While trying to squeeze 11 players happily into a rotation that undoubtedly won’t be that deep, Arizona coach Sean Miller received the perfect teaching tool last weekend.
Andre Iguodala showed up.
The former Wildcat not only has been an NBA All-Star, an NBA Finals MVP and an Olympic gold medalist — while earning $152 million so far — but also a player who accepted a sixth-man role on a Golden State Warriors team that won NBA titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
“His comments resonate,” Miller said, “because you can only imagine the narrative that he has: That when you’re on a really good team, it’s amazing how things happen for you as an individual player. And vice versa — when you’re not, it doesn’t count quite as much. I think he embodies that.”
Iguodala spent three days in Tucson, working out on his own while visiting with UA players and attending the Wildcats’ 83-53 win over New Mexico State on Wednesday.
Iguodala’s NBA career is in limbo after Golden State traded him to Memphis. Iguodala did not report to Memphis and is now waiting for the Grizzlies to trade him or his contract to be bought out.
Iguodala’s next step is uncertain, but his track record suggests it will be eventful.
“He’s such an interesting person; he transcends just being an NBA player,” Miller said. “His experience in the NBA is just unprecedented. I mean, he’s won a gold medal on a dream team (with USA Basketball in the 2012 Olympics). He’s won multiple NBA championships, he’s won MVP of the finals, he’s been a sixth man, he’s been a starter. It’s just incredible to follow his career.
“So when he talks, our team clearly listens to him more than they do to me. No doubt about it.”
The message came at precisely the right time. During four lopsided wins so far this season, the Wildcats have been sorting through a roster of 11 active players, all of whom have made arguments for being in the rotation.
But there won’t be an 11-man rotation at Arizona. Nor a 10-man rotation. Maybe nine, but that’s typically as deep as Miller will regularly go.
“It’s not easy to play nine and 10 guys. It isn’t,” Miller said. “What you hope you can get out of doing that is constant effort for 40 minutes, a wearing-down effect, both on offense and on defense, and in quality play.”
Although Miller has used the same starting lineup for all four games so far — Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Dylan Smith, Zeke Nnaji and Chase Jeter — even that could be tweaked. Miller said he could keep sticking with that lineup or use different lineups throughout the season, though that’s something he doesn’t normally do.
But for now, there’s little for Miller to complain about. Ten players are averaging at least 15 minutes a game and no more than Josh Green’s 28.3, allowing everyone to stay fresh on both ends of the court.
Partly as a result, the UA is 14th nationally in field goal shooting percentage (57.2) and 10th in field goal percentage defense (33.2). The Wildcats are also ninth nationally in two-point field goal percentage defense (36.9), reflecting in part better ball-screen defense from Nnaji and the other big men.
“When we buckle down and really focus on what we’re supposed to do — getting in the gaps, closing out, all that stuff, and rebounding,” Nnaji says, “I think that we can be a great defensive team.”
The way Miller looks at it, they should be able to buckle down all the time as a team because there’s always somebody to bring energy off the bench.
“It’s almost, well, shouldn’t your team always play with great effort? But there’s a difference,” Miller said. “There’s a difference between playing hard and concentrating and playing with just incredible effort. So with our depth, we’re able to sub, we’re able to get our guys breaks. They’re able to play for stretches of the game with great intensity.”
And if they don’t play with that great intensity, Miller can simply pull them out for somebody who will. He said the Wildcats have consistently had “constant pressure” to perform in practice, while players can be yanked at any moment in a game if they aren’t cutting it.
There’s always somebody waiting to get on the court. Somebody that Miller can trust.
“That’s a good problem to have,” Miller said. “The bad problem is you just can’t wave a magic wand when nobody’s over there on the bench. Or you sub and everybody knows, including the starters, that you can’t do that very often. That also has an effect. It wears your own team down.
“We’re far from that right now. Hopefully we can continue to take advantage of the depth that we have.”