The Heat are set to square off against the Lakers in the 2020 Finals this week, and while L.A. may be entering the series as the heavy favorite, Miami’s bench turned viewers’ heads away from just Tyler Herro and additionally onto Andre Iguodala.
With the Heat clinching the Eastern Conference finals, Iguodala marked his sixth consecutive year of reaching the NBA Finals and was a big factor in doing so. The veteran forward posted 15 points, three rebounds, an assist and two steals off the bench in the team’s win against the Celtics. He was also 4-for-4 on three-point attempts.
Iguodala was 7-for-27 in playoff threes before Game 6 and averaged a career low of 4.6 points and 2.4 assists off the bench per game since the start of the 2019–20 season. However, his offensive and defensive force on Monday night could be a breakthrough for the 36-year-old veteran as he matches up against the Lakers.
Iguodala’s heavy impact off the bench did more than spur the Heat to a win, but also drew parallels to his breakout playoff performance during his time on the Warriors. In helping the Warriors win three rings in the past five years, Iguodala’s versatility and impact, often missed on the stat sheets, was highlighted.
After he came off the bench for all regular-season games in the 2014–15 season, the Warriors became exponentially better once incorporating Iguodala into the postseason starting lineup. In the 2015 Finals against the Cavaliers, he held his own offensively in finding his way to the basket, fed off of Draymond Green’s defensive energy and opened up the floor for a number of fast-break opportunities. And he did it all while guarding the best player in the world: LeBron James.
No defender has guarded James in the playoffs more than Iguodala. Since the 2015 Finals, he held James to 44% shooting on 139 field goal attempts, according to ESPN.
By forcing James to put up tough, time-pressed shots, Iguodala held James to 33% from the field in the 2015 Finals alone. Additionally, James’s statistics worsened tremendously when Iguodala was on the court versus on the bench. Here is the comparison:
Iguodala on court: 38% FG, 66% FT, 41% eFG, -55 +/-, 94.1 offrtg, 109.7 defrtg, -15.5 netrtg.
Furthermore, Iguodala showed immense discipline by rarely switching off of James on pick-and-rolls. In fact, of the 90 possessions where Iguodala started off on James, he switched off him only 18 times, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
It has been five years since Iguodala was awarded the 2015 Finals MVP trophy with his superb defensive performance, and after the Heat’s Game 6 against the Celtics, it is clear that his discipline has not let up. The Heat collectively stopped Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum from driving into the paint in their zone defense. Jimmy Butler, with the help of Iguodala, successfully led the top of the zone against the Celtics. Previously, Iguodala also proved his part off the bench with his strong defensive instincts against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Take a look at his steal from Giannis Antetokounmpo in their Game 5 clincher:
As Iguodala approaches his fifth head-to-head matchup against James, he has the experience necessary to not only match up against the powerhouse, but to see his team’s openings for buckets on offense, as well.
On facing James in the finals, Iguodala told The Undefeated, “We just have that chip on our shoulder of hearing, ‘You’re not the most talented.’ So, we take that and say, ‘How do we get the most of the guys on our team and make everyone a weapon on both ends of the floor.’ ”
Iguodala has done just that. His championship experience and ability to see opportunities a beat ahead of his teammates makes him a key component in matching up against James and the Lakers. When on the Warriors, the forward was instrumental in seeing and motioning for his teammates to take open cuts to the basket. Take his pass to Leandro Barbosa in the 2016 Finals:
In Game 4 against the Celtics, Iguodala portrayed similar instincts as he did in dishing a pass to Barbosa, seeing the opening a beat ahead of everyone else. This time, with Goran Dragic as he kicked the ball out to the point guard for the open three:
With Iguodala’s ability to see the court, experience with and success in guarding James and overall championship pedigree, he will be a key component for the Heat as they are painted as the underdogs in the Finals.
His impact may be easy to miss in the box scores, but it’s always there. Whether it be creating opportunities for his team or being an asset on defense, it is clear that Iguodala’s instincts on both ends of the court come second to none. If he continues to break through as he did for the Warriors in the playoffs as well as for Miami in Game 6 this postseason, the Heat’s bench will be a pivotal force in the 2020 Finals.