Posted by Neil Paine on August 19, 2009
Well, as you probably know if you're reading this blog, it's August 19 and Allen Iverson, the NBA's 5th-leading scorer in terms of all-time points per game, is still an unrestricted free agent without a job. After playing a career-best 82 games and posting one of his better seasons ever during the 2007-08 campaign, Iverson's reputation as a player took a huge hit last season when Denver traded him to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, a hometown favorite who quickly became the media's go-to reason for the Nuggets' surprise success. Making matters worse for A.I., Denver finally broke their playoff hex come springtime, while the Pistons languished as Iverson created a rift between Richard Hamilton and coach Michael Curry, and then was shut down for good with a back injury as Detroit almost missed the playoffs and were unceremoniously swept by the Cavs in the first round. So if you're looking at Allen Iverson's stock right now, the price is just about as low as it's ever been in his 13-year career.
But the 34-year-old is not exactly ready to retire yet. Rumors have linked him to Memphis, Miami, New York, Charlotte, and even the Sixers, so you know he's going to land somewhere before the season starts in earnest. That means we have to ask the same question of Iverson that we asked of the many other vets who switched jerseys this summer -- what does he have left to give an NBA team in 2010 and beyond?
(Translated stats are explained here.)
As you clearly see, A.I.'s numbers, which had been quite good in 2008, took a mighty tumble last season. His play wasn't exactly the reason Detroit was a losing team, but he didn't really produce like you'd expect Allen Iverson to, either -- and the fact that he was nowhere near as effective as Billups was an especially bitter pill for Detroit fans to swallow.
The reasons for Iverson's decline are not so clear-cut, however. Iverson shot the ball worse than he had since 2004 with Philly, but it's not like he was getting to the rim less than he did in, say, 2007 or even in his Sixers heyday. And it's not like he was taking on a greater offensive burden, either -- his Usage was as low as it's ever been. It's just that he wasn't as effective at finishing drives as in previous seasons, and his jumper reverted to the inconsistency of years past. Couple that with fewer assists, more turnovers, & more infrequent trips to the line, and you've got the recipe for a down year. The bad news for A.I. is that while he still gets to the rim enough (a good sign for a 34-year-old small guard), the sharp decline in FG% on those forays into the paint is likely a sign of age and may not reverse itself. But the good news for Iverson is that his eFG% on jumpers has also wavered a great deal in the past and he has righted it, so there's probably a decent a chance Iverson shoots better on J's in 2010 than he did in '09.
Defensively, Iverson has always had issues because of his size and his tendency to play passing lanes & gamble for steals instead of playing solid man-to-man D and getting stops that way. However, A.I. seems to be getting better on D with age, paradoxically enough. Below-average earlier in his career, his on/off-court numbers have improved markedly in recent seasons, perhaps signaling the triumph of smarter play over the steal-crazed freelancing that so often hung his teammates out to dry early in his career.
At any rate, even in his off year, Iverson was still a league-average player by SPM, so whichever team signs him will likely get a solid player, provided they're willing to issue him the requisite 26+ % of possessions in the offense. His ball-dominating ways don't seem like a good fit for Mike D'Antoni in New York, he seems redundant with Louis Williams at this point in Philadelphia, and there would be questions about how he could coexist in the backcourt with Dwyane Wade in Miami, but Charlotte could certainly use a big-time perimeter scorer to complement some of the other, more role-player-oriented guys -- and besides, a reunion between Iverson and Larry Brown would be must-see TV.