Relocated Iverson: The Silverbird Sessions

One of the greatly underrated aspects of FreeDarko is the power of the collabo. You may only see the final product, but the process behind each post usually involves more than just the author's scalded noggin. Nowhere is this more true than when I write on something that might come up in casual conversation; about half of these come out of phone calls with the man known only as Silverbird 5000.

This post, however, is not an outpouring of affection. Instead, it's the pretext for some late thoughts on Iverson that happened now only because I hadn't talked to 5K in about a week. Once we worked through the latest run of natural disasters, talk turned to the new look (or for the moment, the no-look) Denver Nuggets. Both of us agreed that even this skeletal line-up was more fun to watch than the Sixers have been in ages, and that some pretty dim effigies had proven capable of running with The Answer. Sure, he had an off-night against NOOCH, resulting in an all-too-familair box score. But when Iverson has been on, the Nuggets' second-teamers have been right there with him.

The question, of course, was whether Iverson's changed, the change in team has been that drastic, or whether we're being treated to a first-blush illusion. Watching these Denver games, the thing I've become most aware of is how off-hand Iverson's passing is. Once the entire opposing defense has collapsed around, AI casually tosses the ball to any number of open men. They might be behind the three-point line, or under the basket, or in a position to drive; the important thing is that, with Iverson blanketed in chaotic activity, they should be able to get buckets. He doesn't set any one up, or guide them to the hoop, or even necessarily care who has the best shot. Iverson kills himself so that others might move forth simply. That's all he asks, and yet this places a tremendous burden on these teammates, who are almost dared to fuck up a no-brainer.


While Iverson might have a little exultant bounce in his game than usual, he still looks like the same player to me. Those Nuggets aren't any better than this last batch of Sixers, so the talent theorem is out the window. We're left with two options: either Denver's style of play better suits AI, or there's something psychological going on with his new teammates. SB5000 was all for the former, but I still see it boiling down to one basic truth: when the Nuggets get the ball, they quite naturally take it and score.

I am never going to believe that Iverson is the perfect teammate. For the reasons mentioned above, he makes the gift of the open look into an ironic bind. It's not a stretch to suggest that this had become part of the Sixers' team culture, transmitted from roster to roster and persisting in spite of coaching changes. By the time Iguodala came aboard, this was not only the feel of the workplace—it was embossed with the lumber of immortality. Now undoubtedly, many of you are outraged at this claim. That's why I'm going to kick it over to El Birdo's ghost, who sharply asserts that these Nuggets are just not overwhelmed the way the Sixers were. They get the ball, they're open, and they go about their business. I don't necessarily think that Iverson means to intimidate his teammates, but he certainly puts them in intimidating situations, making what should be an act of cooperation into something almost antagonistic. Neither Silverbird nor myself anticipate this being an issue with Melo or J.R., and yet Iguodala has emerged as a force when paired with the slightly more sympathetic Andre Miller.

You might have a firm desire to kill me now, but I hereby defy you to come up with a more plausible explanation. Certainly Iverson was not blessed with the strongest of companions, and yet now he thrives with far less. He demonstrated little on-court rapport with his longtime boyz, and yet overnight gets a flow going in Denver. The only possible conclusion is this: Allen Iverson has had the good fortune to come to a team that is not, has not, and may never be, his. And therein lies his greatest chance of belonging.


At 12/31/2006 12:18 PM, Blogger aparish21 said...

So basically you're saying that since AI doesn't personally feel responsible for the on court happenings of the Nuggets as he did for the Sixers, it is making life easier for everyone? I don't buy it completely. To a man, it shouldn't matter what the "star" thinks of you. You either have the balls to do the job or you don't. Now I will buy that since the guys AI is playing with are still in the line of thinking that Melo is their General they don't expect AI to be the saving grace and feel a personal responsibilty to step up in Melo's absence whereas in Philly AI's old teammates are free to showcase themselves and not defer to Uverson.

At 12/31/2006 12:19 PM, Blogger aparish21 said...

* Iverson

At 12/31/2006 12:57 PM, Anonymous chad ford and the mormon wailers said...

I don't know if this makes any sense, but THERE IS NO "U" IN IVERSON. AI can't adapt to you, but you have to adapt to him.

wv: xunch. Dunno. Been drinking. Should go to bed.

At 12/31/2006 1:16 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

Iverson hasn't changed. He has always been willing to make the pass after driving the lane. On the sixers, the biggest problem on offense was that most of the players couldn't finish. Dalembert has hands of stone and can't catch the ball down low. Iguodala needs to drive to the hoop to be effective, but that was Iverson's role. Only Korver was able to take advantage of open looks from Iverson.

What you call the ironic bind is that iverson sets up the guy who should finish, irrespective of whether the player has the talent to finish.
Better distributors, Nash for example, appear to base their decisions on whether a teammate has the ability to finish the play.

At 12/31/2006 1:24 PM, Blogger T. said...

Roy - it's an old coaching axiom. KYP. Know Your Personnel. That's a really interesting thought about the difference between Ivy and someone like Nash, and I'd never thought about viewing the game through that prism.

At 12/31/2006 1:30 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'll say it again: are these denver cats any more talented? or do they just happen to have the skills necessary to play with iverson, even if they lack in other areas?

maybe it's that simple.

this will all be irrelevant once melo and smith are back. they both love the shoot, but neither one needs to handle the ball. melo can make something happen from anywhere on the floor with a minimum of action, and as long as smith is beyond the arc or within slashing distance of the hoop. . .

At 12/31/2006 6:58 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

What I think makes this more interesting is the statement that this isn't and won't be AI's team. I do not dispute this fact, but wonder where this leaves will leave Iverson in the annals of basketball history. Many writers and analysts write and speak on Garnet's want or even NEED to be the second banana on a team (the reason many thought Iverson would be a perfect fit on that team) but does this mean that in the end it was Iverson who ultimately needed to be the complementary force on a team to successfully take that team to the chip?

At 12/31/2006 11:04 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

In the annals of basketball history? I don't think it's so complicated. Iverson is already a lock for the Hall of Fame. He is third all-time in PPG. He won the MVP leading a team to the finals that would otherwise have been in the lottery. He is not Jordan, but no one else is. He is arguably the best player ever under 6ft tall.

If he wins a title with the Nuggets, his reputation is boosted but without really changing anything. It doesn't make him the equal of Jordan. There will still be an argument over who is the best under 6ft player etc.

At 1/01/2007 11:43 AM, Blogger GentleWhoadie9000 said...


Kareem Abdul Jabaar spotted riding float at Rose Parade wearing terrible ass cowboy gear including frilly leather jacket.

Visual effect: terrible

At 1/01/2007 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is AI's team fellas. Have you been watching the Nuggets play? Everything flows through Allen's hands. Teammates are joking with him and slapping him on the ass. He's doing the same. He looks like he did in '01 with Philly. These things had just disappeared in Philly the last few years. There was too much anxiety about losing for him to have fun.
I do believe when Melo gets back, AI will still be the leader. This is just who he is. Think about a team huddle in the playoffs. Karl's out on the court bitching at Dick Bevetta, but the players are together on the bench. Who speaks up? I'm sure AI would be the first to say "alright, listen up...let's fuck these guys up". I'm not saying AI's leader role will mean he needs more shots than Melo, or the last shot in the game. But, because of his experience and drive for a ring he will be the leader.

At 1/02/2007 1:06 AM, Anonymous basketball said...

AI can score. And he can flat out play. The real question mark is what happens when Melo gets back from his suspension? Who will take the lead and how will they share their shots. If they mesh, it's going to be a high-scoring team.

At 1/02/2007 11:00 AM, Blogger Stumbleweed said...

Melo leads the team in that he knocks down huge game-winning shots and carries the bulk of the scoring load (without dominating the ball aside from getting a lot of shots on a team that shoots about 85/game). And clearly, he's still the face of the franchise and is definitely the future of the organization.

AI leads the team in that he gets them going when they're playing badly, is vocal with them, and actually has the experience and clout to tell the other guys what to do. AI dominating the ball is what he does to create for others and himself (as mentioned), and I don't think it would bug Melo that he doesn't have to dribble as much (bye-bye high TO numbers). And I've been absolutely dying watching Yakhouba Diawara and DerMarr miss wide-open threes and 15-footers. When JR gets back, that shit's over -- he'll have a chance at the top threes made/attempted spot by the end of the year. I think this will work perfectly.

At 1/02/2007 4:10 PM, Blogger O.D.B. said...

This is not a league of coaches, this much I know is true, but can this discussion really go any further without mentioning George Karl?

My theory is that Karl 'got the flow going in Denver' and AI is the perfect fish for that stream. Think of all the great teams Karl has coached and imagine the piece you always wanted to see. Gary Payton? Nice, but a little more slash would have been real nice huh? Ray Allen and Sam Casell? Great stuff, but the flow depended on the the Bucks field goal percentage.

And don't ignore the structuralists and Conference culture. Determinism: Even the Nuggs 12th man can't help but feel the flow. Blaming the Victim: The Sixers, the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Division (!) could never provide for AI. 2011: AI plays out his final years with the Knicks sounding like de Tocqueville as he rants about pure democracy in Denver.

At 1/02/2007 4:50 PM, Blogger O.D.B. said...

And I promise that comment was produced before I read TrueHoop/David Thorpe (similar subject matter): http://www.truehoop.com/denver-nuggets-68195-david-thorpe-has-been-watching-allen-iverson.html


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