Keltner List: Allen Iverson
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.
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.