A Riposte to the Notion that Allen Iverson is Overrated

posted to The Wages of Wins Journal, July 27, 2006, in reply to

How Did Philadelphia get to the Finals in 2001?

a post by the Wages of Wins economists, who have a chapter in there trying to argue that Allen Iverson is the NBA’s most overrated player statististically, and which was picked up by MALCOLM GLADWELL’s post as well. Gladwell and these Wages of Wins guys thought it would be a great idea to sell books by dumping on Allen Iverson, who is in my opinion, one of the greatest players in NBA history, bar none.

I had a response to that. You could say I disagreed.

Incidentally, since this post appeared, Allen Iverson is now 19th in career NBA scoring with 23,165 points.

see http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/pts_career.html.

AI will shortly pass Adrian Dantley, Robert Parish and Charles Barkley and vault to 16th this season. After that he will be honing in on Patrick Ewing’s 24,815 points and eventually, the player most like Allen Iverson, Jerry West’s 25,192. I think the comparison between Jerry West and Allen Iverson is well-met, and if Allen Iverson had been the featured guard on a team with Elgin Baylor in Los Angeles for ten years running, and then got to play with Wilt Chamberlain and win a couple of championships towards the tail end of his career, people would have a completely different view of AI than they currently do. The skills set of AI are very similar to the skills set of Jerry West. After West comes Reggie Miller and Alex English in a hurry, and then at numbers 11 and 10 are John Havlicek and Shaq, at 26,395 and 26,452 (and counting). For AI to reach the top 10, he will probably need 2-3 more seasons–with the Detroit offense, he’s not going to score 27 points a game, probably closer to 22-25–so he’ll probably score closer to 1500 points this season than the 2,000 he got last year. But he looks healthy, and he looks like he can go another five or more years in this league still.

Anyhow, here’s the post as I posted it originally:

posted at


art kyriazis // July 27, 2006 at 3:33 pm

Dear Dr. Berri:

First, you are asserting that statistically, the role players on the sixers are worth more wins than the star, Iverson. I think that bespeaks the failures of your statisitical system. Clearly, a winshares system should demonstrate that the best player accounts for the most winshares while the role players account for fewer or the same amounts of winshares, although in 2000-2001 Aaron McKie was voted Sixth Man of the Year.

I will address the statistical analysis that asserts that Dikembe Mutombo and Matt Harpring were the best players on the Sixers team in 2001-2002 in terms of win shares.

First, Dikembe Mutombo, while a great half-court player, defender and rebounder, couldn’t run. Unlike Ratliff, who had played with the Sixers for three years before, and whose trade to the sixers for Jerry Stackhouse had triggered the Sixers playoff run in the late 90s, Mutombo was strickly a half-court player. This style of play was ineffective for Iverson, who needed to handle the ball in transition and on the break off the steal.

Your system tends to look at the game statically and does not distinguish between possessions which are in transition and those which are in the half-court game. Iverson is a superior transition player while Mutombo is a superior half-court player. Their skills are complementary, but not supplementary and they can’t both run at the same time.

Matt Harpring’s year here was a total disaster. He was never in sync with the rest of the ball club. He basically concentrated on his own statistics and did not do anything to help the club win. The coach, Larry Brown, never played him in any meaningful situations and generally used him in garbage time against bad teams. Again, I watched nearly all the games that year, and your statistics do not distinguish between games against bad and good opponents. Matt Harpring is the greatest garbage time player I’ve ever seen–if the team was down twenty points, he’d go in for uncontested lay up after uncontested layup. But if the team needed a basket desperately, he’d never take a shot, but pass it off to someone who was double covered. The guy didn’t have a clue how to play basketball.

His later fate on Utah shows that he had a problem with black ballplayers. He was more comfortable with John Stockton and the “white” Utah ballclub and was never comfortable with the Iverson-led philly ballclub and its very different cultural emphasis.

I will admit that Tyrone Hill and George Lynch were key members of the 2000-01 team. Trading them was the beginning of the downfall of the Sixers. I would foresee that Lynch’s and Hill’s defense and rebounding and economical shooting would account for high win share totals, higher than average, and make them good role players to have by Iverson’s side.

Overall, I believe this is a useful line of analysis.

But the ferocious attack on Iverson you have mounted, given that Iverson will likely score between 35,000 and 40,000 points in his career and go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, seems racially motivated to me, and especially calculated to ride on the coattails of his fame.

Mr. Iverson is a dedicated family man, he has done nothing in the league which would merit any bad comment compared with many others like Charles Barkley, who once spit on a young girl in Philly and was arrested for weapons possession in South Jersey while a Sixer, or like the Pistons and Pacers, who attacked fans in the seats a season or two back, or Latell Sprewell, who punched out his coach several seasons back, or like Eddie Griffin, with his drug problems, or like all of the players in the league with multiple illegitimate children whose child support they don’t pay.

Iverson is the #1 adored superstar and #1 road draw not just in the USA, but in the world. He is known in China, Japan, Europe, everywhere in the world people know Iverson and kids everywhere want the sneakers of the answer.

He may miss shots when he’s cold, but I’ve also seen him make 20 in a row in the 4th quarter to bring the sixers back from a 30 point deficit and it’s a thing of beauty to watch a man that’s but 5?9? tall navigate his way among the trees to do his art and float on air like Dr. J to finger roll the ball into the basket.

Iverson is a legend, like Wilt, like Bill Russell, like Jerry West. Nothing you say or write will alter the fact that he is responsible for every win the sixers get every time he steps on the floor.

I believe that like the early versions of win shares that Bill James worked with, it will take ten years or more to perfect a basketball win shares system that fully accounts for differences between arenas, styles of play, differences between eras, etc.

Iverson’s is a style of play. He throws all those shots up and drives to the basket repeatedly INTENTIONALLY–it’s to tire out the defense so that by the fourth quarter, they can’t guard him anymore, they’re a step slow, and then he can go to work driving, passing, jump shooting and passing to the open man. Not to mention all those foul shots he gets.

If you guys actually watched a game instead of just summarizing stats, you’d see how Iverson breaks down an entire defense with his mode of play. He’s not wasting shots.

When the Sixers had a very good defense, this style of play worked very well. So long as they only allowed 90 ppg, they could win this way. Larry Brown wanted them to play this way.

Iverson is a loaded weapon. Beware.

–art k, philly

posted by art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion philadelphia phillies


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