Forget the drama; plenty of great players have been surrounded by drama.
Forget the diva attitude; Wilt Chamberlain practically defined diva for the NBA and that didn’t stop him from rightly being recognized as one of the all-time greats.
Forget even that hilarious presser where an openly-bewildered Iverson wonders why they were asking about practice…although some might opine that Iverson’s opposition to practice might be the reason he never matured as a player.
Forget all that. The question before us is simple: is Allen Iverson a Hall-Of-Famer?
In fact, it sez so right here that Iverson’s only true impact on basketball is that teams have stopped making knuckleheaded decisions to draft “shoot first” point guards. Since Iverson came into the league with much sound and fury, signifying nothing, point guards like Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Jameer Nelson, and Derrick Rose have only reminded us that the point guard’s legend is built upon one thing: the assist.
It is telling that Iverson the head case has never led the league in assists, but Stephon Marbury, head case emeritus, has. It is telling that Iverson the scorer has never led the league in assists, but center Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the greatest scorer ever, has. It is telling that Iverson the singularly-electrifying talent never had more than 600 assists in a single season, but Michael Jordan, beyond question the “Oh-my-God-what-was-THAT!” electrifying talent of all time had 650 assists in part-time duty as a point guard in 1989 (it’s worth noting that Jordan led all PGs in assists per game during that stretch).
It is telling that Jordan has more assists for his career (5633) than does Iverson (5522), and Jordan missed upwards of six seasons with various retirements and forays into baseball.
Thus, since we can’t look at Iverson as a point guard, we must look at him as a scorer.
The question I must now ask is this: did Iverson’s dominance of the basketball translate to victories for his team?
First of all, it is beyond all argument that Iverson dominated the basketball; how else does one average over 31 points per game while shooting less than 40% from the field, as Iverson did in 2001-02?
However, it is through the advanced mathematics of Win-Shares, which calculates how much a player contributes to his team’s success, that we see Iverson’s true value to his teams: he appears nowhere in the top 250 Win-Share seasons of all time. Nowhere. The lowest win-share on the list is Kobe Bryant’s 12.73 (and that’s not the only time Bryant appears in the top 250). Iverson’s best season was 11.8, the year he won the MVP and took Philadelphia to the Finals.
Point guards are supposed to be the distributors of the ball on offense. They are supposed to initiate plays, to be leaders on the court, to get the ball to their teammates where the scoring is easier. Selflessness defines the point guard because they handle the ball more than any other player on the court.
Iverson’s greatest characteristic was selfishness. He dominated the ball and jacked up shots as often as he could because, in his mind, he was open. As quick as he was, as physically tough as he was, he never used those abilities to make the players around him better. Michael Jordan made Luc Longley effective. Kobe Bryant made Andrew Bynum dangerous. LeBron James personally drags a lottery team deep into the playoffs.
Iverson was a me-first player who wasn’t as good as he thought he was.