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Mr. Iguodala, It's Time to Step Your Game Up

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With recent reports that Andre Iguodala was "lighting it up" for Team USA during practices and scrimmages in preparation for the FIBA World Championships, Philly fans have to be stoked about what they can expect from their best player this upcoming season.  His coach for Team USA, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, called Iggy "beautifully efficient" after an intrasquad on July 24.  In that scrimmage, Iguodala scored 17 points on just six field goal attempts and also had six assists and five rebounds in just 23 minutes.  USA Basketball Chairman, Jerry Colangelo, even offered more praise with this quote,

"He's an incredible defender.  Andre can really guard anyone on the court. And if we're going to become the kind of team we might become, which is small, we want to pressure - and defense is going to be a real important part of it. So he brings a lot to the table. He may be the most athletic guy that we have."

That’s pretty strong acclaim considering the team boasts such athletic freaks as Gerald Wallace, Rudy Gay, and Kevin Durant.  Though the first cuts won’t happen until July 28, it appears that Iguodala has endeared himself to the team’s brass and has all but locked in a prominent role for the FIBA Games.  After six years of being an underrated player in Philly, now (literally) the whole world can see how gifted a player he truly is.

However, there’s one more quote from Coach K about Iggy that on the surface seems complimentary but could also be construed as an indirect criticism (especially from Sixers fans).  When describing what type of player Iguodala is, Coach K said the following,

"I think any of these guys will tell you he’s an easy guy to play with. He doesn't need the ball. You need guys out there who don't have to touch the ball long."

The optimistic Sixers fan would say that quote means Iguodala is an unselfish player who can control the game without possessing the ball.  But the pessimistic fan would say, "We didn’t give the guy an $80 million contract for him to be a spectator.  He NEEDS to have the ball in his hands for us to be successful (and for the Sixers to get their money’s worth).  Granted this is a quote about Iggy on the national team, but that same thought can be carried over to the 76ers.  This is his team.  Elton Brand is a shell of his former All-Star self and Evan Turner is too young and unproven to be "The Man".  Iggy can’t have the mindset of a player that wants to do all of the little things in order to help his team win.  There’s a big difference between a player solely having the ability to be great as opposed to a player having the mindset along with the ability to be great.  Grant Hill, Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Penny Hardaway and currently Dwight Howard all had/have the ability to be some of the greatest players of all time but all were seem as either too nice or too unselfish to be "The Man."  While it may seem as admirable and commendable by the outside world to possess these qualities, around basketball circles there is a negative stigma attached to those kind of players and the words Coach K said about Iguodala lead me to believe that he’s cut from a similar cloth as the guys are listed above.

The Sixers’ captain is arguably the best swingman in the NBA not to make an All-Star team and now he has the luxury of being coached by the same guy who developed Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill, Allan Houston and Richard Hamilton into All-Stars.  But a coach can only bring so much out in a player and it’s usually the physical skills that he develops.  It’s on the player himself to dig deep and find the internal motivation to display his "killer instinct".  Most people would say that while LeBron James was in Cleveland, he never had the killer instinct that Jordan, Bird or Kobe had.  They would also say that on July 8, 2010, the night of "The Decision," James essentially killed his killer instinct by taking his talents to South Beach where he can be the selfless individual that doesn’t have to be "The Man."

While Iguodala clearly isn’t in the same class of LeBron James, hopefully he can learn a thing or two about how to conduct himself as the franchise guy.  And even though Coach K will just be Iguodala’s coach for a couple of weeks, hopefully his words will be used as a source of motivation for Iggy to take the next step instead of him growing comfortable with the role of a complimentary player.  It may not be this season, and it may not even be with the Sixers, but hopefully one day Andre Iguodala can maximize his potential so that people will stop calling him "one of the most underrated players in the game" and instead call him, simply "one of the best players in the game."