NBA PM: Iguodala Open to Sixth Man Role


Iguodala Open to Sixth Man Role

There’s a reason why the NBA has annually honored the league’s best reserve since 1983, because they’re vital to a team’s success and it takes a true team player to be willing to accept a bench role. Everyone wants to start. There’s a certain prestige that comes with being in the first five, hearing your name called in introductions and being on the floor when the game begins. The teams that bring a starting-caliber player off of the bench, though, tend to be among the league’s toughest.

The Golden State Warriors have aspirations of competing for a championship this season, but one of the things that has held them back is a lack of depth. Two seasons ago when they started their ascent up the Western Conference rankings, they had two of the best reserves in the league in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. They brought great energy, made sure there wasn’t a drop off while the starters got a rest and were versatile enough to play multiple positions and fit in where they were needed. The Warriors won 47 games that season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in five years.

They both hit the open market as unrestricted free agents the following summer, and rather than keeping them and building off of their success, the Warriors opted to sign one of the league’s premier two-way swingmen in Andre Iguodala to bolster their starting lineup instead. As a result, the Warriors’ bench was nowhere near as effective. They ranked 24th in the league in bench production, getting just 28 points a night from their reserves. Shaun Livingston was signed this offseason to help solidify their second unit, but the major change the Warriors made in hopes of getting to the next level was replacing Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr as head coach.

One of the major points of emphasis so far for Coach Kerr, who is serving in this capacity for the first time, has been more ball movement and less of the isolation-based offense that Jackson ran last year. While the Warriors had success overall playing that style of basketball, as an individual Iguodala wasn’t utilized to his full potential. He averaged just 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game, far less than he’s proven capable of.

Harrison Barnes took a step back as well and struggled to provide the same kind of spark that Jack or Landry did off of the bench. In need of more from both of them in order to truly contend this season, Kerr is contemplating the idea of having them swap roles. In Sunday’s game, Barnes was in the starting lineup while Iguodala came off of the bench. While it was just a preseason game against a Los Angeles Lakers team that isn’t projected to do much this season, this switch did pay off for Kerr. Iguodala had the ball in his hands much more than he did while playing with the first unit, and Barnes played well off of the starters, a role that he may be better suited for rather than being a focal point off of the bench.

A permanent move into the starting lineup would be embraced by Barnes. It’s getting Iguodala to warm up to the idea of coming off of the bench for the first time in his career that is a tougher sell.

It was a tough sell for San Antonio Spurs head coach to get Manu Ginobili to accept coming off of the bench and Lamar Odom initially laughed off Phil Jackson’s notion to do the same. But, they eventually bought in, and not only do they have Sixth Man of the Year awards to their credit, they also have multiple championship rings.

Fortunately for Kerr, Iguodala does not seem anywhere near as opposed to the idea as Ginobili and Odom were.

“Do I care [about coming off of the bench]? I don’t know,” Iguodala said to Rusty Simmons of “That’s a good question. I’m just playing ball. You try not to make a big deal out of it. I’ve been in the league for a really long time, and there a lot of stories about anything and little things. If my shoes are tied the wrong way, that can become a story. I’m trying not to make it a story this year, and I’m trying to win a championship.

“It doesn’t matter to me who I’m playing with. I think I’m going to make anybody better. When I’m out there playing basketball, it’s just ‘let me do me,’ and everybody is going to benefit. I feel confident that whoever I’m out there with is going to win.”

That was certainly the case against the Lakers as Iguodala dished out eight assists with zero turnovers while orchestrating the second unit. As a starting small forward, Iguodala is a proven commodity and a viable All-Star candidate. As a sixth man, there may not be any better.

“You don’t have the same two-guard setup with Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson), with Steph’s ability to handle the ball, create and shoot and Klay’s ability to just flat-out period shoot the ball,” Iguodala said. “So the ball is in my hands a little more. I’m setting up and doing a few more things. We don’t have a passer like (Andrew) Bogut on the inside, so it’s a little different. But, at the same time, I think we have some strengths with each unit, and I just try to maximize that depending on who I’m out there with.

“I think it was just growing up and being smart about the situation. You could do the opposite and just kind of tank it to say that it’s wrong, but our whole focus with this team is to try to continue to improve and to make the most out of our unit. We have so much depth that there will be opportunities to get where everybody wants to be. That’s the main focus.”

At 30 years old, Iguodala has accomplished a lot as an individual. Part of the reason why he passed on a richer contract offer from the Sacramento Kings before signing with the Warriors was because he wanted to compete for the championship that has eluded him in his career so far. He got a chance in 2012 to play on the Olympic team and experience what it was like to play with guys of the same talent level. He had to sacrifice individual glory on that team in order for the greater goal, and now finds himself in the same position with the Warriors. While he may miss hearing his name called with the starters and lining up against the league’s best as the ball is thrown in the air for the opening tip, he could make a bigger difference by coming off of the bench.

“I think we know the depth we have and how many guys we can put out there on the floor, which should help us stay fresh throughout the year,” Iguodala said. “It could be anyone’s night. Coach continues to reiterate that fact. Be patient if it’s not your night and just go with the flow. If we get 14 guys to believe in that, we could be pretty scary.”

A team with Iguodala as the sixth man could be scary indeed, scary enough to compete for a championship potentially.