Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala has spent the better part of his 11 NBA seasons primarily known for his defense, being named to the All-Defensive team twice and earning first-team honors last season.
When he entered the league as the ninth pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2004 draft, Iguodala began to visualize, via a mental book, how to stop what has become the world's best player, even though LeBron James himself came into the NBA just a year before Iguodala.
“That book is crazy big now,” says Iguodala, who joins James on the regional cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. “What he does in the post, what he does when he goes left, what he does when he comes at me like this.”
Mental notes aside, Iguodala and the rest of his Warriors teammates have had no answer for James, who is averaging 36 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists through the first five games of the NBA Finals.
But when Iguodala does guard James, the pages of the book are clear. "Don’t overreact" is on the first page.
“He has always valued the little things: the rotations, the reads, the footwork,” says Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, who was Iguodala’s teammate at Arizona. “When you care about all that, plus you have crazy length and athleticism, you’re dangerous.”
Iguodala, at 6'6" and 215 pounds, replaced 7-footer Andrew Bogut in the starting lineup in Game 4 and is being praised for his offense this time around, averaging 14.6 points in the NBA Finals in 30 minutes per game against the Cavaliers, both marks well above his season averages for the season.
Golden State hired Steve Kerr in May 2014, and he immediately set out on how to make a 51-win playoff team better. First on his agenda was benching Iguodala in favor of Harrison Barnes to see if the team could prove offensively. In 2013-14, the Warriors ranked 12th in offensive efficiency and fourth in defense. This season, those numbers improved to second in offense and first in defense.
From the outside looking in, it appeared Iguodala was unhappy with the demotion.
“He’s pouting. Put him in the corner," one assistant said.
“I’m fine,” Iguodala kept telling Bruce Fraser, the Warriors’ player development coach.
“How could he be fine?” Fraser wondered. “It’s like when your wife tells you she’s fine. You can’t just let it pass. We couldn’t just lose him.”
The Warriors didn't lose him, and Iguodala, who came off the bench for the first 100 games this season, has the team on the brink of securing the Bay Area's first title in 40 years.
For more on the James and Iguodala, check out Lee Jenkins’s story in this week’s Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).
Also in this issue: The Chicago Blackhawks and their modern dynasty, a preview of the NBA draft and a special report of the heroin epidemic in youth sports.
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2015 Sports Illustrated Covers