What really makes a player qualify for that distinction?
Is it popular opinion?
Favorable comparison to another elite player?
Is it success at the highest level, i.e.; championships?
Kobe Bryant is widely recognized as the closest thing to Michael Jordan there ever has been.
With no disrespect intended toward Harold Miner, most tend to agree. After all with three rings, various player awards there's no argument against Kobe's elite status.
LeBron James' game has been compared to Magic Johnson, a fact the Hall of Famer himself politely agrees to. That is still up for debate as LeBron has yet to acquire any jewelry of note, but there is no denying his status as one of the NBA's premier players.
Something both of these all-star players have in common.
Both have also been defended by Andre Iguodala. And they both have come away respecting the 6' 6" Small Forward for the 76ers.
And the rest of the league is beginning to take notice.
During the regular season, Andre averaged nearly 19 points per game along with six assists and six rebounds. To some, that's a modest stat line of a good player.
Of course the only other players to fill out the box score in that way are the two players constantly vying for the title of "League's best".
By virtue of that fact, then, does Andre Iguodala deserve to mentioned in the same breath as these two?
Not quite yet.
When Iguodala came into the league he had a teammate with the same initials alongside of him. This stunted his growth, but not in the way people automatically think.
When you have talent that dynamic on your team the humble player's naturally inclination is to defer to him.
Great as Kobe is, humility is not a dominant quality of his. At least on the court.
When LeBron came to the Cavs, let's face it; they sucked. It's the reason they were in a position to draft him in the first place. Even if he wanted to defer to someone else who would that have been??
So both these men, whether it be by circumstance or personality, decided to be the man for their respective teams early.
Iguodala had been used to giving the ball up. He was the guy who took on the opposing teams' toughest cover night in and night out, not the guy who takes the game winning shot.
It wasn't until the AI trade and subsequent release of Chris Webber, that we began to really see flashes of the player Iguodala could be.
Slowly he began being more vocal on the floor, shouldering more of the offensive load, he was on his way to becoming known as more than a great defender and finisher.
In the summer of 2008 Ed Stefanski attempted to locate a compliment to Iguodala's game. He came up with Elton Brand; a post presence to open up the shooting space for Andre.
Only one problem.
Although he is light-years ahead of where he was with his jumpshot when he entered the league, it's still not the most consistent part of his game. He has yet to develop a true post-up move or a mid-range jumper.
A fact evident while Brand was on the court.
Plus, Brand no longer commanded a double team as he had in times past, so now the lane was occupied by two big men. Forcing Iguodala to roam the perimeter where teams knew he could not hurt them as much.
It's no surprise that when Elton Brand was shelved for good this year that Iguodala's game began to round back into shape.
Even his jumper was finding twine more often than not, due to the additional space the fear of his dribble penetration creates.
But it's more than stats that make a player elite. The mark of an elite player is to want the ball when the game is on the line.
Everyone from the moment we pick up a basketball know the scenario. We practice it in drive-ways, backyards, courts, even at our desk jobs we shoot balled up paper into trashcans with the same mantra;
"3, 2, 1... (insert your team here) wins!!!"
It's another thing altogether to step into that moment, knowing that there are 11 other guys counting on you to make the shot and still take the shot.
With an entire stadium rooting either for or against you, there aren't many guys that have the fortitude to hold up in that situation. How many times have we seen guys pass up open looks for that very reason?
It requires a high level of confidence, a certain swagger, something markedly absent from Iguodala's game until recently.
Some Sixers fans may want to make the case for Iguodala being an elite player now and while I'd understand, I wouldn't agree.
There are still holes in his game; his jump shot is still not smooth, his left hand finish still needs a bit more polish, he needs more offensive moves in his arsenal, his overall aggressiveness is not yet there, don't get me started on the free-throw shooting...
Still these are all things he can improve, things that if he does work on he'll continue to slide up the scale. This is a player with tremendous upside:
He's a tenacious defender
He not only has to play the Kobe's, Pierce's and LBJ's of the world, he enjoys it. Much like great defenders in the past, there's nothing he enjoys more than frustrating an opponent.
He also is the trigger for the Sixers fast break offense, since his defense often ends up in a bad shot, defensive rebound and outlet to one of the Sixers streaking players.
He's a solid passer
The other night Orlando tried to make him a passer and take away his scoring. He responded by dishing out 11 assists. If not for some missed opportunities by teammates, that number could have been higher and the Sixers could have been up 3-1.
Passing is part vision, part desire to see other players score. Iguodala has both. As his game develops and he demands more attention, he will have more opportunities to be a facilitator and still get very good scoring numbers.
He is excellent off the dribble
Being able to create your own shot is a must in today's NBA. Guys are fast in getting through and over picks, so very few obvious mismatches occur in the half court offense.
For Iguodala, because of his speed and strength going to the basket most opponents are a mismatch on him. This means that if the opponent doesn't trap him forcing a pass, he's going to get what he wants out of most match-ups.
He's a fierce competitor
Some guys just like playing basketball and it's fun. Wins and losses matter very little to them as long as they're still getting paid. Those guys tend to end their career as a footnote, making no impact on the game itself.
Other guys, best guys, have a desire to win. As Larry Brown was fond of saying; "Play the game the right way, play hard, kick the other guy's butt." There's no question that Iguodala plays hard and plays the right way.
The potential is there and it is staggering sometimes, but all the potential in the world is nothing if that's all it remains, right Mr. Dalembert?
It's up to Andre to take that next step in his development.
The question now is: Will he?
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