Looking Foward: Allen Iverson

So far, I’ve only covered teams in my “Looking Forward” series. Today, I’m going to make an exception and talk about a player: Allen Iverson. Why? Well, he’s an important guy. Or, at least, he was an important guy. And I’m not sure he’ll end up playing in the NBA next season.

Let’s be clear: I don’t want to see Iverson out of the league. I’ve loved watching him play for over a decade. When the Sixers traded him, I was mad at them. When the Nuggets traded him last season, I immediately bought tickets to what I thought would be his Pistons debut in Toronto (he debuted two nights later in a loss to the Nets). However, when the Pistons shut him down in April due to a shady “back injury”, I completely understood. The Pistons needed him to be a complementary player rather than the focal point of their offense, and he couldn’t do it.

When Allen Iverson was in his prime, in Philadelphia, he was surrounded by guys like Theo Ratliff, Dikembe Mutombo, Raja Bell, Matt Harpring, Keith Van Horn, Tyrone Hill, Todd MacCulloch, Eric Snow, and Aaron McKie. These guys range from shot-blockers to defensive stoppers to distributors to rebounders to spot-up shooters. Guys like Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes, who wanted the ball in their hands to score, did not fit in well with Iverson, so they were shipped out. Those Philly teams were built this way because of Iverson’s style – with the ball in his hands, he was a threat from anywhere on the court. He attracted so much attention from opposing defenses that some of his bad shots functioned as assists. We all loved the way he hit seemingly impossible shots over guys far bigger and stronger than him, with a swagger that said he would make the next shot no matter how many of them rimmed out. Sixer fans appreciated the way those teams played tough defense, making life a pain for opposing teams every night. Sure, those teams never won a title, but they were a fixture in the playoffs and even got to the finals one year. Iverson was a legitimate megastar.

The problem, now, is that Iverson isn’t really a star anymore. At 34 years of age, he’s past his prime. Sure, he can still score. In fact, his shooting percentages haven’t slipped as much as you might think (they were never that good to begin with). However, anyone who’s watched him recently can tell that he’s lost a step. He can’t out-quick every opposing defender in the league anymore. He can’t stay with guys on the defensive end anymore. He doesn’t make the same seemingly impossible plays in the paint that he used to. His strengths now are being able to create his shot, his still-above-average speed, his ability to occasionally make a nice pass, and his ability to play the passing lanes. That’s about it.

Still, these are good things for an NBA player to have, at any age. The problem lies in the fact that his flaws might outweigh his strengths at this point. The swagger that I talked about, the attitude that makes him always think he can always get a shot off and the next one is going in? He needed that on teams that lacked other creators. He needed that when he was counted on to score. At this point, though, all the swagger does is ensure that he still takes a whole lot of jumpers. These are two-point jumpers, low percentage ones, often contested. In Detroit, when Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were perfectly capable of scoring efficiently, this hurt the team. Despite his steal totals, Iverson was never a very good defender, so, once they realized that he was no help offensively, it made perfect sense to shut him down and admit the experiment was a failure.

Iverson is cursed, now, by the habits he’s developed over the years. He’s still got NBA-level skills but his possession-killing ways mean that he doesn’t fit into most systems. Guys his age generally sign with good teams, with the hope that they can put them over the hump. Take Antonio McDyess, for example. He signed with San Antonio this summer and will presumably start at the 4. He’s not going to put up great numbers or take a ton of shots, but he will fit into their system and help them win. If I was playing a pickup game, I’d still take Iverson over McDyess, but it’s perfectly understandable why McDyess got the full mid-level exception from San Antonio for 2 guaranteed years and Iverson is still waiting to find a team. Sadly, I’m really not sure if there are ANY teams in the league that can use him. The Rockets, without Yao and McGrady, remind me a lot of his Sixer teams, but they have not been linked to Iverson at all. The Heat are kind of similar, but they already have a much more efficient version in Dwyane Wade and I’m not sure they need AI there to take possessions away from him. Still, the rumours persist.

What does this all mean? Well, it means I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ended up playing somewhere in Europe next season. The thought of it actually kind of depresses me, as I hate seeing players I loved sinking lower than I thought they ever would. This is where we are, though, and, to steal an overused NBA cliché, it is what it is.

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6 Comments

Filed under Free Agency, Looking Forward

6 responses to “Looking Foward: Allen Iverson

  1. Eric

    Wow wow wow. Hold on. “I hate seeing nba players sink below where they should”? Euroleague isn’t THAT far behind the nba anymore, and for a guy who IS an alpha dog, isn’t it going lower for him to accept being a beta guy on a mediocre team rather than an Alpha dog on one of the most popular teams on the planet? The only European teams that could afford him would be CSKA Moscow, Olympikakos (or however its spelt haha), their rival who I absolutely can’t spell or Maccabi. With Milan and Barca having an outside shot. Would you rather make 4 million dollars on a team that goes out in the first round of the playoffs, or with Euroballer of the year and be a GOD in either Russia, Greece or Israel making 6 million and up (tax and expenses free)?

    • Eric

      Thats supposed to say Win euroballer haha. Also, its easier for a Mcdyss to be a role player than an AI. AI is an undersized shooting guard who’s strength is being unguardable. He can only contribute if teams still fear him, but teams can only still fear him if he’s breaking them down and taking (and making) shots. He just isn’t a guy built to be a role player. 2nd banana maybe, but not role player. For him to sink to that low WOULD be a shame

  2. Great analysis, sir. I also hope he stays in the NBA.

    I can’t fathom why the Knicks haven’t signed him already. They have no PG ahead of him who’s better (Duhon sucks) and no young players who’s growth he would stunt, unless you’re counting Toney Douglas, who might not even stick in the league.

    The really sad thing about all this is that Philly could really use him now. Without Andre Miller, they’re extremely thin at PG. AI could try to mend that fence and have his number retired in front of the fans who once loved him most.

  3. vittoriodezen

    @Eric – I’m not trying to bash the Euroleague at all, but AI playing there? Could you have ever imagined that, 7 years ago? The guy’s willing to take way less money than he’s used to and there are still no takers (yet). I disagree with you on the alpha dog thing; the vast majority of stars can’t sustain it for their entire careers. To say it’s “low” to become something other than a #1 option is getting it all wrong, I think, ’cause you’re essentially rewarding guys for failing to mature gracefully.

    @KneeJerkNBA – Great point about the Knicks, I hadn’t really thought much about them. That would work – he’d be a lot of fun to watch there for a year and it’s not like his lack of defense will hurt a team that doesn’t really focus on D anyway. As for Philly… I would LOVE to see that. I agree that they need some depth in the backcourt and their fans need something to get excited about. That said, I wouldn’t bet on it. It sounds like they’re comfortable with Lou/Jrue at the 1… Blah.

  4. Here’s Reggie’s last game w Indy. Can’t you picture AI going out like this in Philly?

  5. vittoriodezen

    Wow.

    Thanks for that. I had completely forgotten about that farewell. All I remembered from his retirement was everyone’s bewilderment when he said he wanted to get into broadcasting.

    Anyway, yeah, I can TOTALLY see AI going out like that in Philly. They absolutely loved him there, it would be too perfect if he went back.

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