- Guy Lake
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Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NBA team. Be sure to check out the 30 Questions Index to see them all.
Which Allen Iverson will we see this season: the one who averaged 30-plus points per game in his last two seasons in Philadelphia or the one who put up 24.8 points per game last year in Denver? More importantly, where should you draft him?
I have participated in a number of drafts to this point -- and how my wife loves me for it -- and have a few yet to go. One thing that has struck me is the consistent devaluation of Iverson. You would think he was a dollar bill in Denmark the way he has fallen. This former first-round lock now is going much later. He was the 18th pick overall, falling to Eric Karabell, in a 10-team draft the ESPN fantasy writers conducted this week, and Brian McKitish got him with the 20th pick in the mock draft for the ESPN Draft Kit. In one of my long-standing leagues, Iverson went 25th overall -- the third round in a 12-team league! I think the "experts" are devaluing him with these late second-round picks, and he seems to be going even later in regular leagues. Hmmm, maybe he's not "The Answer" anymore?
Clearly, owners are put off by the numbers Iverson put up after coming to Denver last season. The thinking is he deferred too much to Carmelo Anthony, causing his numbers to fall off dramatically. His post-trade numbers: 42.3 minutes, 24.8 points, 1.0 3-pointers, 7.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game, on 45.4 percent shooting from the field and 75.9 percent shooting from the line. Most of these numbers were a decline from what Iverson posted in Philadelphia prior to the trade.
But let's take a closer look at these numbers. While Iverson's points went down as a result of taking 5.5 fewer shots per game while with the Nuggets, his shooting percentage actually improved. He shot 41.3 percent in 24.4 attempts with the 76ers and 45.4 percent in 18.9 attempts with the Nuggets. His free-throw shooting on the Nuggets looks to be an outlier. Iverson shot 80 percent or better five of seven years this decade.
But he shot 75.9 percent for the Nuggets, his lowest since 2003-04 and second-lowest since 1999-2000.
What do 2003-04 and last year have in common? Injury. In 2003-04, Iverson missed the most games of his career (34) with shoulder and right knee injuries. Last season, Iverson missed eight games with the Nuggets because of a recurring right ankle sprain that he initially suffered Jan. 29. It was after that game that we saw the steep decline in A.I.'s scoring. Prior to the injury, in the month of January, Iverson averaged 26.5 points, 1.1 3-pointers, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals on 44.6 percent shooting from the field and 84.2 percent shooting from the line. I think this is a more accurate forecast of Iverson's production this year than the hobbled months that followed. In fact, the only stat from January I consider an outlier is the low steals; a healthy Iverson will be good for two steals per contest. Yes, he'll defer to 'Melo and force the issue less on the Nuggets, but I think this is a good thing. Fewer madcap drives to the bucket will mean fewer injuries for A.I.
Essentially, I see Iverson as a less expensive version of Gilbert Arenas. Whereas Gilbert will cost you a top-five pick in most leagues, A.I. is far more affordable in the late second or early third round. Furthermore, I don't think he will be all that much less productive. He isn't likely to equal Arenas' scoring, but otherwise, the only place he comes up short to Gil is 3-point shooting. He will best Arenas in assists. Iverson is starting the season at point guard (Chucky Atkins is not recovering well from a sore groin), and even when Atkins is back, Iverson will remain the primary passer from the backcourt. This will lead to about seven dimes per game. If Iverson gets even close to his career average (2.3), he will top Gil in steals as well. Arenas' and Iverson's percentages are essentially equal over their careers, so these categories are a wash.
Still not convinced? Let's look at the standard settings for ESPN leagues. There are no turnovers, people! Whether you like that or not -- removing turnovers could be unfair to big men -- doing so boosts Iverson's value even more than it does for all point guards and removes one of his two negative categories. Iverson's 268 turnovers were fourth-worst in the NBA last season, and he missed 17 games. He averaged 4.1 per game, nearly one more per game than Arenas (3.2), so in non-turnover leagues, I see Iverson as a late-first-round value. Take him in the second (or third), and you will be well-positioned to make a run in your league.
Guy Lake is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
2hEthan Sherwood Strauss