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David Berri

David Berri

Posted: November 29, 2009 12:27 PM

Can The Answer Be The Answer In Philadelphia?

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The 2009-10 NBA season began with Allen Iverson -- the Answer -- playing for the Memphis Grizzlies. After coming off the bench for three games, though, Iverson and the Grizzlies decided to part ways. And then a few days ago, Iverson announced his retirement.

Iverson's commitment to retirement, though, seems about as strong as his commitment to Memphis. On Saturday, ESPN.com reported that the Philadelphia 76ers are considering bringing the Answer out of retirement. But will Iverson help Philadelphia?

The answer to this question seems obvious. As of Saturday, Philadelphia was 5-11. The team's efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) was -5.2 -- a mark that projects to only 28 wins across an entire season. So Philadelphia is bad.

And of course, Iverson is one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Well, not really. First of all, Iverson is now 34 years of age. This is very young for an economist, but for an NBA player this is ancient. But even if Iverson was in his prime, he wouldn't be that much help. Iverson - a frequent topic at the Wages of Wins Journal (for a sample see HERE, HERE, and HERE)- has never been as productive as his reputation would suggest. Although he's a prolific scorer, his scoring is done inefficiently. In other words, he's like a 0.250 hitter in baseball who gets a lot of at-bats. Yes, he gets his hits. But he misses a lot also.

When we consider Wins Produced (a measure derived from a team's efficiency differential), we see that Iverson produced 61.3 wins across his career with a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.080. An average player posts a WP48 of 0.100, so Iverson -- across his entire career -- has been slightly below average (yes, inefficient scoring really doesn't help much).

That being said, he did post marks above the 0.100 mark in 2007-08 [0.130 WP48], 2005-06 [0.121 WP48], 2004-05 [0.124 WP48], 1998-99 [0.128 WP48], and 1997-98 [0.135 WP48]. So what if the Sixers could somehow acquire the above average Iverson?

Again, Philadelphia is a bad team. But even on a bad team, there can be good players (and good teams will employ bad players). And here is a list of the starters who are currently above average for the Philadelphia 76ers:

Andre Iguodala (shooting guard): 0.204 WP48
Louis Williams (point guard): 0.197 WP48

Iverson can play point guard and shooting guard. But coincidently, these are the only positions where the starters are above average. And both Iguodala and L. Williams are posting WP48 marks far above anything Iverson has ever done in his career.

Now Iverson could help off the bench. Both Willie Green [0.039 WP48] and Jrue Holiday [-0.0.29 WP48] are well below average. But Iverson has made it very clear that he doesn't want to come off the bench.

So Philadelphia and Iverson have a problem. The Sixers could make Iverson happy by signing him and letting him start, but that probably makes Philadelphia a worse team. Or the Sixers could have Iverson come off the bench. This might make the Sixers better, but make Iverson unhappy. Given these scenarios, it seems like the best option for all involved is to avoid bringing Iverson back to Philadelphia.

Let me close by answering two points Iverson fans will undoubtedly make. First, it's generally believed that Iverson sells tickets. This is true, if we consider tickets sold on the road. But at home, Iverson's star power is not much of a draw.

Fans of Iverson will also note that he was "the reason" the Sixers got to the NBA Finals in 2001. But when we look back on that team, the empirical evidence suggests that other players -- like George Lynch, Aaron McKie, and Tyrone Hill -- were the primary producers of wins.

For Philadelphia to once again become a contender, it needs to find productive players (like Lynch, McKie and Hill). Iguodala and L. Williams are a good start. And Marreese Speights [0.215 WP48] was helping when he was healthy. Until this team gets more players like this trio, though, the Sixers will struggle. And adding the Answer is not going to change that particular answer.