Andre Iguodala has been given much more responsibility than most NBA rookies, especially on the defensive end.
The 76ers' first-round draft pick draws the assignment of guarding the toughest player on every team except the center. Last week, he guarded the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Cleveland's LeBron James in successive games. The two all-stars shot a combined 9 for 35. The Sixers won both games.
Sixers assistant Dick Harter has been coaching in the NBA for two decades, and he says that no rookie has had as much defensive responsibility in that time as Iguodala, the ninth pick in last June's draft.
"Back when Joe Dumars was a rookie [with Detroit], he guarded the top players, but he didn't play the minutes Andre is playing," Harter, a former Pistons assistant, said before the Sixers' 94-88 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the Wachovia Center.
"In my 20 years, [Iguodala] is getting as much thrown at him as any rookie, and he's done a really nice job."
Dumars, now the Pistons' president of basketball operations, started 45 of 82 games as a rookie guard in 1985-86 and averaged 9.4 points in 23.8 minutes per game.
Iguodala has started all 66 games for the Sixers this season. He is averaging 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 32.1 minutes. He has already played more games than he did in his two-year college career at the University of Arizona, where he appeared in 62.
Among rookies, only Charlotte's Emeka Okafor is playing more minutes per game than Iguodala. Okafor, chosen second in the draft, is averaging 35.6 minutes. Orlando's Dwight Howard, the top pick, is just behind Iguodala at 32.0. Iguodala leads all rookies with 1.62 steals per game.
The 6-foot-6 Iguodala came up with a block for the ages during Friday's 93-81 victory in Cleveland when he chased down 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas and snuffed what looked like a sure layup. He said it was only the second-best block of his young NBA career.
"I had one our first home game against [Phoenix's] Amare Stoudemire that I would say was my best," he said.
Iguodala conceded that guarding prolific scorers on a nightly basis has been difficult.
"It's really tough night in and night out, but it's a great experience," he said.
That feeling was amplified by a conversation Iguodala had with the Sixers' other A.I. - Allen Iverson.
"He told me that when he was a rookie, in games when he didn't have to guard somebody tough, he didn't bear down as much defensively," Iguodala said. "With the assignments I'm getting, it makes you bear down every night."
Harter said the Sixers have put so much defensive responsibility on a rookie for a simple reason.
"We don't have a lot of other great perimeter defenders, and he has to do it," he said.
Not every night has been a slam dunk on the defensive end for Iguodala. In Saturday's loss, he had to guard both Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls' starting point guard, and Ben Gordon, their super sub at shooting guard. Gordon scored eight of his 22 points in the fourth quarter with Iguodala on him, including two three-pointers.
"I'm learning every game," Iguodala said. "This has been quite an education."
Sixers coach Jim O'Brien said he couldn't be happier with the progress of Iguodala.
"He has really taken his game to a nice level," O'Brien said. "Early in the season, he got the starting nod because we thought he could guard the other team's best players, and to be able to get that experience has been great for his development."