Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Iverson Effect

I believe there are often times when a player is so gifted athletically that fans (and experts) are so amazed by the great plays that they overlook the obvious shortcomings of the player. Even more so, I would contend that often the player is put into a position to be a late game hero because of his own failure to deliver during the rest of the game. This is what I call the “Iverson Effect”.

Allen Iverson is no doubt a talented basketball player. He has a reputation throughout his career of being a great clutch player, a guy who carries the team in the fourth quarter to amazing come-from-behind victories.

I would contend, however, that he is the reason his team is behind in the fourth quarter. Iverson has historically been a selfish player, a shoot first, pass second guard (not my favorite type). I'll give two examples from the 1999-2000 season. On December 23rd, 1999 in a 94-99 loss against the New Jersey Nets, Iverson, the starting point guard played 47 minutes, scoring 42 points. He had NO assists. He scored 42 points by chucking the ball up 26 times (making 11 baskets) and going to the free throw line 20 times and making 17 freebies. Nobody on the 76ers shot particularly well that day, but 47 minutes, and not one cheap assist?

Later that same season on March 29th, Iverson played the whole game in an 84-98 loss to the Utah Jazz. Iverson was 7-21 from the floor, with only four trips to the charity stripe, and a ho-hum 18 points. Again he had 0 assists. This time, his teammates were shooting sharp. Toni Kukoc was 6-12, Tyrone Hill 4-8, Aaron McKie 3-6 and Matt Geiger 6-9. Not one of those guys was the beneficiary of an assisted basket by Iverson. They are all shooting well and he throws up 21 shots, bricking 14 of them. He could’ve had 5-8 easy assists by passing the ball to the hot hand.

Iverson isn't even a great shooter. For his career he is only 42% from the floor. He good at driving the lane and drawing fouls, but even with all that he's still only 42%. He’s gotten better from the floor the past few seasons, and has learned to bring his teammates into the game. But he was already a legend by that point in time. And I’m referring to the stuff that made him a legend.

Let’s take into hand his reputation for being a clutch 4th quarter player, and let’s assume its true (I have no statistical evidence to confirm nor deny it). Let’s say that he does play better in the last 12 minutes when the game is on the line, and he shoots 50% in that quarter (a big assumption, but it will help illustrate a point). If Iverson truly is that good in the fourth quarter, which is what his supporters would like to believe, then he’s even worse in the first three quarters than the statistics earlier supported. For if he’s a 42% career field goal shooter, and he hits 50% in the clutch fourth quarter, then statistically, he must be shooting under 40% for the rest of the game; possibly well under.

Whereas, if Iverson were to play solid in the first three quarters, the 76’ers would likely have been in the lead in the fourth quarter and had no need for his late game heroics. Its because he missed the shots earlier in the game and failed to get his teammates involved, that late in the game he has no choice but to try to make it up.

And here’s where the legends are made. Let’s say you are trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter and you take 10 shots. If you are cold, and make only 3 out of 10 baskets, your team will never really be in it down the stretch, and so there won’t be any close moments for you to blow. If you’re somewhat hot, and you make 5 out of 10 baskets, now you’ve helped bring your team back… even if you still lose. People remember, “yeah, the 76’ers lost, but Iverson helped bring them back”, completely forgetting the 1-9 effort in this first 3 quarters (for example). And if you’re really lucky, and go 7-10 or 8-10, then you overcome that big deficit single handedly, and a legend is born.

The Iverson effect is essentially, a player puts himself into the situation to be the star of a game because of his inability to play well earlier in the game. I think this happens with several ‘superstars’ out there in many different sports. The player can’t stay focused for the whole 9 innings or the whole four quarters or 3 periods. So they hang around, playing mediocre, and give it their best shot late in the game.

It’s really the opposite of the “ARod Effect”. The ARod Effect would be a player who puts up great stats but has a reputation for failing in the clutch. ARod’s critics would say he hits an ‘empty’ 50 home runs and meaningless 140 rbis. Perhaps he does struggle in some close moments; but I would contend that the number of close moments is greatly reduced because he played so well during the rest of the game. Because ARod hit that 3 run home run in the ‘meaningless third inning’, the Yankees were leading by 5 in the 8th inning and didn’t need any heroics. Or because he hit that ‘meaningless 2 run homer in the first inning’, the Yankees were down by only one run late in the game… and he strikes out at that point making himself the goat.

I’ll admit I’m not Iverson fan. He possesses many characteristics I dislike in modern athletes. A criminal background, a lot of hype, self centered style of play, more athleticism then basketball skill. He was everything John Thompson didn’t like in a guard, but played for the Hoyas, in my opinion, because of a political statement by Mr. Thompson.

Look, Allen Iverson is a very good player, with great athletic ability in a 6’0” frame. And in the past few years, he’s learned to involve his teammates. But if a guy in my church basketball league put up 27 shots in a night and made only 11, and did that on a regular basis, we’d all have a simple name for him: he’s a ‘chucker’. You wrap that chucker up in an athletic body, and suddenly he’s labeled a star. Accomplishes the same thing… but gets more recognition doing it. In my book, if you put up 25+ shots in a game, you had better score 30+ points. Scoring 20 points on 10-14 shooting is impressive; scoring 20 points on 10-30 shooting isn’t.


goSUgo said...

you should rename the Iverson effect to the McNamara effect. Kid was the pure definition of a chucker, and the only reason he was able to hit a handful of late game winners was because he had spent the previous 38 minutes shooting his team out of the game.

OrangeRay said...

Gosugo, I'll have to respectfully disagree with you on Gerry McNamara being a chucker. Like many perimeter shooters, he had hot and cold runs. However, while I am a huge McNamara fan, I do agree that many elements of the Iverson effect could apply to him. Being a chucker is not a requirement for that effect to apply.