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Honeymoon's Over: Iverson's Statistical Breakdown

When I initially wrote about the Allen Iverson signing, I said that the basketball didn't matter. Until last season Allen Iverson has always helped basketball teams win. No his extremely flawed Nuggets team didn't ever make it out of the first round, but they won in the regular season and made the playoffs consistently. Iverson even kept things interesting in Philly even while they rebuilt. As long as management and coaching let Iverson help this team, I was confident he would do everything to win.

But for some people that's just not good enough. Some people like to see these things called 'statistics' as proof, and since I'm here to please, over the jump you'll find a statistical analysis of the Allen Iverson acquistion.

Lets begin with usage. The main worry about adding Iverson is that he dominates the ball too much, which will suffocate the growth of O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Mike Conley. Here is the Grizzlies outlook without Iverson:

Conley Mayo Gay Z-Bo M. Gasol
Usage 17.9% 24.5% 25.6% 28.1% 18.3%

With the help of a calculator you'll be pleased to note that the usage percentages come out to 114.4%. Try to test me at home, I dare you.

The Grizzlies' projected total of 114.4% seems high compared to these top-tier teams, but not absurdly high.

Without Iverson it was already clear that some players on the Grizzlies would need to reduce their usage, meaning that they would have to give up some shots unless the Grizzlies boosted their pace. With Iverson the issue is less clear, since it's nobody is certain whether Iverson will start or act as a 6th man.

Here is what our usage chart would look like with Iverson replacing Mike Conley in the starting lineup:

Iverson Mayo Gay Z-Bo M. Gasol
Usage 25.9% 24.5% 25.6% 28.1% 18.3%

With Iverson in the starting lineup the usage percentage as a team comes up to 122.4%. That is much too high, which means that at least two players are going to be doing significantly less shooting.

But how would Iverson's 25.9% usage compare to other 6th men, scoring guards around the Association?

Iverson F. Murray Hinrich J. Terry J. Jack Robinson Pietrus Williams Barbosa Ginobilli
Usage 25.9% 24.3% 18.1% 25.5% 18.5% 25.6% 18.4% 27.7% 24.2% 27.2%

So it's clear that if Iverson comes off the bench for about 24-28 minutes per game he can have all the touches that he wants, just like the rest of these players. I would even be willing to go a step further and say that Iverson is certainly a better scorer than all of these guys but Terry and Ginobilli. Lets test that assertion:

Iverson F. Murray Hinrich J. Terry J. Jack Robinson Pietrus Williams Barbosa Ginobilli
PER 15.9 14.7 13.9 19.3 13.1 18.9 11.6 16.3 19.4 22.9
ORtg 102 104 108 115 107 111 106 105 117 114
WS 2.5 3.1 2.6 7.3 4.3 6.2 3.0 3.3 5.3 4.8

Ouch. There is no denying that Iverson's last season just doesn't stack up statistically. With the Nuggets the year before, however, Iverson held a PER of 20.9, an ORtg of 115, and held 12.6 Win Shares (note that his Win Shares are not comparable to the other 6th men because he played almost 42 minutes per game)

I'd like to draw a comparison here to 6th man of the year Jason Terry. 'The Jet' had a pathetically poor PER of 16.2 and an ORtg of just 103 in his last season starting for the Atlanta Hawks. He seemed to be washed up when Dallas signed him in 2004-2005, but as soon as he began playing shorter minutes Terry's statistics jumped to a PER of 18.4 and, more importantly, an absurd ORtg of 120. Can we hire Terry as an assistant coach?

Terry is not the only player to experience this phenomenon. Center Brad Miller saw a drop of about 5 minutes per game when traded from the Kings to the Bulls this year, but his PER and offensive efficiency improved markedly (PER-15.7 to 18.6, ORtg-112 to 118). Kevin Garnett lost 8 minutes per game when traded from Minnesota to Boston, yet his PER remained consistent and his ORtg increased from 110 to 118. Examples abound of veteran players who reduce their minutes and instantly see a boost in per minute production and efficiency, often back to the same stats they put up in their primes.

So if A.I.'s time in Detroit is a realistic expectation for Iverson's production then the Grizzlies have signed a player who is probably a significantly less valuable 6th man  than even Hakim Warrick was last season, or have signed a starting player who will likely drain possessions from much more efficient scorers.

Personally I believe A.I. was just in a bad situation in Detroit last year, and that, while his skills are certainly in decline, he has plenty of talent left. Lots of people point out that 71% of Iverson's field-goal attempts last season were jumpers, which is often a sign of decline. I'd like to point out that 69% of Iverson's field-goal attempts in his last season with Denver were jumpers, and he was still one of the most effective offensive players in the league.

If Iverson can return to efficiency similar to his time with the Denver Nuggets, which is realistic if he is given a lighter workload, a la Jason Terry, he will be right up there with Manu, The Jet, and Nate Rob in the conversation of top six-men in the league. 

So from a statistical standpoint it certainly looks like Allen Iverson really needs to either be short-minute starting for about 30 minutes a game, or needs to come off the bench while playing the end of the 4th quarter with the starters. Again Jason Terry is the best model for Iverson, who needs to realize that--at 34 years old--a shot at the 6th man of the year might help his team more than trying to win the MVP.