by Russ Bengtson

Allen Iverson is way too low on this list.

Just look at the numbers. AI played in all 82 games last season, and was on the floor for over 40 minutes a game (leading the League in that category for the seventh time). He averaged 26.4 points, 7.1 assists and 2.0 steals, all right around his career averages. This in his 12th season, which hardly anyone expected him to even reach when he first came into the L. Playing every game like it’s your last does not promote longevity.

Yet here it is 2008, and Iverson—all 5-11, 165 pounds of him—is the very picture of durability. He gets dinged up a lot, but excluding the lockout-shortened ’99 season, he’s only played four seasons of 70 games or less. Look at the rest of the vaunted class of ’96: AI’s started more games than Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash, played in more games than Jermaine O’Neal or Marcus Camby. Shareef Abdur-Rahim retired this summer, Kerry Kittles and Samaki Walker have been gone for ages, and Antoine Walker and Stephon Marbury teeter on the brink of irrelevancy (not to mention madness). Yet AI just keeps on going. At 32, he was the leading scorer and leading assist man and leading thief and leading free-throw shooter (in both attempts—by far—and percentage) for a 50-win team in the West. If he’s lost a step, it’s hard to tell.

There is no one quite like Allen Iverson, there has been no one quite like Allen Iverson, there will be no one quite like Allen Iverson. He remains atop the list of players other players would pay to see live. He’s more than just an NBA All-Star, he’s a pure athletic marvel who would have excelled at whatever sport he chose to play. Imagine him as a roving midfielder in the Premiership, a shortstop in the majors, a d-back or quarterback in the NFL.

How is he not in the top 10?

Hmm.

Allen Iverson is way too high on this list.

If you believe what DavidBerri (who love Iverson like a fat kid love asparagus) and the rest of the stat-crunchers say, AI probably shouldn’t even be on this list at all. He’s—what’s the term?—a low-percentage, high-volume shooter, a guy who gambles on steals and dominates the ball too much and commits too many turnovers and doesn’t give his team much of a chance to win. This, of course, disregards the fact that he often gets off shots that no other player could even dream of shooting, and sometimes those shots go in. But that’s what you miss when you bury yourself in agate and spreadsheets. (One would think that using economic models to judge other things after the near-collapse of the economy would be frowned upon, if not openly laughed at. Guess not.)

Still, Berri’s argument has at least some merit. Iverson does control the ball too much, he does forego principles of sound man-to-man defense to play the passing lanes, he does take shots that he has no business taking, he does have a tendency to fall into the “hell, I got this” mentality when he should be looking for the open man. He’ll certainly be the only Hall of Famer to have spent more time in TGI Friday’s than practice facilities.

Most damning, perhaps, is the fact that Iverson’s teams have only won two playoff games in the past five seasons. It’s been eight years since he led the blue-collar Sixers to the Finals, and time is rapidly running out for Iverson to be the alpha dog for an NBA champion. If you believe what’s been said in the media, his value to Denver next year may be more as a large expiring contract than as a leading scorer. Imagine that. Some people seem to think that it’s time for Carmelo Anthony take over as Denver’s leader. Melo shot a better percentage than AI last season from the floor (not surprising) and from three (fairly surprising), so perhaps he should be getting the lion’s share of the shots.

Maybe Allen Iverson is right where he belongs.

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