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Further Iverson Thoughts

When I penned my initial reaction to the Allen Iverson rumor late last night, there were two things I took somewhat for granted. Number one was that Stephen A. Smith is completely unreliable. Number two was that educated fans would see pretty quickly that Iverson was not a good fit for this franchise. Well, a day later it looks Smith was probably on to something and the vast majority of fans see things differently than I do, so after the jump I'll go into some more detail.

For those of you who are on the same page as me, and I think most of the regular readers/commenters are, the reason I'm writing this is pretty simple. Since I wrote the post last night, we've seen a bunch of new faces in the comments, every single one of them has been in favor of an Iverson return to Philly. I also set up a column on TweetDeck that updates every time Iverson's name is mentioned on Twitter, by anyone. Literally 99% of the tweets written about Iverson have been some form of, "Bring Iverson back to Philly." My knee-jerk reaction is to laugh them all off, but it's not fair to do that without stating my case more clearly. Call them uneducated, call them casual fans. Whatever. I'm sure some of them know hoops. I'm sure of them even know stats. You can't just dismiss them, especially when a significant motivating factor for the franchise will be exactly how many of them will actually show up to games if #3 is in the starting lineup. More on that a little further down, for now, let's just start this discussion over from the beginning.

First, I want to set a few things straight. These are all facts, not things you can rationally argue against, and it's extremely important that everyone, no matter which side of the argument you land on, acknowledge them if we're going to have a rational discussion about this.

  1. Allen Iverson is 34-years-old. He is not the player he was in 2001. He hasn't been a team's primary scorer since he left the Sixers in 2006. He hasn't been the primary scorer for a team that made the playoffs since 2004, when the Sixers were 43-39. He did enjoy a renaissance of sorts in his only full season in Denver, when he had a wing man to carry the scoring load in Carmello Anthony. Denver liked what he offered so much, they traded him away four games into the following season, then they turned into one of the best teams in the western conference by adding Billups and subtracting both Camby and Iverson.
  2. This Sixers team is not coached by Larry Brown. They are coached by Eddie Jordan. The one man who was able to field a competitive defensive team with Iverson as its centerpiece is not here and the current coach hasn't been able to field a competitive defensive team no matter what personnel he's had, let alone with a defensive liability at the point of attack or a gigantic size mismatch at the two, depending on what lineup Jordan opted for.
  3. Adding Iverson to the starting lineup will take shots away from Iguodala, Thad, Lou and Brand. It will also drop Jrue down the depth chart another slot.

OK, now let's talk about motivation for making the move. There are several reasons, both real and explanatory, so let's list them out.

  1. To make the team better, this season.
  2. To draw more fans/create buzz or excitement about the team, make some money.
  3. Sentimentality. He will always resonate with Sixers fans, his career shouldn't end like this.
  4. The team lacks veteran leadership.

To make the team better, this season: Currently, the Sixers are the third-worst defensive team in the league, and dropping like a rock. It is my personal belief they will not improve, in terms of wins and losses, until they improve on the defensive end. In no way, shape or form can you make the argument they will be a better defensive team with Iverson than they are right now. He's a horrible defender, has been basically since the day he entered the league. He'll get you steals, but steals alone are a misleading stat. He gambles too much, he no longer has the athleticism to stay in front of his man and he never had the motivation to do so, not to mention the size issues. The Sixers will be a worse defensive team with him on the floor, the only bright spot being how putrid they've been up to this point, so they don't have too far to fall, as far as rankings are concerned. They can only drop from 28th to 30th in defensive efficiency. Of course, once you're last you can still get worst on a points allowed basis, and I have a pretty strong feeling they will if Iverson is added to the mix.

Most of the arguments I've heard revolve around the "The Sixers need a number one option," logic. I'm not in that camp, necessarily, but I do see the merit. The only problem is that Iverson is not a number one option anymore. That ship sailed five seasons ago. At this point, he's maybe a number two who shoots too much and doesn't score efficiently. Put him on a team where he's the primary focus of the defense and we're probably talking about 20 shots per game to score 22-25 points, on less than 40% shooting from the floor. Great numbers if all you care about is points per game, horrible numbers if you care about winning, in the least. As a team, the Sixers average 1.21 points per field goal attempt. That translates into the 19th-best offensive team, according to efficiency (I'm simplifying here, but the math holds up). For his career, including career seasons and an MVP season, Iverson averages 1.22 points per field goal attempt. So on paper, he's a bit more efficient than the Sixers. Here's the rub, though. In order to get his 20 shots/night, he's going to be taking shots away from starters. Probably all of the starters. Here are the career numbers for the other four starters (assuming Jordan wouldn't do something idiotic with the rotations):

  • Iguodala - 1.34 points/FGA
  • Brand - 1.31 points/FGA
  • Lou Williams - 1.24 points/FGA
  • Thad Young - 1.21 points/FGA
  • Sam Dalembert - 1.28 points/FGA

The way I see it, the only way Iverson could possibly help this team offensively is if he completely changes his offensive game, settles for taking only high-percentage shots and becomes a facilitator. Essentially, the other guys get their shots, Lou moves to the bench, but his FGA remains pretty much the same, and Iverson's share of shots comes out of the back end of the rotation (Ivey, Willie, Jason Smith, Jrue, Carney). Meaning, the starters, Speights and Lou would have to keep their FGA pretty much static, and the bench guys would basically have their FGA cut to nothing. This may be possible if Jordan completely trimmed his rotation to 8 guys: Dalembert, Brand, Young, Iguodala, Iverson, Williams, Speights, Kapono.

Let's say the best-case scenario happened, Iverson came in and was better than he's ever been before and the offense improves. Where does that get this team considering their defense is currently horrible and would move closer to atrocious with 35 minutes of Iverson included every night? The answer is simple, it wouldn't make one lick of a difference on the floor. Scoring 5 more points a night and allowing 5 more points a night leaves you exactly where you started.

If Iverson comes back and plays just to his career levels (and it's questionable that he could even achieve those numbers at this age), we're talking about downgrading the offense and the defense. Either way, he absolutely, positively does not make them a better team in the short term. Now he may mean winning a game or two that they would've otherwise lost, simply because he is capable of getting hot and dropping 40 on efficient shooting once in a while, but that's fool's gold, because his defense and poor shooting are going to cost the team games they would've won without his contributions as well.

To draw more fans/create buzz or excitement about the team, make some money: Unless something were to go horribly wrong, I do believe this goal would be accomplished. The Sixers are currently 29th in the league in attendance. Bringing Iverson in won't suddenly make them a top-ten draw, but I do believe his presence alone would boost attendance by about 3,000 paying customers per game (just an educated guess). People are actively staying away from the Wach right now, give casual fans a storyline, and they'll come back. They'll come back for a bit of nostalgia, they'll come back expecting to see the 2001 Allen Iverson, they'll come back basically because they don't know any better. There are 34 home games remaining in the season, let's just run with 3,000 more fans, per game, and see how much money the Sixers would have to make, per fan, to offset the cost of Iverson's contract (probably in the $2M range). The answer is about $20 per fan. They'll make more than that on ticket sales alone, not to mention a whole new batch of #3 jerseys and the concessions they sell at the games. Financially, for the remainder of 2009 and then the first half of 2010, it makes a whole lot of sense.

There is a catch, though. This team isn't going to be a top-ten draw again until they legitimately prove they're a contender in the Eastern Conference, at least. I believe this move puts them further away from that goal, possibly significantly so. When Iverson leaves, they'll most likely be in worse shape than they are right now, and all those fans who came simply for the Iverson spectacle will disappear, possibly with quite a few more leaving with them. If you believe, as a decision-make for the Sixers, that you're headed in the right direction and you will compete in a couple of years, you're essentially trading 34 games of bumped up attendance for pushing that goal of being a contender and a top draw in the league back one season. It seems short-sighted to me.

Sentimentality. He will always resonate with Sixers fans, his career shouldn't end like this: This is a perfect reason to sign him to a 10-day contract with the understanding (both by Iverson, the team and the fans), that he's only being signed so he can retire as a Sixer. You schedule an Allen Iverson day. You let him step out on that court one more time, maybe you even retire his number, then he goes right back into entirement, ready to go into the Hall of Fame in five years wearing the Sixers colors on his back. Sentimentality should go no further than that, if it does, you don't deserve to be making the decisions for an NBA franchise.

The team lacks veteran leadership: This may or may not be a fact, but one thing is clear. Allen Iverson does not provide veteran leadership. He never has, and he never will. Yes, he'll go out there on the floor every night, give up his body, do anything for his team. In that respect, he leads by example. What he will not do is show guys how to prepare themselves for games. He will not show young guys how to execute on the floor. He will not be the guy that takes Lou Williams off to the side after a bad play and tells him what he did wrong. He'll be the guy who freezes Lou Williams out of the offense for a couple quarters if he does something wrong. The thing that makes him special is also the thing that makes him a horrible team leader and teammate, to an extent. Iverson wants to win more than anyone else in sports since Michael Jordan retired, I'm convinced of that. The problem is he believes it's up to him exclusively to get the team to win. He equates the team's success with his point total, and that's not how you win in the NBA.

I know this last paragraph will be met with questions about the magical 2001 season, so I'll answer them preemptively. The beauty of the team Larry Brown built that season was that it's identity not only meshed with Iverson's view of the game and himself, but it was built to only be successful utilizing the same principle he lives by. They needed Iverson to score 30+ every night to have a chance. If they needed more, he had to provide it on the offensive end. He was the only guy on the roster who could create his own shot. He was the only guy on the planet as far as I'm concerned who could've worked with that group of role players to deliver any kind of success on a constent basis. When Iverson looked at the scoreboard, saw the Sixers down by 6 with 5 minutes to go, his gut told him he needed to step up and do it himself and that's exactly what the team needed, or they weren't going to win.

This team is absolutely not built like that. This team has several players who can carry the team for stretches offensively. This team has efficient scorers throughout their top 8. This team has young guys who need the ball in their hands to make things happen. Most importantly, this team cannot stop ANYONE on the defensive end, that team was built to get stops, rebounds and do everything and anything to complement Allen Iverson's talent for scoring the basketball.

If Allen Iverson is signed and suits up for the Sixers for anything more than a farewell game to retire his number, pay close attention to the comments made by the team, Ed Stefanski and Eddie Jordan in particular. If they talk about improving the team and veteran leadership, they're lying to you, plain and simple.

My final point, the development of the roster. This is the impact I see AI having on each player:

Iguodala - Mostly psychological. His efficiency numbers would rise because he'd be taking fewer shots. His assists would drop because he won't have the ball in his hand. His defense would probably suffer due to sulking, etc.

Lou - Mostly, it would just be reinforcing the bad habits Lou has mostly broken on the offensive end so far this season. Iverson will put on a clinic on dribbling the air out of the ball and taking contested shots. Lou has been better this season because he's taken a lesser role in the offense. I see that reversing with another year as Iverson's apprentice, it took him a couple years to move out of that mold since Iverson left.

Thad - He's going to disappear offensively. Fewer touches, fewer shots, fewer points, less development. Possibly Thad would be motivated to work harder in other areas to get his numbers to look at least respectable.

Brand - Tough to say. Iverson has never played with a post threat, I'd be interested to see how this worked out.

Speights - Speights, I believe, would work well with Iverson. I can see Iverson trusting him simply because the guy is a top-notch scorer. He'd be Iverson's favorite target very quickly.

Kapono - More open looks in transition, due to the trust factor.

Jrue - Forget about Holiday season. If Iverson is brought in here, Jrue is immediately the second PG off the bench. The mandate to play Jrue disappears and his minutes drop to less than 10 per game until Williams comes back. At that point, he's a DNPCD more often than not.

Team-wide - They will never even begin to figure out the over-helping issue. Instead, they'll have another guy at the point who can't even slow down penetration. They'll be both the worst defensive rebounding team in the league and give up the highest three-point percentage. Bad habits will be even harder to correct if/when the coach and/or franchise finally wises up and realizes you need to defend to win.

The only benefit I can come up with, other than a financial profit on the move in a vacuum, and the only way I could see the move potentially helping the Sixers in the long run would be a 100% commitment to offense, small ball, and no defense for the remainder of the season which would undoubtedly lead to one of the worst records in the league and then a lucky bounce in the lottery landing the Sixers a top pick. Of course, Iverson's just good enough to steal enough games to keep the Sixers from finishing with a truly pathetic record. If they wanted to bring a point out of retirement to accomplish this lofty goal, they'd be better off calling Stephon Marbury. I hear he's available.

I hesitate to do this, but let's see what the people have to say. Vote in the poll below:

by Brian on Nov 29 2009
Tags: Allen Iverson | Basketball | Sixers |