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What’s Left in A.I.’s Tank?

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?

Year Ag Tm Ht Pos G Min trORtg %Poss trDRtg Stat+/- OWS DWS WS
1997 21 PHI 72 G 76 3045 105.4 29.2 114.1 2.07 3.3 1.1 4.3
1998 22 PHI 72 G 80 3150 112.1 26.7 109.6 3.57 6.3 2.8 9.0
1999 23 PHI 72 G 48 1990 111.2 31.4 104.9 5.17 4.3 2.9 7.2
2000 24 PHI 72 G 70 2853 105.5 32.6 106.4 4.02 3.3 3.6 6.8
2001 25 PHI 72 G 71 2979 111.7 33.8 104.2 7.32 7.2 4.5 11.7
2002 26 PHI 72 G 60 2622 104.3 35.8 103.3 6.47 2.6 4.2 6.8
2003 27 PHI 72 G 82 3485 107.2 31.7 106.9 4.40 5.0 4.2 9.2
2004 28 PHI 72 G 48 2040 100.9 34.7 107.7 3.68 0.5 2.2 2.7
2005 29 PHI 72 G 75 3174 107.6 34.9 107.1 4.83 5.5 3.9 9.4
2006 30 PHI 72 G 72 3103 113.2 35.1 112.0 4.98 9.0 1.9 10.9
2007 31 DEN 72 G 50 2121 108.2 26.9 110.1 0.26 3.1 1.8 4.9
2007 31 PHI 72 G 15 640 107.2 35.9 109.9 5.07 1.0 0.5 1.6
2008 32 DEN 72 G 82 3424 115.9 26.6 110.1 2.12 9.6 3.0 12.6
2009 33 DET 72 G 54 1970 102.2 25.8 109.0 0.06 0.8 1.8 2.5
2009 33 DEN 72 G 3 123 109.0 22.9 112.5 -1.74 0.2 0.1 0.2
2010 34 ??? 72 G Proj 0.56

(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.

12 Responses to “What’s Left in A.I.’s Tank?”

  1. Jason J Says:

    Not sure I agree that Iverson is getting into the paint as regularly as he used to. I didn't watch a ton of Pistons games last season, but what I saw was AI dribbling laterally and taking a lot of mid-range jumpers, his favorite being that floating to his left pull up from around the left elbow. Not sure if that's a matter of diminishing quickness, the injury, or Detroit's spacing not giving him room to attack, but in any case I think that explains why he didn't get to the line much.

    I'd also point out that AI plays much better in the open court where he can get those sprint ahead layups with his speed. Detroit's conservative half court system took a lot of that action away. I've enjoyed watching Iverson since he was at Georgetown, so I hope he makes a nice comeback somewhere. Age and injury are worrisome.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    I say that because he was at 29% FGA from the paint last season, which is the same as he's had for a number of years (aside from 2008, when he was at 31%). And his FTA/FGA is pretty consistent with that as well. I think he just missed a lot of those same midrange jumpers, whereas he had been making them with Denver.

  3. Phil Collins Says:

    What's all this talk about Allen Iverson? Isn't it more of a crime that Slava Medvedenko hasn't been signed yet?

  4. calvin Says:

    iverson should go to miami keep number one jersey go back point guard

  5. ScottR. Says:

    Iverson could be a valuable player on a competitive team but it would require him to re-evaluate himself and his game. He's one of the toughest dudes I've seen play, but he has to dominate the ball to be effective. He would be great coming off the bench for some instant offense, but I know he doesn't want to do that.

  6. KneeJerkNBA Says:

    Even with Denver, he was still giving up just as many as he scored. Opposing guards start drooling when they see that he's guarding them.

  7. Boss Says:

    I don't see him coming off the bench either. Especially since many of the guys he was drafted ahead of and are of similar age are still starting and/or being productive(Kobe, Allen, Nash, O'Neal, etc).

    I'd venture to guess that he could still easily average 20+ppg on a decent percentage. Only problem is there's no team for him to do it on or that wants to build around a 34yo combo guard.

  8. BIG Iverson Says:

    Iverson needs to go now! Maybe he could go to EuroLeague or CBA! He's got a lot.But every man who's gone through his happy time needs to go.That's a rule!

  9. TaZman Says:

    Charlotte is the best place for him to be. Though, it's unclear to me how Brown is supposed to solve the rotation puzzle in that case.
    Bobcats do not seem to fit in 8 best from the East anyway. With the Answer on board they'll get the chance to compete for the playoff spot. Not to mention the most certain increase in attendance of their home games, and sales of merchandise. Coach Brown knows how to handle AI also.
    As for me, at this point, I'd rather think, that his poor perfomance last year was the cause of struggles to fit in the new system. This system was pretty poor itself too, so who can blame AI for not playing well on a bad team ? Detroit was bad, that's for sure. Coach C was the main reason
    I don't even question his ability to still be the force in the league. He has it. It is the question of trust from the team he will play for. Yup, he's not getting any younger, but he's still the man to be feared of

  10. Janice Says:

    I just want him to play. I don't care where he goes just as long as he's happy. I am a big A.I. fan and i think he still has something. As long as you have heart for the game you can do anything.

  11. JMillott Says:

    I think the best fit for him and for a team is to return to the 76ers to finish out his career.

    At his age I think he clearly needs to move firmly back to the PG position where he could replace Dre Miller holding the position until Holiday is ready to take over as the starter.

    His questionable three pointer would still be a vast upgrade over what Dre Miller gave them a year ago and he should be able to play with Holiday switching roles offensively and defensively so he wouldn't get in the way of his development.

    He is also a much better fit to run the pick and pop/roll with Elton Brand then Dre Miller was.

    His ability to create shots and carry the load as a #1 scoring option in theory would take pressure off of Iggy, Brand and Young who right now are looking at carrying an offense which they struggled to do last year when they had a top 10 PG.

    He would make Louis Williams into their most expendible trade asset which they need to do as he just doesn't fit the roster since he can't shoot or run a proper offense at PG.

    C Speights
    PF Brand
    SF Young
    SG Iggy
    PG Iverson

    Though that lineup lacks ideal floor spacing from its three perimeter players it does offer a reasonably open paint with both Brand and Speights able to pull out the other teams bigs with their shooting range.

    Figure on a bench of Dalembert, Holiday, Kapono, Smith and whomever they can land for Lou Williams. I would project them to win 45/50 games and with youth like Young, Speights and Holiday they're set up to have meaningful internal improvements over the next few years.

    I just don't see the downside to them signing Iverson for two or three years at MLE money. They need the things he can provide pretty badly and it'd be great for ticket sales, jersey sales, tv ratings, etc.

  12. Robert Says:

    I think AI to Houston would work well, too.