How Isaiah Thomas Stacks Up to Allen Iverson

Isaiah Thomas’ rise from quality starter to superstar has been one of the main talking points in the NBA this season.  And, given his size, he’s beginning to draw parallels to another undersized guard of the past: Allen Iverson.

So we’re taking a look, category by category, at who has the edge.  Keep in mind, when we’re comparing stats, we’ll be using Isaiah Thomas’ 16-17′ season, and Iverson’s 05-06′, his best statistical year.

Category #1: Scoring

Iverson’s claim to fame was his lethal scoring, leading the league 4 times in the category.  As for Thomas, he was a solid, albeit unspectacular scorer, averaging 17 points for his career before he burst onto the scene this season.

But those numbers need context.

Let’s take Iverson’s 05-06′ season.  He led the league with an impressive 33.0 points per game.  However, he hauled over 43 minutes a night that season, greatly inflating his numbers.  Adjusted per 36, which is still above Thomas’ minutes per game, that number shrinks to 27.3.

On top of this, Iverson was painfully inefficient, even for a guard.  Throughout most of his career, AI struggled to eclipse the 42% mark from the field.

Thomas, on the other hand, is rather efficient for a guard, and logs relatively low minutes.  Adjusted per 36, Isaiah’s numbers ballon to 30.5 points on an impressive 47% from the field.  The choice is clear.

Verdict: Isaiah Thomas

Category #2: Playmaking

One of the criticisms of Iverson’s playing style was that he played more like a shooting guard than a “true” point guard.  But this role suited him, and even though the ball was in his hands a rather excessive amount, he was a capable passer.

As for Thomas, many college scouting reports highlighted his limitations as a passer. He must’ve taken that to heart, as he’s made strides towards becoming a floor general since entering into the league.  Despite the progress, however, he’s still a tier below AI in this category.

Verdict: Allen Iverson

Category #3: Rebounding

Neither were very good at crashing the glass.  But who cares?  Both were sub-6 foot guards.

Verdict: Tie

Category #4: Defense

As good as Isaiah Thomas is offensively, he almost cancels it out with his atrocious play on the other end.  And that’s putting it lightly.  Among the 80+ point guards tracked by ESPN to determine Defensive Real Plus Minus, Thomas came in last.  Dead last.

Though his defense is often hidden by Avery Bradley whenever he’s on the floor, his lack of effort (which has to play a role) is inexcusable.

Iverson’s style of defense, while nothing to write home about, generated plenty of turnovers through playing the passing lanes and gambling.

Verdict: Allen Iverson

Category #5: Postseason Performance

The category name should speak for itself.

AI has put forth some of the most iconic postseasons in modern history, including the 2001 postseason, where he dragged an otherwise pitiful Sixers team all the way to finals.  Though he retired without a ring, his playoff averages are something to behold:  30 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals.

Thomas, on the other hand, is still new as it relates to the playoffs.  He’s only reached the postseason twice in his career (compared to 8 for Iverson), and still has seen his overall numbers, especially shooting percentage, fall once he’s gotten there.

Verdict: Allen Iverson

So while Thomas has blown us away with the season he’s having, especially given his height, he still has a ways to go before he reaches Iverson’s level.

Final Verdict: Allen Iverson

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