Player 1: 9.6 FG, 22.6 FGA, 27.7 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 43 FG%, 31 3PFG%, 78 FT%
Player 2: 7.0 FG, 16.1 FGA, 19.7 PPG, 7.8 APG, 3.0 RPG, 43 FG%, 33 3PFG%, 79 FT%
Player 2 is a two-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection, and former Olympian. Player 1 is a nine-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA selection, former Olympian, and former MVP.
Player 1 is Allen Iverson.
Player 2 is Stephon Marbury.
Based upon their numbers, Iverson and Marbury appear to have had similar careers. Iverson has taken more shots and scored more points. But both players are high-volume, low efficiency scorers. And yet their careers have taken very different paths since they were drafted together in 1996.
Iverson was selected first by the Philadelphia 76ers and began his career at the point guard position. The results weren’t pretty as the shoot-first ask questions never Iverson led the Sixers to a 22-60 record in his rookie season. Iverson moved to shooting guard in his second season, but Philadelphia continued to struggle. The 76ers won an average of 27 games over Iverson’s first three seasons.
Marbury was selected fourth by the Milwaukee Bucks and traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Marbury teamed with Kevin Garnett to the lead the T’Wolves to a 40-42 mark and a playoff birth in his rookie season. The T’Wolves made the playoffs again in 1998, but Marbury forced a trade 18 games into the lockout shortened 1998-1999 season. Marbury had become disillusioned with his role in Minnesota’s offense and the fact that Kevin Garnett made more money. Minnesota granted Marbury’s trade wish by shipping him to New Jersey.
The Iverson led Sixers started winning games in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, although Iverson’s numbers remained relatively unchanged from years prior. Iverson was still a high-volume, low efficiency scorer whose sole purpose on the defensive end was to gamble for steals. But the Sixers surrounded AI with guys like Tyrone Hill, Theo Ratliffe, George Lynch, Aaron McKie, Dikembe Mutombo, and Eric Snow — players that were happy to do the dirty work, corral Iverson’s misses, and look the other way when Iverson decided to sleepwalk through practices.
Marbury struggled in two and a half seasons in New Jersey and was traded to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Jason Kidd before the 2001-2002 season. With Kidd at the helm, the Nets won 52 games in 2001-2002 and advanced to the NBA Finals. Kidd received a lot of press for his efforts (rightfully so) and critics pointed to Marbury’s departure as the primary reason for New Jersey’s success. But Kidd’s addition and Marbury’s subtraction wasn’t the only reason for New Jersey’s turnaround. The Nets also acquired Kerry Kittles, Todd MacCulloch, and rookie Richard Jefferson after trading Marbury.
The 76ers were eliminated in the first round of the 2001-2002 playoffs. Philly’s early exit after a Finals appearance the year before prompted Larry Brown to put Iverson on blast for missing practices. Philadelphia was eliminated from the playoffs in the second round the following year. Iverson continued to rack up great individual numbers, but the Sixers continued to struggle in the postseason as Philadelphia was eliminated in the first round again in 2004-2005. The bottom fell out in 2005-2006 when Iverson averaged a career-high 33 points per game, but the Sixers missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Iverson demanded a trade to the Denver Nuggets in December of 2006.
The Suns struggled in Marbury’s first season in Phoenix. But Phoenix won 44 games in 2002-2003 after drafting Amare Stoudemire and took the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to six games in the first round of the 2003 NBA playoffs. Stoudemire suffered a severe ankle sprain and missed the first 18 games of the 2003-2004 season and the Suns struggled to a 3-15 start before Marbury was dealt to the Knicks on January 5th, 2004.
The Knicks made the playoffs with Marbury manning the point over the final 47 games of his first season in New York. But it’s been downhill for Marbury and the Knicks ever since. Like Iverson before him, Marbury feuded publicly with Larry Brown and he and Isiah Thomas never saw eye-to-eye in Thomas’ two seasons on the bench.
Two superstars with a history of selfishness and on-and-off-the-court problems. Two players who are perceived very differently by fans and members of the media. Iverson is regarded as warrior, winner, and someone who leaves it all on the floor every night. And yet Iverson has only advanced past the second round once.
It’s true that the T’Wolves, Nets, and Suns improved sans Marbury. And Jason Kidd and Steve Nash were definitely an upgrade over Stephon in New Jersey and Phoenix. Forgive me if I fail to see that as valid criticism against Marbury. Kidd and Nash are two of the ten greatest point guards of all-time. And neither Kidd or Nash did it alone. Both players benefited from key acquisitions made after Marbury’s departure.
I’m not making excuses for ‘Starbury.’ His antics are well-documented and he’s had more than his fair share of opportunities to succeed. Marbury could have played out his career next to Kevin Garnett, which wouldn’t have been a bad gig (see Pierce, Paul or Allen, Ray). But the notion that his career is finished, or that he’s only worth the veteran’s minimum is a farce.
There’s still a spot for Stephon Marbury in today’s NBA. But it involves a move to a position he should have been playing from the beginning of his career. Marbury isn’t a point guard. He never has been and he never will be. He doesn’t have a point guard’s mentality. Marbury is a scorer. And if there’s a place for Allen Iverson at shooting guard, there’s a place for Stephon Marbury. The only real difference between Iverson and Marbury (offensively) is shot attempts. I would normally scoff at such an analysis, and respond with a comment stating that it’s foolish to assume Marbury could equal Iverson’s production with more shot attempts. But in this case, I think it’s valid. Marbury can shoot as well as Iverson, is just as explosive, and may be a better finisher.
Both players’ shot selection is questionable and both players are career 43% shooters (Iverson shot 42% during his MVP season). The only reason Marbury shoots less is because he spends time distributing (poorly) from the point guard position. Save all of the “Iverson is a better shooter” or “Iverson is a better defender” or “Iverson is a better teammate” talk. I’m not buying it. Granted, Marbury would have to be open to such a move, and it might require a trade or release-and-sign with a veteran laden team that could assist with the transition, but it may be the only way for Marbury to resurrect what’s left of his career.