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NBA AM: Andre Iguodala Steps Up in Finals

After a rough season, Andre Iguodala has really stepped up for the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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Andre Iguodala Stepping Up in NBA Finals

At one point during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, as Andre Iguodala stood at the free throw line, Golden State Warriors fans in Oracle Arena serenaded him with “M-V-P” chants.

And, at the moment, it’s possible that Iguodala could be named Finals MVP if the Warriors are able to close out this series and hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. Despite being a former All-Star, Iguodala admits it’s strange to be in this position.

“When I hear MVP, I’m thinking they’re talking about Steph [Curry],” Iguodala admitted after the Warriors’ 104-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night. “My whole focus is to do my job as best as possible for this team and to try to help us win every single night we play.”

While some have debated that LeBron James should be Finals MVP – win or lose – due to his monster performances in this series, Iguodala seemingly has as good an argument as any Warrior at this point.

He has been excellent and, perhaps most importantly, very consistent against the Cavaliers in the Finals. He has averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 37 minutes per game, while shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three-point range. On Sunday, he filled the stat sheet with 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

Not to mention, he has done a very good job guarding James. While most people expected Draymond Green (the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year) or Harrison Barnes to guard James entering the Finals, it is Iguodala who has spent the most time on LeBron.

Two years ago, Iguodala was an All-Defensive First Team member, but he had shown some signs of decline since then. However, the 31-year-old has been fantastic for Golden State on both ends of the floor through five games. Even though James’ numbers have been ridiculous, Iguodala is making him work and James has struggled shooting the ball against him.

“Andre was brilliant again tonight; he does everything for us,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s our best defender on LeBron. He’s an incredible decision‑maker. I mean, seven assists, no turnovers [in Game 5]. He rebounds. He guards everybody. When he’s off LeBron, he goes on to a shooter and stays at home with the shooters and challenges shots. He’s a brilliant defensive player.

“He’s got the most experience guarding LeBron on our team – he’s pretty much had that job since he’s entered the league. So he’s got the experience, but it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve played against him, it’s still a huge job and you want to have your best defender on him. And Andre is our best.”

When asked about guarding James, Iguodala was complimentary of the superstar and explained his approach.

“We’ve got a lot of great players in this league that can score the ball in bunches – like 10 or 15 guys in this league and I’ve had a chance to guard all of them,” Iguodala said. “I’ve been doing it for a long time. The thing that makes him dynamic is he’s probably one of the smartest and best passer out of all the scorers, which really makes him dynamic.

“But the foundation is the same. Make him work as hard as possible.  Make him take tough shots.  You look at his strengths, his weaknesses, which way he wants to go, which way he prefers to play, and you try to just take him out of his comfort zone.”

It was Iguodala’s move to the starting lineup in Game 4 that gave the Warriors a 21-point road win to even the series against the Cavs. Going small changed the series and Iguodala responded to the promotion by posting 22 points and eight rebounds, while limiting James to his worst game of the series. After that game, Coach Kerr said that Iguodala had “been our best player” in the series and once again spoke highly of the job he has done against James. His teammates have also praised his play.

“I think he likes the challenge of his match‑up, especially in this series,” Stephen Curry said of Iguodala. “Throughout the course of the season, each game no matter what he’s asked to do, he’s ready to do it. [He has] confidence in knocking down his shots when he’s open, making plays, and we know he has a knack for just being impactful on the defensive end, whether it’s playing one‑on‑one defense, getting steals, rebounds, blocking shots, he does it all.”

The idea of Iguodala being Finals MVP would’ve sounded crazy entering the series, since he was a reserve who averaged just 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists during the regular season and right around those numbers throughout the first three rounds of the postseason.

However, with his strong play and the fact that Curry got off to a slow start in the series and Klay Thompson has been inconsistent, Iguodala will get consideration.

At the end of the day, Iguodala just badly wants to add a championship to his resume. That’s why he joined this Warriors team prior to last season and it’s why he agreed to sacrifice his starting job (for the first time in his career) for the good of the team.

“I think just being in the league for 11 years and never being in this moment and knowing how hard it is, I’m just excited to get back on the court and just play as hard as possible,” Iguodala said. “I don’t think a trophy or a ring can really signify who you are as a person, but the work you put in kind of says it all.

“I’ve just been through a lot this year,” he added. “A lot about what happened early in the year, I think, was blown out of proportion. I’ve just enjoyed my teammates, and they’ve been working really hard. We’ve got this goal in mind, and we’ve just been fighting trying to get it. And every opportunity we get here going forward, we’re going to play hard.”

Game 6 of the NBA Finals will be played in Cleveland this Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.

Al Jefferson Opting In

NBA players with an option this summer face a tough choice: opting out to sign a new lucrative, long-term deal or opting in so that they can be a part of the 2016 free agent class that will receive enormous pay days due to the drastic salary cap increase.

Well, one of the notable players with an option has decided to delay his free agency until 2016.

Charlotte Hornets big man Al Jefferson will opt in to the final year of his contract worth $13.5 million, his agent Jeff Schwartz tells ESPN’s Marc Stein. He had until today to inform the Hornets of his decision.

Two years ago, Jefferson was named to the All-NBA Third Team and helped Charlotte make the playoffs, averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.

But this past season, the Hornets finished just 33-49 and missed the postseason. Jefferson played just 65 games due to injuries and his averages dropped to 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. Because of his dip in production and the big money he can make next summer, putting off free agency makes the most sense.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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