Andre Iguodala is well aware of the burden that comes with being a highly compensated basketball player in the city of Philadelphia.
He's also aware that as a 6'6" small forward with off-the-charts athleticism, elite defensive ability, and an extremely diverse skill set, there will be comparisons made between him and a certain Decision-making member of the Miami Heat known as LeBron James.
In their formative years, James and Iguodala idolized Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan. In a strange twist of fate, the games of both are eerily reminiscent not of Jordan, but rather Scottie Pippen, Jordan's running mate who served as the jack-of-all-trades for the legendary Bulls teams of the 1990s.
James might be the most dominant offensive force of his generation, and on some level, it's somewhat unfair to compare Iguodala to a man who might be the best player on the entire planet. But that isn't to say that Iguodala can't learn a couple of tricks from someone who is 11 months his junior.
In fact, it's probably safe to say that he already has. The two have squared off against each other 30 times over the course of their careers, not including the numerous battles waged in Team USA basketball camps. And while Iguodala hasn't been particularly effective in slowing down James on the offensive end, the 76ers' 28-year-old forward has noticed a definite change in James's game—a change it appears that Iguodala has attempted to adopt in recent years.
"[LeBron] doesn't spend too much energy trying to dunk on guys," said Iguodala before his 76ers faced the Heat in a March contest last season. "He makes the easy play now."
Whether it's due to injuries or because of what he's seen from James, but Iguodala seems to be more conservative on offense these days; this season, his approach has had mixed results. Conversely, James's focus on making the "easy play" has also made him a much more effective player.
James didn't become an improved shooter this season because he feverishly worked on his jump shot during the lockout (although that may have been the case): he became better largely because he started taking better shots.
Even since his much heralded debut, James has had something of an affinity for spotting up from beyond the three-point line. But compared to two seasons ago, his three-point attempts per game have decreased by nearly 60 percent (5.1 attempts per game in 2009-10 compared to 2.1 this year). As a result, James is shooting a career-best 53.5 percent from the field.
Iguodala's field goal percentage, meanwhile, has been stagnant for the past three seasons as he continues to settle for long jumpers. While the 76ers' swingman is converting threes at a higher clip than ever before (40 percent), his scoring average has steadily declined over the past four seasons.
If Iguodala is mistaking James's newfound style for a lack of aggression, then he would be sorely mistaken. If anything, James attacks the basket just as much as ever.
Both players were among the best in the league at the rim last season, scoring better than 72 percent of the time. By while Iguodala's physical gifts and superb body control give him a decided edge in the paint, he's only averaging 2.5 shots at the rim per game—the lowest figure of his career.
Down in South Beach, James—he of the "easy play"—is actually attempting more shots at the rim this season as compared to last year. His simple philosophy of taking more high percentage shots has allowed his scoring average to remain relatively unchanged, despite the fact that he doesn't shoot it quite as often as he did in 2010-11.
With more than 22,000 minutes under his belt—many of those spent guarding the opposing team's best player—it's unlikely that Iguodala will be the 20/5/5 player that many thought he'd eventually blossom into. But Philadelphia fans aren't looking for the second coming of LeBron: they're looking for the first coming of a player who can potentially lead them to the promised land. And perhaps with a different mindset, Iguodala can become just that.
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