Inside the Sixers: Iguodala doesn't have to take the last shot

Andre Iguodala (left), with Elton Brand on Friday, needs to change his end-of-game approach for the team's good.
Andre Iguodala (left), with Elton Brand on Friday, needs to change his end-of-game approach for the team's good.
Posted: April 03, 2011

If Andre Iguodala is truly the 76ers' leader, then he'll stop demanding the ball at game's end.

Not what you expected to read this Sunday, less than 48 hours since the Sixers clinched a playoff berth? Expecting more rah-rah platitudes and liberally distributed compliments - a fluffy, tasty, sinful milkshake?

Too bad.

The brilliance of this regular season has been covered - ad nauseam, really. The overachieving results, the staunch defense, the well-executed offense, the sparkling chemistry: It's all been written.

But now the stakes are rising.

There is only one more Sunday between now and the start of the NBA playoffs. There is little time, and even fewer words, remaining before the Sixers start playing the games that could turn a happy, fun season into a franchise-changing one. And if the Sixers don't revise their end-of-game script, this dream-like season will deteriorate into a meaningless, cliched final act: Upstarts Fall Hard Against Battle-Tested Veterans.

Almost certainly, given the Sixers' proclivity for competing with the best, a final possession will determine at least one of the team's first-round games. Probably even two of the games.

It's in these moments that Iguodala can change things.

A sort of cult-like, hero status is attributed to NBA players who possess the guts necessary for taking the final shot. It doesn't matter if it's the right decision, or if your skills match the situation; it matters only that you possess the cachet to demand the ball. Often, this is little more than destructive pride, the cost of which is an unnecessary loss. Flip through the Sixers' results. They already have a number on their tab.

For 47 minutes, his skill, defense, and selflessness raise the level of his teammates. It would be even better for Iguodala to stretch those 47 minutes a few seconds further.

For some reason, having your name announced last during starting introductions means you must also have the ball in your hands as the clock winds down.

Why? What more must Iguodala prove?

Leading isn't just about taking action, it's about knowing when not to take action, and it's about knowing when someone else's skills are superior in a given situation. In this situation, the one-on-one skills of Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday are most suited to late-game conditions, although the choice should always be dependent on which Sixer is hottest during that particular game.

Iguodala's offensive arsenal doesn't blindly complement a last-second situation. A prerequisite for creating that final shot is confident free-throw shooting. If you're certain of your ability to make two free throws, then you'll view that final possession with eyes wide: Each defender is like a money sign, another opportunity to draw a whistle. The whole court is yours. For this reason, you're free to stay on a linear path and cut a straight line toward the rim, never fading, never spinning, never dipping. And never fearing the contact that might lead to a call.

Iguodala doesn't possess that confidence; he doesn't want two free throws at game's end. He usually makes only one, which is a more exposed way of failing - standing alone at the free- throw line in front of 20,000 people - than almost any other in sports. So instead, Iguodala creates a low-percentage possession that almost always results in a fadeaway, off-balance jump shot or, occasionally, a high-degree-of-difficulty drive.

It's not fair to Iguodala, who is unnecessarily forcing his late-game offense as a means of proving his worldwide worth. And it's not fair to the Sixers, whose relentless persistence deserves better in the final seconds.

Such a change would take humility, not the NBA's most abundant quality, but Iguodala's maturity is a verifiable quantity. He can still manage these final possessions. He can still create openings for teammates and accumulate assists without holding the ball until the final seconds.

He does it for the first 47 minutes; why not tack on one more?


Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at kfagan@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DeepSixer3, and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on Philly.com.

 

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