Alphabet Team
NBA All Alphabet Team: I. (Julie Jacobson/AP file photo)

NBA All Alphabet Team: I

The All Alphabet league wanders into I territory.

Perhaps we should make it sound a little more modern: the iTeam, anyone?

The I’s present a balanced unit, if not one that is as star studded as their contemporaries.

The back court can outscore anyone, but it might just give those points back at the other end. They’ve got another all time great scorer in the front court, too. Balancing that out is a behemoth at the pivot, and a defensive ace on the wing. Would the iTeam win a 7 game series against, to name an opponent, the D team? Probably not. But with this sort of firepower, they’ve got a punchers chance in a single elimination match up.

Point Guard – Kyrie Irving

When discussing Kyrie Irving, you can’t help but talking about issues beyond the court. The man is a paradox.

The 2 time All NBA nomination may or may not be a flat-earther and openly espouses other conspiracy theories. Irving – who is quarter Sioux – has brought light to many Native American issues.  Closer to the court, he seems like a charismatic and lovable teammate who can claim Kevin Durant as one of his closest allies. LeBron James might not feel the same way, however. Nor a few players in Celtic Green.

On the court, you can’t deny Irving’s impact. The former #1 pick is one of the best score first point guards the league has ever seen, who breaks down his opponent with an endless array of dribble moves that open up a devastating jump shot (39% from three for his career) or a lane to the bucket where he is an incredibly creative finisher.

Irving hasn’t always – ever? – focused on the defensive end of the floor, but still put’s up 1.4 steals per game for his career.

The six time All-Star is an offensive force: 22.4 points and 5.7 assists for his career. He’s not afraid of the big shot, including a rather famous one.

Shooting Guard – Allen Iverson

Is there a player that was more suited to the late 90’s and early 00’s than Allen Iverson?

An electric scorer with some of the best handles in the league, The Answer lit up the NBA. Iverson’s style was stereotypical of the era: flashy, brash, and exciting. His game was all about kamikaze drives to the hoop, skillful handles, blinding speed, surprising hops (despite being listed a 6’0”, Iverson could rise) and an obscene amount of swagger.

Four scoring titles in a seven year span (and his career high of 33 points per game in 2006 were only good for 2nd behind Kobe Bryant) highlight a career scoring average of 26.7 per game.

The 2001 MVP burst onto the scene in the 1997 season, picking up the Rookie of the Year award, posting 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game. His scoring aside, Iverson was able to consistently put up solid supporting stats. His assists fluctuated as he oscillated between the two guard spots, but as a point guard he generally averaged around 7 per game. He also led the league in steals on 3 occasions, using his blistering pace to jump passing lanes. Iverson averaged over 2 steals in each of his first 9 seasons, and didn’t drop below 1.5 per game until his age 32 season; his 13th in the league.

Steal and scoring numbers aside, Iverson’s game would have clashed with today’s efficiency focus. He never shot close to 50% from the floor, even winning the scoring title in 2002 while shooting under 40%. His deep game never developed as evidenced by a career success rate of 31.3%. His steals came about due being a relentless gambler on defense. If he didn’t pick the pass, his teammates faced a 5-on-4 situation. Iverson did get to the line a tonne of times, however. He averaged 9.8 attempts for his career, shooting at a solid 78%.

As well as his MVP, Iverson was a7 time all NBA selection and played in 11 All Star games. He completes a back court that can light up anyone – and get lit up at the other end. This iTeam will provide endless highlights, if nothing else!

Small Forward – Andre Iguodala

In time, Brandon Ingram will likely take this slot in the iTeam, but with only one season as a positive contributor to his name, Iggy holds his place.

Iguodala is most renowned for his time as the sage 6th man and defensive stopper with Golden State, where he won three titles and (somewhat controversially) an Finals MVP. His peak as a player, however, was in Philadelphia where in eight seasons he gave the Sixers 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.7 steals and outstanding two way play.

He has an All-Star appearance and a pair of All-Defensive Teams to his name, and is perhaps unlucky not to have more.  From 2007 through 2010, it’s almost inconceivable that Iggy couldn’t have made an All-Star roster in the weaker Eastern Conference. In his early days, he was an athletic marvel. Just look at some of these plays:

Whilst he’s never been a knockdown shooter – his game was built on the ability to drive and finish – he’s knocked down many timely shots through his career.

Iguodala’s a bit of a riddle. His career has perhaps been a touch overrated due to his time with the Warriors, but he could also quite rightly claim to be under appreciated (and under rewarded) through his early career in Philly. He should also have a Dunk Contest crown to his name. He was robbed blind in 2006. His slam at the 2:35 mark of this video is still one of my favourite dunks:

Perhaps he came along at the wrong time? It would have been wonderful to see his prime coincide with his iTeam running made Iverson.

Power Forward – Dan Issel

Issel’s is one of the more unlikely Hall of Fame careers, with the high scoring forward being an 8th round draft pick in 1970. A Hall of Famer he was, though. The Horse averaged 22.5 points and 9.1 boards per game over his 15 year ABA/NBA career, leading the ABA in scoring in 1971 with 29.9 points a night. He was often to physical for power forwards, and after a mid career switch to playing the ‘5’ full time, Issel was simply too fast for the lumbering centres of the era.

Most remember Issel as a Denver Nugget, where he spent the last the last 10 years of his career, having his #44 jersey retired, and playing in a pair of All Star games – one in each of the ABA and NBA. Issel was also a Coach, General Manager and President of the Nuggets at various points. As a coach, Issel masterminded the 8th seeded Nuggets famous upset of the Sonics back in 1994.

His best years as a player were spent in Kentucky, both in college where he was twice named All American; and in the ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, where he spent the first five years of his career. As a Colonel, he made five All ABA teams and played in five All Star games. Alongside Artis Gilmore and Louie Dampier, he led the Colonels to the 1975 ABA Championship.

Issel remained a productive player to the end, averaging 12.8 points in only 21 minutes per game, coming off the Denver bench as a 36 year old.

Centre – Zydrunas Ilgauskas

The Big Z rounds out our I Team.

A giant of a man, Ilgauskas’ career was – like his fellow 7’3” countryman Arvydas Sabonis – short circuited by foot and leg injuries.

After missing his first NBA season with a broken foot, Ilgauskas debuted in Cleveland in the 1998 season. After a promising rookie campaign in which he gave the Cavs 13.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per night (crucially, he didn’t miss a game), his 2nd season was a write off. Another broken foot meant that Ilgauskas only suited up on five occasions. He continued to suffer injuries over the next two seasons and his productivity dropped off markedly.

Despite being robbed of much of his agility and whatever quickness he had because of his lower body issues, Ilgauskas’ body eventually came good, missing an average of only 3.8 games over the next six seasons. In that span the big Lithuanian played in a pair of All Star games, averaging 15.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

Still the games and blocks record holder in Cleveland, Ilgauskas retired at the age of 35 after a season alongside his great friend LeBron James in Miami. As it was earlier in his career, his big body just couldn’t hold out any longer.