question, and wonder, and develop equity and trust, he’s definitely one of those guys.”

Frye doesn’t think Iguodala’s intelligence gets talked about enough. 

“Andre challenges everybody,” Frye says. “Not just his teammates, the media, everybody. Andre’s going to make you work for it.”

When I bring up Iguodala’s plus-minus record as an illustration of his genius and making opposing MVP’s work for it, Frye laughs.

“It’s an 'F you' to everybody,” Frye says. “Listen, I can have the biggest impact on the court and I don’t even need the ball.”

* * *

The Hall of Fame doesn’t have a cut-and-dry criteria. But they do follow a fairly predictable path. Basketball Reference has tracked voter data and developed a trusty algorithm to estimate a player’s chances at Springfield based on his NBA career alone. Voters typically look for championships, All-Stars and interestingly, height (the taller the better).

Put Iguodala’s NBA career in the Basketball Reference machine and it spits out a discouraging number. It suggests that Iguodala has just a 6.1 percent chance of getting the nod.

That’s not a strong endorsement, to be sure. When future voters assess his credentials, many will consider that to be a deal-breaker. But that lens admittedly provides just a limited view of Iguodala’s body of work. The model is clear in that it does not account for international play where Iguodala has an Olympic gold medal (2012 in London) and a FIBA World Championship gold medal (2010 in Turkey).

“For us, Andre’s been one of our best players,” Krzyzewski said of the 2012 Olympics. 

 

Despite what the math says, international play matters (see: Dino Radja’s induction). It also matters that, with the exception of Boston’s Cedric Maxwell, every Finals MVP since its inception in 1969 has either made it to Springfield or is well on his way (yes, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker will get in). Furthermore, the Basketball Reference model bases its judgment as if the player’s career ended today. That isn’t the case with Iguodala.

He may lack the All-Star accolades, but Iguodala has had a pretty incredible career by more modern measures. Interestingly enough, Iguodala ranks 96th all-time in career win shares (96.4) and is about to pass Iverson on that list, who ranks 91st with a 99.0 figure

Actually, if you include playoff win shares, Iguodala’s combined total of 107.4 win shares has already eclipsed Iverson’s total of 106.3. This isn’t suggesting that Iguodala is better than Iverson. Iverson had much higher peaks, but Iguodala’s longevity with five Finals appearances and three championships cannot be ignored.

Already, Iguodala finds himself in esteemed company in career totals. Not only is 100 win shares a tidy round number, it also serves as a pretty handy barometer for Hall of Famers. Of the 25 players eligible for the Hall of Fame who have between 100 and 120 career win shares (playoffs included), most of them, 15 to be exact, are already in, including Iverson (106.3), Vlade Divac (105.0), Grant HIll (102.5) and Tracy McGrady (101.8). The handful of those who aren’t in the Hall in that range -- Detlef Schrempf, Kevin Johnson and Eddie Jones to name a few -- lack Iguodala’s multiple championships and gold medals.

Iguodala has gone on the record to say he doesn’t think of himself as a Hall of Famer. But a more comprehensive look says he has more than a reasonable case considering his longevity and uncanny ability to win at the highest level. If he continues to limit Leonard and win another title, it may not be a debate anymore.

Will Iguodala get in? To Kerr, there’s no question.

“He’ll make it,” Kerr says. “He may not make it the first time, but he’ll make it.”

But to get there, voters will have to change their balloting behavior. 

To those voters, Myers has some advice: 

“Look a little further than points per game.”

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