Much of the Denver Nuggets' success this season has been attributed to the balance and depth on the roster, but the evidence continues to build on why Andre Iguodala will be the essential piece to the puzzle for Denver's playoff performance.
Iggy has been one of the most consistent players on the team who contributes in several different categories. The veteran is averaging 12.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals this season.
However, there are some aspects that stand out more than others.
Picking up the slack
There was a big question mark about how well Denver could perform after Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL on April 4 against Dallas (via Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com). Although, since the injury, the Nuggets are 4-1 (including the home game against Dallas) and earned three of those wins without Ty Lawson.
During this recent stretch, Iguodala is averaging 16.8 points, 9.4 assists, 8.2 rebounds and is plus-40 when on the court. This run also includes a triple-double against the San Antonio Spurs.
While Faried will be listed as day-to-day and is the only member of the Nuggets squad to start all 80 games this season, Iguodala is the man to help his team overcome another obstacle.
Iggy's well-rounded game, experience and hot streak will carry into the playoffs. His performances against the top clubs is one of the main reasons why the Nuggets don't have a losing record against any of the Western Conference playoff teams.
The Nuggets have done an excellent job sharing the basketball this season by dishing out 24.4 assists per game (third in NBA). As shown in this graph, Iguodala's ability to get everyone involved is one of the biggest keys to victories (does not include the two games Iguodala didn't play).
Furthermore, the two losses the Nuggets suffered when Iguodala had at least seven assists were by a combined four points. So, if you are picky and looking for that undefeated magic number, it's eight.
Iggy continues to rack up the assists in multiple ways. He attacks the basket and has the vision to hit the cutting guards or dump it off to the open big man. He can also force steals and instantly push the ball in transition for the fast-break points.
It's easy to say that a team will have a better chance of winning when the assist total is high, but Andre's difference is particularly significant.
Hitting the big shot
Players on the Nuggets have taken turns as to who is going to take the final shot, but Iguodala has been the man as of late. While he did miss a contested long-range jumper from well behind the arc at Dallas on April 12, Iggy's diverse scoring has brought him success in the clutch.
He can knock it down from the perimeter, even with a big guy like Joakim Noah charging at him with a hand in his face.
He also has the strength and speed to take it to the rim and convert in traffic.
There have been times where Ty Lawson has held the ball for the final shot in isolation or the pick-and-roll. Andre Miller had the same situation when Lawson was out, and Corey Brewer has had his moments from the perimeter in the final seconds as well. The list goes on.
Iguodala has the experience of being the go-to guy going back to his days at Philadelphia. That and his ability to drive and shoot at 6'6" make him the best option to hit the late basket.
Providing the Nuggets don't slip up at Milwaukee and in their home finale against Phoenix, Denver will take the No. 3 seed into the playoffs and have home-court advantage against likely Houston or Golden State. The Nuggets are 7-1 against the two franchises combined, with Iggy averaging 17.5 points.
Even though the Nuggets have one of the best offenses in the NBA behind a complete team effort, Iguodala is an icon for what this Denver team is all about. He does a little bit of everything, runs the floor in attack mode and expresses his passion every minute he's in the game. This consistency will be crucial in a seven-game series.
Iguodala also has his head is in the right place. Even though Denver reached a franchise record of 55 wins against Portland, Andre has a different goal in mind according to Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com.
“We really want to get to 57,” Iguodala said. “We’ve got to handle business and not just be satisfied. We’ve still got work to do and that’s what we have to realize. We have to buckle down and get it done.”
Andre Iguodala's effort, leadership and ability to elevate his teammates' play, will make the difference from a second-round exit to a possible run to the NBA Finals.