It wasn't LeBron James, the self-proclaimed King nor was it the regular season MVP Stephen Curry adding another trophy to their collection -- but Andre Iguodala unprecedentedly coming out on top in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Prior to the Finals, the Vegas odds had listed Andre Iguodala as a 125-1 pick to take home the Finals MVP award. It was especially uncommon for a reserve to win this individual honor -- let alone a season-long reserve. From Dan Feldman of NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk:
Here are the six Finals MVPs who account for the 10 games off the bench in the regular season:
- 1988: James Worthy (LAL) – 3
- 1989: Joe Dumars (DET) – 2
- 1984: Larry Bird (BOS) – 2
- 2002: Shaquille O’Neal (LAL) – 1
- 1986: Larry Bird (BOS) – 1
- 1982: Magic Johnson (LAL) – 1
To put everything into perspective, Iguodala stepped on uncharted territory by coming off the bench for all regular season games (played in 77) and 18 of 21 playoff games (started NBA Finals Games 4-6) while emerging as the Finals MVP. It might seem atrocious to give the MVP to a player who averaged under 18 points per game, shot below 40% from the free-throw line and allowed the opposing player to rack up one of the best statistical lines in NBA Finals history. When looking at LeBron's basic numbers, some may jump to conclusion that Iguodala barely slowed him down.
However, Andre Iguodala is worthy and deserving of the Bill Russell Award. This should come as no fluke or surprise and here's why.
A year ago, Kawhi Leonard won the Finals MVP while guarding LeBron James. Leonard, one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league today did a magnificent job on James but it can be said that Iguodala accomplished a greater feat from an efficiency standpoint. Per ESPN Stats & Information, James shot 58% from the field against Leonard in the 2014 Finals and an abysmal 33% with Iguodala as the defender. While it is hard to 'stop' LeBron James, it is not impossible to wear him down.
As the primary defender on James, Iguodala contested and forced him into tough shots throughout the entire series. James was often seen trying to get a jumper up with the shot-clock winding down because of great on-ball defense by Iguodala in the isolation. Besides that, Iguodala has also been discipline by rarely switching off of James. ESPN Stats & Information states that of the 90 possessions where Iguodala started off on James, the Cavaliers could only force him to switch 18 times (20 percent).
According to SI's Lee Jenkins, Iguodala has literally been preparing for matchups against James, studying his tendencies and moves for years. Here are James' statistics with Iguodala on bench versus Iguodala on court:
Iguodala on Bench: 44% FG, 82% FT, 47% eFG, +30 +/-, 107.4 offrtg, 88.6 defrtg, +18.8 netrtg
Iguodala on Court: 38% FG, 66% FT, 41% eFG, -55 +/-, 94.1 offrtg, 109.7 defrtg, -15.5 netrtg
Catalyst for the team
The Warriors were exponentially better with Iguodala on the floor. By inserting him into the starting lineup, Golden State regained control of the pace of the game, playing small-ball to their advantage by exposing the Cavaliers' on offense. Iguodala helped open up the floor for the offense to thrive and he was often wide-open as a result. Furthermore, his versatility gave the Warriors' options to switch on pick-and-rolls while his ability to run the floor produced a number of fastbreak opportunities.
Iguodala's on court net rating was second best among Warriors' players behind only Marresse Speights who played sparingly. Additionally, Golden State had their lowest offensive rating with Iguodala off the court. These are the Warriors' numbers with Iguodala on bench compared to Iguodala on court:
Iguodala on Bench: 91.2 offrtg, 100.2 defrtg, -8.9 netrtg, 83.8 pts per 48 min
Iguodala on Court: 108.8 offrtg, 91.6 defrtg, +17.2 netrtg, 101.9 pts per 48 min
Rising to the occasion
As mentioned before, Iguodala had not started a game this season prior to Game 4 of the NBA Finals. However, that did not stop him from producing on both ends of the floor. While he was tabbed with guarding the best player in the world, Iguodala also held his own offensively. Iguodala rebounded the ball, slashed to the basket, set up his teammates, and found ways to score. Arguably Golden State's most important two-way player in the Finals, Iguodala did not disappoint when asked to log heavier minutes.
Iguodala Regular Season: 26.9 min, 7.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 47% FG, 35% 3P, +5.7 +/-
Iguodala Finals: 37.1 min, 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.0 apg, 53% FG, 40% 3P, +10.3 +/-
In the regular season, Iguodala was utilized as the 'glue guy' off the bench. He was tasked with stabilizing the second unit and facilitating the offense as a secondary playmaker. Iguodala's impact in the NBA Finals goes beyond just an energy player. Often unnoticed on the surface, his effect on the series stretched beyond the box-scores.
Players coming off the bench in the regular season who went on to win Finals MVP has been a rare feat in the NBA but Iguodala's amazing play defied the odds. It was LeBron who carried an injury-rattled Cavaliers team and Curry who led the Warriors in scoring, but it was Iguodala's all-around contribution that decided the outcome of the NBA Finals.
Credit the 'special assistant to the head coach' Nick U'Ren for coming up with the idea of a lineup adjustment.
Credit Steve Kerr for taking advice and implementing suggestions from all members of the organization as well as trusting his squad to execute the game plan.
But most importantly, credit the 2015 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, Andre Iguodala for stepping up when it all mattered -- helping the Warriors 'be championship'.