AS THE scrimmaging goes on, you see one player who seems just a little bit faster in the open floor than most. He is a defender who is always around the ball, who can shut down his man better than anyone, will get a rebound and start the break himself.
He shows a bit more lift, a bit more life, and more athleticism than his teammates. On this night, he is the best player on the floor - by a pretty wide margin.
It's been that way for most of the 5-day training camp for 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala. Despite the wish of many fans that he not be a part of the team anymore, that his 7-year stint with the club has run its course, there is no doubt he is the best all-around basketball player this team has right now. Like it or not.
Last season, Iguodala didn't hold that title for this team. Not because his skills had deteriorated, but because myriad injuries limited his body. At times, Iguodala's painful knee and/or Achilles' tendon made it seem as if he were playing in socks, each step taken so gingerly.
The wear and tear on his body was understandable. The 2009-10 season was typical for Iguodala - 82 games, 82 starts. Not long after the season, he was off to practice with the U.S. national team in preparation for the World Championships in Greece, which the USA won. Once that wrapped up, Iguodala basically went back to Chicago, gathered his belongings, drove down to Philadelphia and started his first training camp with new coach Doug Collins.
While his mind was set to go, go, go, his body, not surprising, had other ideas.
Early in the season he missed games with a strained right Achilles', the first time he missed a game/start after 252 straight. Later in the season a chronic problem in his right knee, chondromalacia, cost him not only more games, but also the ability to play at full bore. Still, he finished the season with respectable numbers of 14.1 points, 6.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds. It was a struggle throughout.
Now, his body 10 pounds lighter and devoid of aches and pains, Iguodala is back to the player he is.
"His legs are fresh, and we're seeing him scooting around the court," veteran Elton Brand said. "He's at the head of the defense, he's all over the place. The elevation on his jump shot . . . He looks great."
Collins, now seeing Iguodala up close at his best for perhaps the first time, agreed.
"He's doing great. Love his voice, things he's saying to his teammates, the leading and the teaching he's doing with the younger guys," Collins said. "He and Jrue [Holiday] have a real good connection on the floor together. I like the fact that he's being very aggressive offensively, that he's looking for his shot more, that he's playing the midrange game, playing off the dribble, which I like. I don't want to go in at halftime and see that he played 16 minutes and had one shot. He can impact the game in so many ways. If you average seven assists a game that almost puts you in the top 10 in assists. He can average six, seven rebounds. You start look at the small forwards in the league, and I'm not even going to talk about his scoring. I think he has first-team all-defense talent. He's going to get you assists, he's going to give you those rebounds, he's going to give steals and get you out in the open court. He's been really, really good. He's made me very, very happy.
"I think he would say he would look back on last year and he had a subpar year for him. In terms of the injuries didn't allow him to play to his full potential. He got hurt really early, missed some games. I don't think he was ever healthy, and that takes a mental toll on you. Dre had never really missed games, maybe he had missed seven games through his whole career. The first time you go through that, it's a tough time."
For now, that appears to be behind Iguodala. He looks to be in midseason form while teammates are understandably working through the aches and soreness that training camp brings.
"It's a lot different [from last season]," Iguodala said. "I haven't missed any practice time, I've been going through scrimmages without asking for a sub. I feel really good. I'm lighter, I'm about 10 pounds lighter than I was last year, take some added pressure off my knees."
Conditioning has never been a problem for Iguodala, but after a frustrating season, he thought changing his body a little bit might be beneficial, though maybe a little hurtful in some areas.
"It's gonna be a little harder to guard bigger guys," he said. "If I'm guarding a big 'three' like LeBron [James] or Gerald Wallace, the added weight helped a little bit. I just wanted to change up a little bit."
So far, it's been for the better.
Though no final decision has been made for the start of the season, what Collins said yesterday, Jodie Meeks appears to be the frontrunner to start at shooting guard over Evan Turner.
"[Iguodala]and Jrue have a really good feeling with [Iguodala handling the ball], and with Jodie out there with them, he's a great spacer for them [because of outside shooting]," Collins said. "Those three guys have played well, and then I'll figure out Evan and how he fits in there. We know how Lou [Williams] fits. I feel like our five perimeter guys can match up with anybody in the league."
Rookie big man Nikola Vucevic has struggled thus far in training camp, looking as if he has had weights on his legs.
"He's been waking up, like, 4 in the morning," Collins said. "On top of just coming in here and being in camp, the time change [from Montenegro, where Vucevic was playing] has kind of knocked him back a little bit. [Monday], his legs were absolutely dead. He even said it, he just had no life in him. We're going to work in between sessions on icing and getting a massage and all to try and get the juice back in his legs."
The team will have its final training camp workout at Saint Joseph's this morning, then host media day in the afternoon at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine . . . The first preseason game is Friday in Washington . . . Plans are in the works for the team to have an open practice at the Palestra on Sunday night, but it has not been confirmed.