by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad

Andre Iguodala at No. 34? For real?

When Ryne first sent me the assignment, I thought I could name 35+ players better than him right off the bat. Shit, he’s never even been named to an All-Star team. That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of Dre, I’ve always admired his transition game, and from the interviews I’ve seen of him, he seems like an intelligent, genuine dude.

But after a lackluster season I was surprised to see his name on the Top 50 list, and even more shocked to see him ranked even higher last year. Being that I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Zona alum—shouts to Michael Dickerson, Mustafa Shakur and Loren Woods—I did some digging and discovered that Andre might be more valuable to whatever team he may play for next year than any naysayer would like to admit.

The city of Philly certainly doesn’t show Andre Iguodala much brotherly love. Granted, Illadelph is notorious for having some of the most ruthless fans in the land, and when I recently asked a Sixers fan (what up Dee?) his opinion of Dre, his response was too expletive-laden for print.

Perhaps it’s the burden of trying to fill the shoes of one of the city’s most beloved superstars in Allen Iverson, or the huge contract and underwhelming performances that leave much to be desired by the 76ers faithful. Maybe the criticism is unjustfied, though.

Iguodala is still the top player on an emerging Sixers squad, and at times forced to take the big shots due to the rest of the team’s inexperience. But numbers don’t lie. While playing most of the 2010 season banged up, Iguodala saw his points per game average drop from 18 to 14, and his shooting percentage was on par with his career low of 44 percent which he shot in 2009—certainly no way to win over a waning fan base.

In all honesty, I feel a little sorry for Iguodala. In the words of Money Mayweather, Dre doesn’t always get a “fair shake” from the fans or media. Maybe he was undeserving of an $80 million contract, but if you were making 40k a year, then were offered 100k a year for the same job, would you turn it down? It’s not his fault that management offered him superstar money when he isn’t a superstar caliber player (hence the League’s current bickering over a CBA).

It’s not as if Dre has shied away from attempting to turn himself into a star. He is always more than willing to take an ill-advised shot in the fourth quarter, but he just lacks that “it” factor and killer instinct that the big time players of the League possess.

In crunch time the Lakers can always depend on Kobe to take and hit a big shot. The Mavs know that when the game is on the line, Dirk is going to step up and make a play.

The best Dre can offer, though, is a forced turnover and a dunk in transition, a tough feat against veteran teams that take care of the ball late in the game. He lacks that clutch factor which became incredibly blatant during the Sixers-Heat first-round matchup during last year’s Playoffs.

Along with signing him to a huge deal, the Sixers front office also kept his name in the news by making him readily available to seemingly every team in the L last season. Despite constant trade rumors swirling his name, it must be noted that Iguodala continued to go out every night and play hard for Philly despite being hurt. And unlike other superstar players never openly complained or let the rumors hurt team chemistry, evidenced by a surprising .500 record and Playoff birth by the young Sixers.

What Dre does bring to the table is consistency. Although he is not the unstoppable scorer that Philly fans want him to be, he fills up the box score on a nightly basis. His averages of 14, 6 and 6 last year put him in the company of Bron as the only other player to average 14, 5 and 5 per game.

Last season not withstanding, he is always on the court. From ‘04-’09 he only missed six games total, and has averaged 38 minutes a game for his career. He remains one of the best finishers on the break, and keeps defenders wary of the camera when they see him coming through the lane (right Brian Cardinal?).

Dre also remains one of the best perimeter defensive players in the League. Night in and night out he was asked to guard the other team’s top scorer, no small feat in the East, and every night he gave opposing teams fits. His defensive prowess certainly caught the attention of the rest of the NBA, as he was named to the All-Defenisve Second-Team following last season.

The Summer of 2010 should have put a lot of competing teams GMs on notice as far as how Andre could be an fit in with the right team. During the FIBA World Championships, Iguodala proved that he could be the ultimate role player for a contender. Since he didn’t have to carry the team offensively during the competition, Iguodala was able to pick his spots, play more of a facilitating role, get out on the break, and provide lock down defense on the wing. If I was a GM looking for the right player to put my team over the hump, I would have been salivating over Iguodala’s performance, and doing everything in my power to acquire him, especially since he seemed so readily available.

And if Dre does get that change of scenery and lands on a contending team, I can foresee the hate only growing stronger amongst snakebitten Philly fans after they see him hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy and popping bottles with his new teammates. And if that’s the case, Dre’s ranking is completely warranted, and he may even pop up higher next year.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Luol DengBullsSF8
49Andrew BogutBucksC7
48Ray AllenCelticsSG9
47Marc GasolGrizzliesC6
46David WestHornetsPF15
45Kevin MartinRocketsSG8
44Andrew BynumLakersC5
43Brandon JenningsBucksPG11
42Lamar OdomLakersPF14
41Gerald WallaceBlazersSF7
40Brook LopezNetsC4
39Joakim NoahBullsC3
38Carlos BoozerBullsPF13
37Kevin GarnettCelticsPF12
36Eric GordonClippersSG7
35Tony ParkerSpursPG10
34Andre Iguodala76ersSG6

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.