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Keltner List: Allen Iverson

Posted by Neil Paine on February 24, 2009

Here at the BBR blog, your wish is our command. For instance, one of our readers recently suggested that we run a Keltner List on Kevin Johnson, the Phoenix Suns' criminally underrated PG... so Justin did just that, and found that Springfield should make room for KJ in the Hall of Fame.

In the comment section of that post, another reader requested the same Keltner List treatment of Allen Iverson, whom he referred to as "one of the most over-rated basketball players of ALL TIME" (emphasis definitely not mine). So I think it's safe to assume this individual probably wouldn't appreciate seeing AI enshrined in the HoF. But is this commenter right? Is AI just an overrated ballhog who doesn't deserve to be immortalized in Springfield? Well, like I said, your wish is our command...

Note: Clearly Iverson is still an active player, but we're writing this as though he retired today and was somehow eligible... Suspend your disbelief, people.

Vitals

Position: Guard
Height: 6-0 Weight: 165 lbs.
Born: June 7, 1975 in Hampton, Virginia
High School: Bethel in Hampton, Virginia
College: Georgetown University

Drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall) of the 1996 NBA draft.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball? Yes, it was definitely suggested that he was the best player in basketball, sometime circa 2000-2001. Now, whether that was actually true or not is another argument -- he certainly was close in 2001, but I would have said Shaquille O'Neal was probably the game's best throughout that entire period of time.

2. Was he the best player on his team? Absolutely. I'd go so far as to say that since AI entered the league, hardly a season has gone by in which he wasn't the best player on his team.

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position? Er, maybe. First of all, it depends on what position we consider Iverson as having played -- is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Well, we all know he wants to score above all else, so let's just call him a "scoring guard"...And in the immediate post-Jordan NBA, was there a better scoring guard than Iverson? Kobe Bryant stepped up his game significantly in 2000, but you could argue that he didn't really pass Iverson as the league's best until 2003, the same year Tracy McGrady staked his claim to that title. From 1999-2002, AI easily led all qualified guards in P/36, was 6th in Stl/36, ranked 2nd among "scoring guards" in DRtg, and was above-average in A/36 and ORtg as well. I still would rather have had somebody like Kobe or Vince Carter, but you couldn't go wrong picking AI as the best, either.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals? Iverson's lone deep playoff run came in 2001, when he willed an otherwise ordinary, defensive-minded 76ers roster to the NBA Finals and handed the Lakers their only loss of that postseason in Game 1. But AI didn't significantly impact the playoffs in any other season, so I'm going to have to say "no" here.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime? It's safe to say Iverson is technically past his prime right now and he's still racking up the court time, but this question is basically incomplete for the time being.

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame? Remind me again, why exactly is Artis Gilmore not in the Hall of Fame?

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? Heck, yeah (well, almost). AI is one of only 3 guards to average 27 or more PPG in his career -- the other 2 are Jerry West and Michael Jordan. In fact, The Answer and The Logo are the only 2 players in NBA history to average 27 PPG, 6 APG, & 2 SPG for their careers. And if you lessen the requirements to 24, 5, and 1, you get a list with Iverson plus Jordan, West, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Pete Maravich, LeBron James, & Dwyane Wade (that's 5 HoFers -- Jordan being a lock this year -- and 2 likely future members). The downside, though? Iverson's career FG% (.425) is by far the lowest of that group; Nate Thurmond is the only Hall of Famer to retire since 1970 and post a career FG% under .430.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? According to our Hall of Fame Probability metric, Iverson is a mortal lock (100.0% probability) to be inducted someday, meaning his numbers absolutely meet HoF standards.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? Iverson's defensive value is probably overstated by his gaudy steal totals. Even in his prime, AI was undersized (his 6'0" frame made him vulnerable to post-ups) and got his steals by recklessly gambling, leaving his man, and generally freelancing on D, putting a lot of pressure on his teammates to pick up the slack (which they did -- Philadelphia was in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency every season from 1999-2005, including 5th in '99, 4th in 2000, 5th in '01, & 4th in '02).

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame? Assuming Jordan & Gary Payton get elected in the meantime, by the time A.I. is eligible he's probably going to be the best "scoring guard" available for induction. Maybe Ray Allen will have a case, but it's hard to top Iverson's resume.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Iverson was, of course, the NBA's MVP in 2000-01. He was only Top-10 in Win Shares twice (98-99 & 07-08), but he was Top-10 in MVP voting six times, including a 4th-place finish in 1999. More to the point, any time you average 26+ PPG in a season, you're going to get major MVP consideration, and Iverson did that 10 times.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame? Iverson has been voted into 10 ASGs (and counting?), and would have gone in '99 had the lockout not canceled the event (he was 1st-team All-NBA that year). Every player in NBA history who made 11 All-Star Games is either in the Hall already or is certain to be headed there in the future.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title? Likely? Maybe not "likely," but certainly very possible -- provided Iverson is surrounded by a whole host of defense-first, low-usage/high-efficiency role players, that is. Remember, the Sixers almost won it all using a roster of this design in 2001 (unfortunately, they had the misfortune of running into the greatest playoff team of all-time in the Finals).

14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy? Cynics would probably say Iverson ushered in a new era of ridiculous palming being allowed on crossover dribbles... But in all seriousness, I think A.I. is significant for being the first NBA superstar with a distinctly authentic "street" image. Before A.I., the idea of white America embracing an athlete with cornrows, tattoos, & a criminal record was basically unimaginable, but Iverson was just so good on the court (not to mention that he played with such heart and effort) that everyone had to at least grudgingly acknowledge his superstardom. No matter where you stand when it comes to Iverson the player, you have to know that he's culturally significant. Whether this boosts his Hall of Fame resume, though, is yet to be determined...

The Verdict: He's in the Hall, 100%, no doubt. He's still a lightning rod for criticism from people who think he's too selfish, or too inefficient, or even those who take issue with his public persona (more so in the past than today). But that's also part of what makes him worthy -- it's called the Hall of Fame, after all, and for a brief while in the early 2000s there was no basketball player more controversial or recognizable than Iverson. Like it or not, he's one of (if not the) defining figure of the post-Jordan NBA landscape, and for that alone he deserves to be enshrined in Springfield.

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13 Responses to “Keltner List: Allen Iverson”

  1. Flint Says:

    Will he go in? Of course. Does he deserve to be? Of course not.

  2. Jon Says:

    Iverson, along with some others, was probably responsible for the leagues dress code. Not an on court rule change, but a change nevertheless. How about a Keltner list for Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin? Mullin has been a finalist the last couple years.

  3. Ein Swim Says:

    Allen Iverson is and will always be an amazing player. Granted he has had his troubles on and off the court but he is great. He is not as selfish as everybody thinks, aside from six seasons out of his entire career he has always averaged over 6 assists a game. The man can pass the ball, he is just better at scoring and his teams know that, which is why they keep giving him the ball.

  4. Gary Says:

    Allen Iverson was the most exciting player to watch after MJ retired. Period.

  5. rav Says:

    What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?

    He was 5'10", 160 lbs. yet drove in a lot against people who could flatten him easily (and often did). People often use the phrase "pound-for-puund best player ever" when talking about him.

  6. kevin Says:

    "He was 5'10", 160 lbs. yet drove in a lot against people who could flatten him easily (and often did). People often use the phrase "pound-for-puund best player ever" when talking about him."

    Oh, is that the way this works? OK, inch for inch, Freddie Patek was the greatest baseball player ever.

  7. kevin Says:

    Neil let me redo this for you:

    1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?

    Yes. People who don't know anything about basketball thought he was the best because he scored a lot of points. However, the coaches he had were driven crazy by his lack of discipline and his questionable decision making and the teams he was on had trouble winning.

    2. Was he the best player on his team?

    Sometimes he was. But the teams he was on were generally pretty crappy. he was competing with people like Theo Ratliff, Kyle Korver and Eric Snow. Once the Sixers got Mutombo, he was no longer the best player. I mean, Bob Rule was the best player on the 1969 Sonics and I don't hear anyone clamoring to get him in the HoF.

    3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?

    Well, they tried to make a point guard out of him and that experiment was a miserable failure so we'll have to compare him to the league's other 2's. The first year Iverson made the AS team was in 1999. The other 2's in that game were Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and Michael Finley. Miller was a few years older than Iverson while Allena nd Kobe are his contemporaries. Kobe, Allen and Miller were both better players than Iverson was. For instance, Iverson's best year, by far, was 2001. He garnered 11.8 Win Shares that year. That was just an average year for Miller and he beat that mark 4 times in his career. That same year, Allen had 13.7 Win Shares. Both crush Iverson in career Win Shares. We already know about Kobe. So no, if you're not the best at your position in your best year, a year that was a positive outlier for you, then you can't be considered the best at your position.

    4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?

    He had one run at a title but got rolled in 5 games so the answer has to be "no".

    5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

    He was good enough to start on a crappy Detroit team at the age of 33 but the only reason they got him was so they could dump his salary and gain cap space. At the age of 34, he wasn't good enough to start for a crappy Memphis team. In fact, he was so bad, Memphis was willing to release him rather than concede to his demand to start and play more. Denver also got a lot worse when they traded for Iverson. If we expand this questiomn a bit and phrase it as " Was Iversofn a productive player past his prime?", the answer would have to be "No.".

    6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

    No even close.

    7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

    Well, the players he is most like are guys World B Free, Charlie Scott, Stephon Marbury and Stevie Francis, all 1's who wanted to shoot like 2's. None of those guys aren't in, or have any hope of going in the hall.

    8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

    It depends on what standards you use. If the standards are gross totals, then he meets the standards. If the standards are efficiency based or Wins based, then no, he doesn't.

    9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

    Well, how about nobody wants him on their team when he is still injury-free and supposedly young enough to contribute? What does that say about his value?

    10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

    No. Dennis Johnson is eligible and was twice the player Iverson ever dreamt of being. For instance, the weakest part of Johnson's game was his shooting. Dj's shooting just crushes Iverson's, which is supposed to be the BEST part of his game:

    Johnson Iverson

    .445 .425
    .172 .313
    .797 .780

    The only advantage Iversofn has on Johnson in shooting is 3's and even that's deceptive as DJ hardly took any 3's, mostly desperation shots when the clock was running out. Iverson shot a lot of them and was below average in accuracy.

    11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

    Iverson inexplicably won in 2001. This was a year in which he didn't even finish in the top 7 in Win Shares. So, I suppose the proper answer should be, even though he won an MVP award, he never had an MVP-Type season. Iverson was easily the worst player who ever won an MVP award, in any sport.

    12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

    Iverson played in 10 AS games. This is misleading, however, since he only had maybe 2 or 3 years that were good enough to merit AS consideration and even that is questionable. For instance, he made the 2009 AS team despite only garnering 2.9 Win Shares. Iverson was 7th on his team in Win Shares, yet still made the AS team. Jason Maxiel had 4.1 Win Shares while playing 500 less minutes. Amir Johnson had the same number of Win Shares while playing half the minutes yet Iverson still made the AS team while Amir Johnson got to watch at home. Explain that to me please?

    13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?

    No. It would be impossible for a team that feature Iverson as their best player win a title. It was a damn near miracle that the 2001 Sixers even made it into the Finals.

    14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?

    Iverson popularized the notion of style over substance. He also was the leading exponent of the "shoot first point guard" experiment that was tried and failed in the late nineties/early 200s. Others in the group are Stevie Francis and Stephon Marbury. He also was famous for disparaging practice as a means of refining one's game, staying sharp and demonstrating leadership, another failed experiment. In fact, if there was one thing Iverson can be remembered for is the variety of ways he demonstrated failure, both on and off the court.

    The Verdict: Iverson has a personality that is impossible to fit into a cohesive group. He's rebellious, selfish, insecure, undisciplined and self-pitying. Nevertheless, he'll probably get voted in anyway since he jacked up so many shots, no matter how many games he lost in doing so.

  8. Dave Says:

    Did AI run over your dog or something, Kevin?

  9. Shaka Says:

    It amazes me how so many people hate on AI. Is Kobe a HOF? Yes and this is despite the fact that he, while bieng investigated for rape, mentioned another man's name who had nothing to do with the situation. Jordan was not liked by most of his teammates. In 2000-2001 he was hands down the MVP because of his play and impact on his team. Only Lebron James has taken a less-talented team to the Finals (2007) so I am not sure why this is even an argument. Like him as a person or not...AI changed the game of basketball forever...

  10. john dough Says:

    if Iverson didn't "jack up" so many shots who else would the 76ers turn to on offense?? they would probably miss the playoffs just about every year, w/o iverson they would be considered absolutely the worst offensive team in many many years

    they had stackhouse for a season or 2, and stacks had about the same efficiency as AI at 6 inches taller...coleman? he was pretty much done when he joined...big dog robinson? basically done...webber? about done...you can't expect guys like deke, snow, or mckie to carry the socring load or take the important shots

    no single player was as important to his team's offense as iverson was in some seasons...meaning, the team had no shot of succeeding w/o him....

  11. TRX Says:

    Although that was the point... Iverson wanted to shoot all the time, so they built a defensive team with a low offensive usage to compliment his "style" of play, not the other way around.

  12. kgo tv Says:

    Iverson, along with some others, was probably responsible for the leagues dress code. Not an on court rule change, but a change nevertheless. How about a Keltner list for Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin? Mullin has been a finalist the last couple years.

  13. kolb Says:

    kevin

    ai is the best at the position at his time he was compared to mj. kobe was just a kid at that time and iverson was at his best years which is why he won mvp. let explain what mvp means "most valuable player"