by user David J. Cohen
The Sixers season is over. Once again they will fall short of the playoffs. And with it begins the talk of whether Sixers G Allen Iverson should be traded both for his sake and for the team’s sake. And as the debate rages on the same image of Iverson is portrayed. He’s selfish. The ball must always go through his hands. He has to get his shots or he’s unhappy. He is built up as a great scorer, but as one that cannot help a contender because of his inability to share the ball. Professional NBA analysts and fans across the nation share a similar idea and see a similar image of Iverson as a player. This idea of Iverson is considered a fact of life. It’s the accepted belief of Allen Iverson as a ball-hog.
It’s the biggest myth in the NBA today.
Allen Iverson has come a long way since he left Georgetown en route to the NBA 10 years ago. It was obvious early that he was a great scorer. He scored more points than any rookie in Sixers history and had a stretch where he scored 40 in 5 straight games as a rookie, setting an NBA record. But he also had attitude problems. He was selfish. He only cared about himself and his numbers. Early in his career he and his coaches were at odds several times. For years these behavioral problems persisted as they carried over off the court. Iverson was involved in a couple of domestic disputes. Despite all this the Sixers made the NBA finals in 2001 under Head Coach Larry Brown. Yet the on-court attitude problems persisted for Iverson. It all reached hit a pinnacle at the end of the 2003 season, when Brown left Iverson to build the modern day Detroit Pistons.
Then in 2004 the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball team was assembled. It was a mix of the league’s upcoming stars and a couple of veterans. The person to assume leadership was the oldest member of the team. Surprisingly it was Iverson. Also in a twist of irony the head coach of the team was Brown, the same guy Iverson battled wits against for years in Philadelphia. It would have been easy, and at the time Iverson-like for A.I. to go against his coach and just coast through the Olympics. Instead a mature Iverson emerged. He did his best as a leader and seemed to be the only player that cared about his country during the tournament. Sure, the team finished 3rd and disgraced itself in front of the whole world but that was certainly not Iverson’s fault. It was more the result of assembling an all-star team that couldn’t function together because of major flaws in the make-up of the roster. The true problem with US basketball was displayed in that our players didn’t care. Except for Iverson (yet he was left off the current Olympic team, making him the scapegoat for the US failure, which is a travesty). The Olympics were a drastic failure for our country but was the pivotal moment in the development and maturity of A.I.
Iverson became a leader. He wanted to win. The problem was that his team had no talent. So the Sixers made a move to bring in recuperating F Chris Webber. Immediately things did not mesh and the Sixers faded away. With some games under their belt heading into this season many had the Sixers as a shoe-in to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Obviously that hasn’t happened, and many analysts and fans blame Iverson as the cause for not getting along and working with Webber. Personally I think this problem is mostly fiction and a ploy by the media to make this team worth covering. If you look at the numbers both players have been highly productive this year. The problem has been getting the rest of the team going. Webber came from a Kings system that centered on ball movement. In Philadelphia the offense runs through the point guard in Iverson. There is barely any movement because the rest of the Sixers are mostly stagnant on offense and don’t seem to know how to cut and set screens. Also, if you look at the roster you can’t find another solid ball handler to help run the offense. This addresses the real problem with the Sixers: the supporting cast is terrible.
So the Sixers are out of the playoffs again and everyone is wielding the axe at Iverson. People believe the Sixers need to move on without A.I. in order to rebuild their franchise. Many say that A.I. simply isn’t a team player and can’t make everyone else better. This is where I strongly disagree.
At first, looking at his numbers would seem to suggest that Iverson is just scoring and shooting a lot. He is averaging 33 points a game, which is 2nd in the league behind the NBA’s self-proclaimed ball-hog Kobe Bryant. And he is 2nd in the league in shot attempts per game. Several circumstances support Iverson here as not just shooting for the hell of it. He is the go-to guy on this team and is relied on to shoot the Sixers back into games when they get behind. And that happens often. The Sixers fall into severe mental lapses on defense and Iverson can’t guard all five players on the other team. The fact that the Sixers have to battle from behind a lot also contributes to the other knock on Iverson offensively: his shooting %. He has to take many bad shots because the offense is so stagnant in the half-court. Despite this Iverson is shooting a fraction under 45% for the season, his best shooting year since the 97-98 season. The inability of the supporting cast to contribute shows in many places. The Sixers have one of the worst benches in the league when it comes to production. The top 3 players on the team: Iverson, Webber, and G Andre Iguodala, combine for over 62% of the scoring. That can’t get it done in the NBA. Further proof that the supporting cast forces a couple of players to take the majority of the shots can be seen in Webber’s numbers. It is worth mentioning to those that say he is finished as a big-time NBA contributor that he has put up strong numbers this year. He is averaging 20.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game, virtually a double-double a night. He is 8th in the league in rebounding. With the success of him and Iverson they must be at least cohesive together on the court. The proof that the supporting cast can’t support the team is shown in this stat for Webber: he is 12th in the league in shot attempts per game. The Sixers are the only team with two guys in the top 15 in this category. A.I. has to shoot a lot, and thus score a large % of his teams points because there is not much around to help him. Iguodala is still young, still developing his jump shot, and is still tentative to assert himself in the offense. Webber cannot create his own shot off the dribble. G Kyle Korver is strictly a set-up 3-point shooter and A.I. does set him up for open shots by driving to the hole. C Samuel Dalembert has talent but seems destined to mediocrity. Here is their bench: F John Salmons, C Steven Hunter, G Willie Green, F Matt Barnes, G Kevin Ollie, and F Shavlik Randolph. You can see why they don’t get much from the bench. It’s not Iverson’s fault the team is so weakly built. That falls on the GM. This weak supporting cast is also the reason Iverson is always on the floor. He is 1st in the league in minutes played. Thus, Iverson is expected to shoulder the offensive load while virtually never leaving the floor. That explains the high amount of shots.
The biggest argument made against Iverson is that he doesn’t involve the rest of his team and that he doesn’t pass the ball. This is where the myth of the ball-hogging Iverson is truly shattered. Iverson is 8th in the league in assists per game and 7th in total assists. He averages 7 and a half a game. That’s right. Iverson passes the ball and creates opportunities for his teammates, and he’s one of the NBA’s best at it. Add to it the fact that the rest of the team struggles offensively and it’s reasonable to say this number would be greater if the Sixers converted on good looks regularly. Iverson records more assists then some of the most glorified players in the league. He gets more assists than Heat star G Dwayne Wade. He gets more than the player deemed by many to be too unselfish: Cavs G LeBron James (who is averaging 31.4 points a game, showing that a player can light up the scoreboard while being a team player). He averages an assist and a half higher per game than Spurs G Tony Parker. Obviously the image of Iverson as a player unwilling to share the ball is simply ridiculous. The numbers don’t lie. A.I. is willing to share the ball, it’s just that other people have to get open and show that they want it.
Then there’s Iverson’s toughness, grit, and desire to win. He easily takes the most punishment of any player in the league today. He is always playing through pain to be there for his team. He is a small man in size for the NBA at 6 feet, 165 lbs but continues to drive it to the hoop and take blows from much bigger men. He is 1st in the league in free-throw attempts, and there’s a reason for it. He continues to take the ball inside and get hammered. A player that didn’t care for his team and didn’t care about winning would not put himself through this type of grueling punishment night after night, even though he has the ability to better his team by drawing contact. Exhibit A: Knicks G Stephon Marbury. Exhibit B: Knicks G Steve Francis. Exhibit C: Knicks C Eddy Curry. I guess this explains why they were on the cusp of a 60-loss season.
When you put it all together, Iverson is one of the best contributors to the well-being of his team in all of the NBA. He is 7th in the league in steals per game, adding to the other numbers: 2nd in scoring per game, 8th in assists per game, and 2nd in free-throws per game. Iverson’s total production comes together to form the 8th most efficient player in the league, placing him ahead of consistent performers like Spurs F Tim Duncan, Suns G Steve Nash, and Grizzlies F Pau Gasol. He is clearly one of the best players in this league right now and in no way a detriment to his team.
With the raw deal he has received in Philly I hope the Sixers trade him. I hope he ends up on a contending team with a solid supporting cast. Then A.I. can be rewarded for his efforts in the standings. And then the league will be truly surprised when Iverson plays the way he has this season, as he solidifies himself as one of the top guards in this league. To me, if Iverson was on a team good enough for him to truly take advantage of his abilities he would be near the top of the league in assists as his teammates knock down good shots created by him slashing to the hoop. Then Iverson could take the shots as they come to him and not have to force up tough looks. His shooting % would improve, making him even more dangerous when he drives.
If Allen Iverson ends up on a balanced team next season he will be a frontrunner for MVP.
Mon 04/17/06, 10:06 pm EST