Wednesday , Nov , 19 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

Why you can’t win it all with A.I. as your go-to guy

Why you can't win it all with A.I. as your go-to guyYou know that old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well, I don’t know who that was originally meant for, but it’s definitely tailor made to describe Allen Iverson these days.

When the Pistons pulled off their trade with the Nuggets on Nov. 4, which sent Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess, Pistons general manager Joe Dumars had just one piece of advice for “The Answer:” “I just want you to be Allen Iverson.”

What else was he going to tell him?

At this stage, with 12 years of NBA experience under his belt and 33 years on his birth certificate, Iverson is who he is. And I think we all know what that is – a shoot-from-the-heels, ball-dominating shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body, who will give all-out effort every night but will completely take a team out of its offensive flow.

Look, Iverson is going to go into the Hall of Fame one day – championship or not – because of his gaudy numbers, the way he changed the NBA upon his arrival and for being, pound-for-pound, one of the best players in NBA history.

But you simply can’t win championships with Iverson as your go-to guy.

And it’s through no fault of A.I. himself.

He is simply a victim of his small frame.

A case of mistaken identity

Everything about Iverson screams “shooting guard” because of how often he’s looking for his own shot.

Problem is, at a generous six feet tall and 180 pounds soaking wet, Iverson is usually the smallest player on the floor, so teams put him at point guard. When that happens, it throws your entire offense out of whack.

Nobody will feel that more than the Pistons. In fact, it’s already begun to affect Richard Hamilton’s game.

Over his last three seasons in the NBA, “Rip” has averaged 20.1, 19.8 and 17.3 points per game, respectively, while shooting above 46 percent each year. But in the six games since A.I. has come in, Hamilton has averaged a shade over 16 a game and is shooting just 35 percent.

That’s because Hamilton’s game is predicated on designed plays that has him constantly moving without the ball and coming off screens. For that, he needs a point guard whose main goal is distributing the ball and not calling his own number.

That’s simply not Iverson’s game because he isn’t that “floor general.”

Basically, there are two types of passers in the NBA: distributors and assist men. Iverson is an assist man, meaning – in the rare times he isn’t looking for his own shot – he will only make a pass when he knows he’s going to get an assist out of it.

Most of the time, though, he’ll dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot. And when you’re a Pistons team that’s been used to doing it a certain way for five years, that can be a tough thing to adjust to.

Problems on the defensive end

I can definitely sympathize with Nuggets coach George Karl when he said coaching Iverson was “frustrating” at times because of his shoot-first mentality. Perhaps he and former 76ers coach Larry Brown can start a support group, with first-year Pistons coach Michael Curry joining them soon.

But I think an even bigger problem with Iverson comes on the defensive end.

It’s been proven that the best way to get results with Iverson on your team is to use him as a shooting guard and play him off the ball, while having a true point guard alongside him in the backcourt. It worked for Philadelphia in 2001, when Eric Snow teamed up with A.I., and the Sixers got all the way to the NBA Finals.

But that creates a major mismatch on the defensive end. With Iverson at the 2-guard spot, your team’s backcourt is undersized against opposing shooting guards. And if it’s Iverson – who only plays defense when he wants to – matching up against the opposing 2-guard, that means he’s giving up six or seven inches to the Kobe Bryants, Tracy McGradys, Ray Allens and Vince Carters of the world.

How it can possibly work

The only way I think a team can win a championship with Iverson is if they do with him what Brown was too scared to do and nobody else has even tried: make him your sixth man.

Iverson would be perfect being the first player off the bench because he brings so much energy and can be the go-to guy with the second unit.

The problem there, however, is with the strict NBA salary cap and Iverson’s near-$22 million-per-year contract — which means A.I. is the best or second-best player on your team. A championship simply is not in the cards if that’s the case.

But there’s always next year, when A.I. becomes a free agent and signs for a lot less money.

Maybe then he can play a slightly smaller role and finally get that elusive ring.