Bob Ford: Sixers' Iguodala gets all-star recognition

Posted: February 26, 2012

Inviting a player whose reputation is that of an unselfish defensive specialist to the NBA All-Star Game is a little like inviting a house painter to exhibit at the Louvre, but when the spotlights shine in Orlando tonight, Andre Iguodala will take his low-wattage game onto the court and join his more gaudy contemporaries.

This is the first all-star selection for the 76ers swingman who is in his eighth NBA season. That's a long gestation for a top 10 draft pick, but most of Iguodala's career with the Sixers came at a time the franchise drifted into the shadows and, whether his fault or not, Iguodala's presence couldn't prevent that slide.

He has been a nice player and nothing more during a period in which the team needed a lot more. He plays a lot of games and plays a lot of minutes, does the dirty work, and earned a gold medal at the 2010 world championships for being willing to wash windows on a roster that prefers mirrors. It is an admirable mind-set and just might get him on the Olympic team this summer.

The All-Star Game is another matter, of course. Defense and dirty work are hard to find in the annual show, which has really gotten out of hand. Last year's 148-143 win for the West was the highest-scoring regulation game in NBA all-star history. It was fun, but not exactly a showcase for taking charges or jump-switch defense.

Still, if Iguodala was ever going to make the roster, this was the year. The Eastern Conference is packed with bad teams, and the Sixers have made a bit of a splash despite the five-game losing streak that took them to the break.

There aren't many cases to be made for players who should have made the team ahead of Iguodala. Detroit's Greg Monroe has the best argument, but he's young and will get another chance. Amar'e Stoudemire of New York and Josh Smith of Atlanta could feel slighted, too, but their teams are already represented by more talented teammates. Other than that, the list dwindles away.

Iguodala's 12.4-point average puts him just fourth on the Sixers' scoring list. Most players on the two all-star rosters either lead their teams in points or rebounds, or, as is the case with Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, they are second in scoring on their teams but the leading scorer is also on the roster. Another exception is Steve Nash, who leads the league in assists.

Iguodala is obviously an anomaly in this game, and while it would be too harsh to say he was a charity pick, it would also be too generous to say he was a slam-dunk selection. He's a shrug. Oh, all right. Why not?

With the Sixers, Iguodala is mostly appreciated these days for being underappreciated. It has become popular locally to posit that his actual value to the team will never be visible to average fans because they are blinded by his salary and the hype attached to him by previous administrations, and because his default body language is kind of a downer.

That's all true, as far as it goes. The franchise tried to sell Iguodala as the resident superstar after Allen Iverson was traded, regardless of the we-knew-he-wasn't-one history rewrite being attempted by those whose hands were on that portion of his career. And it certainly wasn't Iguodala's fault the Sixers decided to wildly overpay him.

Those factors added up, however, leading to a new sales pitch, which is that Iguodala is the perfect component for a cohesive team concept that will somehow overcome the league's domination by star players.

You can't listen to the spin for more than five minutes without hearing a reference to the 2004 Detroit Pistons championship team, an example of a classic sum-of-the-parts team that knocked off the star-laden Lakers in five games. Which is fine, too, except those Pistons were twice as talented as the Sixers.

With Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace under the basket, Larry Brown was able to let Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, and Tayshaun Prince pressure the perimeter ferociously. Detroit was primarily a defensive team, as are the current 76ers, that much is true. It is a handy comparison and something to grab onto as motivation for the Sixers, but that Pistons team had much, much better players.

Maybe the Sixers, with some key additions - Rasheed Wallace went to Detroit in a February trade that year - can become that kind of team. They aren't in the area code yet, though, and, barring lightning, don't figure to be during the effective playing career of Elton Brand, and possibly Iguodala himself.

So, this could well be Andre Iguodala's brightest NBA moment on Sunday night when the house lights dim and the spotlights find him introduced along with the others. He had to wait for this honor, just as he had to wait to be appreciated. All good things don't necessarily come to those who wait, but at least, after so many seasons, this one finally has.

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