Out of all the surprises with Team USA this summer, the sight of Andre Iguodala as Team USA's go-to defensive stopper had to be one of the most shocking to casual Sixers fans.
Iggy's been an above-average on-ball stopper for Philly for years, but no one was ready to compare him to 2005 Ron Artest any time soon.
Having just watched Iguodala harass Lithuania's leading scorer, Linas Kleiza, into a 1-of-11 shooting performance in the semifinals of the FIBA World Championships, I'm wondering how Iggy's defensive abilities have stayed under-the-radar for this long.
Regardless, Sixers fans can't assume that Iggy's performance at the World Championships will necessarily carry over to the NBA. As Kleiza and Luis Scola proved in this tournament, a superstar in FIBA play may only translate into a role player in the NBA.
If Iguodala does return stateside with his new defensive mentality, it'd only help the Sixers in the coming years. With the Sixers having just added Evan Turner with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Philly finally has a franchise cornerstone that will eventually be expected to shoulder the load offensively.
In other words, Iguodala doesn't have to be the No. 1 option on offense anymore.
No more bail-out, off-balance 28-foot jumpers. We'll leave that to the guys on the team who can actually sink those shots.
But what does Iguodala think about his own performance in the FIBA tournament, and how that'll transfer back to the NBA?
For his part, Iguodala acknowledges that he's playing a different role for Team USA than he does for the Sixers in his "Dre Diary" on philly.com:
"I know people back in Philly are looking at my offensive numbers and don't think that I'm playing that well, but that's not my role on this team. I am here to play defense, score out on the break, get some put-backs. That's how I'll score on this team.
The other guys on the team have to fill in where needed. If there are some nights that certain guys aren't scoring, then someone else will. If we need more rebounding on a certain night, then some guys can concentrate on that. Scoring hasn't been something that's needed from me so far on this team and we're winning so that's all that matters. It doesn't bother me at all not to be scoring a lot. I'll do whatever I have to do in order to win the gold medal.
I know my role in Philadelphia is different, and I'll have my time at training camp to get used to that role again. It won't be a problem for me to pick up that role again."
Am I the only one sitting here thinking, "Your role doesn't need to be different in Philadelphia, Andre?"
It's not like Iguodala should just stop shooting altogether, but if he stopped shooting three-pointers altogether, I wouldn't complain, given that he shot 31 percent from downtown this past season.
What should be most encouraging to Sixers fans is new coach Doug Collins, who's been one step ahead of the public in terms of Iguodala. For instance, back at his introductory press conference on May 24, Collins said:
"To me, if he's an all-league defender at that three spot, that means we're going to be able to get out and run and that's what we do best. I want him to use his jumper as a weapon, but I don't want him to have to live with jump shots because then he's not playing to his strengths."
What's this, Coach Collins? You realize Iguodala's the best defender on the team and should rightly assert himself as such?
And you want to actually run the fast break, much like Team USA's run-and-pressure system? Weird. (Sorry, I'm still stuck in the Eddie Jordan let's-grind-everything-to-a-halt-every-night offense.)
Collins also has gone on record this summer saying that he wants Iggy to take 100 more free throws next year and 100 less three-pointers; Iguodala called that "common sense."
So, has Iguodala's Team USA experience brought him the maturation as a basketball player to finally become confident in his strengths (rebounding, defense, ball movement) and weaknesses (shooting, shooting, and shooting)?
The way he's been playing in Turkey, we'd be led to believe so. Then again, with his quote about "his role being different in Philly," it sounds like Iguodala's ready to shoulder more of the scoring load for his NBA team than he's asked to do for Team USA.
Luckily, given Collins' soundbites this summer, he sounds like he's got the right ideas when it comes to Iguodala's development. If Collins can convince Iguodala to emulate his Team USA role with the Sixers—playing tenacious, in-your-face defense, running the floor well, and converting on easy offensive opportunities—Iguodala could become a dream No. 2 option to the versatile Turner.
All of Philadelphia should have their fingers crossed that Iguodala doesn't forget the lessons he's learned over in Turkey with Team USA. The Sixers' season likely depends on it.