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Profile of a Shooter: Allen Iverson, MVP

Mar 1, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; A banner with the jersey number of Philadelphia 76ers former guard Allen Iverson is raised to the rafters during a ceremony at halftime of game between the 76ers and Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Allen Iverson is one of the most divisive players in basketball history, and not just because of his rough persona or the infamous “talking about practice” rant that spawned a thousand mashups. Iverson’s offensive game was one the last, best examples of a different era in NBA basketball, an era of basketball where quantity often obscured quality when it came to statistical achievements and “can get his own shot” was a bigger badge of honor than “efficient scorer.”

As analytics have pushed further and further into the mainstream basketball consciousness Iverson’s record is often diminished, in particular his MVP award for the 2000-2001 season. He was a warrior that season, of that there is no doubt. He led the league in scoring, at 31.4 per game, and in usage, at 35.9%, while playing an absurd 42.0 minutes per game. Iverson carried a team who’s second best player was a Todd MacCulloch to 56 wins and a berth in the NBA Finals. But he did all that scoring with a true shooting percentage of 51.8%, 93rd in the league among players who qualified for the scoring title that season.

In many ways this is the model season for the prototypical high-volume, low-efficiency scorer. Check out his shot chart from that season:

To be honest, it’s not nearly as grim as I was expecting. He was surprisingly effective on mid-range jumpers from a few different areas — the right elbow and both baselines. He was also a respectable three-point shooter from the right wing, many of which I would assume were kick-outs off post-ups by MacCulloch. There’s also a revealing pattern around the basket, where Iverson was very effective if he could get all the way to the room, but considerably less so in the area around the basket where his diminutive size put him at an extreme disadvantage if he couldn’t draw a foul. Staring at that patch of blue radiating away from the basket brings back a host of memories of short-fallaways and errant floaters.

There is also the big patch of blue from the left elbow to the baseline. This was another area where a lot of pull-ups came from as he drove into the teeth of the defense, was rebuffed and resorted to a fallaway jumper. In all, about 34.0% of Iverson’s true shot attempts1 were mid-range jumpers that season. Out of curiosity, I ran Iverson’s Expected Points Per Shot2 for this season and came up with 1.020, a number which would have been considerably uglier if Iverson not for his ability to get to the line. For reference, the league average this season was about 1.049. Iverson’s actual Points Per Shot was 1.036, so he was slightly more efficient than we would expect for someone with his shot selection. I don’t mean to sit here and tear down Iverson, he was an incredible player to watch and I enjoyed the heck out of his career. But the prevailing argument still stands — it seems like he could have been a better offensive player if he took better shots.

For anyone who’s still in denial about the importance of efficiency in today’s NBA, just send them here and have them take a look at Iverson’s shot chart.

The shot chart in this post is the work of our own Austin ClemensCheck out shot charts for any NBA player going back to the 1996-1997 season here.

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  1. This includes shot attempts and trips to the free throw line
  2. A rough metric I developed for measuring the quality of a player or team’s shot selection.

Ian Levy

Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh) writes about basketball from the wilds of Southern Vermont. He is the editor of Nylon Calculus, a regular contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm,VICE Sports, Bleacher Report and an irregular contributor to several of your other favorite sports media outlets.