The Iverson Market

Dan Shanoff has named The Wages of Wins as one of the top ten sports books of 2006. In giving us this honor (which we think is pretty cool), Shanoff made the following observation:

The Wages of Wins, by David Berri et al. This “Freakonomics meets Sports” might be the most controversial book of the year, which is why it makes the list – can you believe that the most controversial sports book of the year was about statistical analysis? (Actually, yes I can, because “Moneyball” had an even bigger impact a few years ago.) I’m hoping that in ’07, Berri and John Hollinger settle the statistical scrum once and for all… in the Octagon, obviously.

One of controversies associated with our book was the few words we offered on the value of Allen Iverson. Iverson is generally thought of as one of the “best” players in the NBA. Our analysis of his ability to generate wins, though, suggested that Iverson is not one of the very top players in the game.

The events of this past week suggest that perhaps our take on Iverson was not really that controversial. The Philadelphia 76ers are now in the process of unloading “The Answer.” And the market for his services suggests that the other teams in the NBA are having trouble seeing Iverson as a player who will do much to further a team’s ability to win games in the regular season and the playoffs.

Perhaps Steve Kerr summarized the issue best in a column posted earlier this week.

Remember that television commercial a few years back for some rental car company where a group of marketing executives is shown in a board room thinking up ideas to help the company? One of the execs suggests that “maybe we should do this or that” and then they all look up in wonderment, imagining the resulting scene of the idea, which is inevitably disastrous.

That’s the scenario I’m guessing is taking place in NBA boardrooms across the country these days, as general managers and coaches debate the idea of acquiring Allen Iverson.

“What if we traded for A.I.?” one scout suggests to a room full of front office personnel. Then the group collectively imagines Iverson donning their team’s uniform, hoisting 25 fade-away jumpers a game, blowing off practice, skipping team functions and undermining the coach. Oh yeah, and taking up $20 million in salary-cap room each of the next 2½ seasons. “Naaahh, bad idea,” they all agree, and they move on.

That’s the problem Philadelphia 76ers general manager Billy King is facing right now. He’s trying to auction off a huge star who leads the league in scoring, yet most of the teams in the NBA have little interest in him. There’s just too much risk involved.

While there is no doubting Iverson’s talent – he’s incredibly quick and fast, an explosive scorer and a fearless man who brings effort and energy every night – he’s also a small, poor defender, an erratic shooter (42 percent for his career) and a guy who has a history of bad relationships with coaches. Add in the enormous contract, and the baggage is just too heavy.

Philadelphia has clearly committed to trading Iverson. He has been removed from the locker room and the team’s promotional materials. In taking these steps the 76ers clearly thought there would be a number of deals Philadelphia could choose among that could better their fortunes in the future. After a week, though, these deals have not emerged.

We do not know what deal Philadelphia will ultimately land for Iverson. But it does increasingly look like the rest of the NBA does not regard “The Answer” as a player who can substantially change a team’s fortunes on the court. Maybe the NBA is learning to appreciate the negative consequences of missed shots and turnovers; or what happens when you tie up much of your salary cap space in a player who often help ends possessions without any scoring taking place.

Of course, I should reiterate what I have said since last summer. Iverson is capable of being an above average player. And Philadelphia could have built a contender around Iverson’s talents. That is not what the 76ers have done, but it certainly could have happened. Now these same people who couldn’t get it done with Iverson are going to try and go ahead without him. Given the track record of decision-makers in Philadelphia, fans of the Sixers shouldn’t be holding their breath waiting for another title contender.

Sports Illustrated reports current NBA salaries

Once upon a time researchers in the NBA had a difficult time finding accurate salary data for NBA players. When Stacey and I started this research back in the mid-1990s we often had to look through “The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball” for salary information. Patricia Bender’s website also proved to be an invaluable resource. Now we have access to this information from USA Today for past seasons, although the USA Today does not always report the current season very quickly.

Well, yesterday CNNSI.com reported salary data for the 2006-07 season and beyond. So we finally are getting current data a bit more quickly. Research does require data, and it is nice that salary data for the NBA is finally being reported in a timely and accurate fashion, which was not the case when we first started this course of study so many years ago.

– DJ

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