by John Smallwood, DAILY NEWS COLUMNIST @SmallTerp
I was still debating in my head when I clicked on the image so I could see how the tabulation was going.
On Monday’s edition of SportsNation, viewers were asked to go to ESPN.com to vote on which player was harder to guard in his prime: former Sixers star and Hall of Fame-bound guard Allen Iverson or Golden State Warriors guard and reigning two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry?
Perhaps it was because of familiarity, but without giving it any thought I picked Iverson.
After thinking about it a bit longer, I decided I made the correct choice.
I covered Iverson up close and personal from his days at Georgetown University through his decade with the Sixers when he became an NBA legend.
I’ve seen Curry play in person only a few times when the Warriors made their one visit a season to South Philadelphia, but I’ve watched him a lot on television.
It is not the same experience.
Seeing the action live from courtside brings in subtle nuances that don’t always translate as well to television. I think speed and quickness are at the top of that list.
Iverson was the fastest person I’ve ever seen while dribbling a basketball — whether it was going straight forward or weaving through a gantlet of defenders blocking his path to the basket.
The man was a human blur and only a handful of the greatest athletes in the world ever had a prayer of keeping up.
Even double-teaming him was a fruitless proposition because he was in constant motion at high speed and the double usually could not get there quickly enough.
For the most part, Iverson could not be defended. His speed, ballhandling and willingness to take punishment made him virtually unstoppable once he decided he was going to attack the basket.
That’s where the biggest argument for Curry comes in.
Iverson’s offensive arsenal was predicated on driving to the rim. He never developed more than a marginal midrange game. He averaged 30 or more points in five of his seven prime seasons with the Sixers but never shot better than 44.7 percent from the floor.
You could not stop him from getting off his shot, but there was a better than 50 percent chance he would miss if it was not a layup.
Curry is the ultimate shot-maker.
After just 495 NBA games, he is already at 19th on the all-time list for three-pointers with 1,593. His career three-point percentage of .444 is better than Iverson’s career shooting percentage of .425.
To effectively defend Curry, you literally have to start 25 feet away from the basket.
Still, although Curry is a good ballhandler and has quickness, he cannot beat a defender off the dribble the way Iverson could.
He doesn’t have the physical stamina Iverson had to take contact and thus can be worn down by constant physical defense.
I also believe that if the Warriors did not have other big scoring options such as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Curry could be susceptible to a double-team.
Everyone knew Iverson was the only offense the Sixers had, and he still averaged better than 27 points in six of those seven prime seasons in Philly.
I can’t imagine the points Iverson would have accumulated if each night the opposition also had to be concerned with someone else.
As of Tuesday morning, Iverson was leading Curry in the SportsNation poll. The margin was more than just my vote.