A quick starter NBA: The Sixers' Allen Iverson has met expectations as the No. 1 pick with speed that amazes teammates. Now, if he can learn to pass.

November 22, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- Standing near center court, preparing for the tip of that night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Terrell Brandon has no idea that -- courtesy of Allen Iverson -- he is about to have his ankles broken.

Not literally, of course. It's a playground term, describing the collapse of a badly beaten defender. Which is where Brandon finds himself early in the game. One minute he's on top of Iverson, who alternates his dribble from hand to hand. And when Brandon tries to grab the bait, Iverson is suddenly gone on one of his many forays to the rim -- leaving Brandon and his "broken ankles" sprawling.

"He's the most explosive 6-foot point guard you've ever seen. Ever," said Cleveland forward Donny Marshall, who played against Iverson in college, after that game against the Sixers last Friday. "He's so low to the floor, you can't really get to [the ball]. Once you go for it, it's over."

Iverson, barely standing 6 feet and weighing 165 pounds, one day may develop into, inch-for-inch, the most feared player in basketball. The first time he played in the NBA, he became the quickest player in the league. His 22.8-point scoring average is the best among NBA rookies. And his crossover dribble is so good, it's almost illegal. (After studying tapes, the league issued a memo, declaring the move a palming violation.)

Those are assumptions based on eight games. (Iverson, because he separated a shoulder last week against Cleveland, has missed the past two games and is unlikely to play against the Washington Bullets tonight.) What is scary about Iverson is that he has yet to learn the professional game. And if Iverson ever becomes a point guard who can distribute the ball as well as score, he just might be the player who can lift the Sixers (4-6) from the NBA underclass.

"I saw him light up New York [for 35 points] and, I'll be honest with you, nobody could really do anything with him," Sixers center Michael Cage said. "When he learns the NBA game, he's going to get better. When his mental approach catches up with (( his skills, he can be in a Michael Jordan sense in five or six years."

Iverson said nonchalantly: "I'm just being myself and playing my game. The players on this level are bigger and stronger, but that's just about it. The way I'm playing is pretty much what I expected."

For the Sixers, the question going into the NBA draft with the No. 1 pick was: What player can help generate enthusiasm in a new arena and end a string of six progressively worse seasons?

The need for a point guard was glaring. Vernon Maxwell, Trevor Ruffin and Rex Walters were unable to get the job done. The Sixers had talented players who could score -- Jerry Stackhouse, Derrick Coleman and Clarence Weatherspoon -- but a point guard who could score and pass was a must.

"My job is to create for my teammates," said Iverson, who averaged 23.0 points in two seasons at Georgetown and was a first-team All-American last season. "In college, my game was to score a lot, but now I have to get my teammates involved."

Making that comment is one thing; actually carrying out the plan is another. He still plays like a scorer, thinking "shoot" before "pass."

In a loss to the Chicago Bulls over the first weekend of the season, Iverson got mad when Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman offered him the friendly advice to pass more.

Iverson might hear similar comments about his playmaking from his teammates.

"He's coming along well, and he has had some flashes about how good he can possibly be," Stackhouse said. "But I don't think he's adjusted yet. He's still playing his game. He's a scorer, and that's his mentality right now."

When the Sixers held a mini-camp over the summer in Atlantic City, N.J., forward Don MacLean found himself mesmerized the first time he saw Iverson play.

"I was just watching him, and I couldn't believe how fast he was," MacLean said. "I've never seen somebody so explosive and so quick to the basket. I tell you, if I had those skills, I'd try to break down my man every time, too."

For the Sixers, who won 18 games last season, it might be a matter of adjusting to Iverson's game -- and not vice versa.

"His game is push, push, push, unlike any point guard I've ever played with," MacLean said. "A lot of time, he can take it to the hole and finish. When he can't, you better be ready for the ball. He's not a selfish player. He'll come to realize that he can't do it on his own all the time."

When he realizes that, first-year coach Johnny Davis envisions Iverson and Stackhouse forming one of the best young backcourts in the NBA.

"We may not have much experience, but from a talent standpoint, I think we can match up with anybody," Davis said.

And Iverson said the NBA game is best suited for his expressiveness -- whether the league sanctions his crossover move or not.

"I'm just going to keep doing the same, old move," Iverson said. "I've made some adjustments on my dribble, but I'm not going to change my game."

And the Sixers don't want that. Just some simple fine-tuning.

Instant impact

Philadelphia rookie point guard Allen Iverson, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, has put up big scoring numbers in his first eight games.

FG, FT

Min., FGM, FGA pct., FTM, FTA pct., Reb., Ast., TO, Stl., Pts.

36.4, 61, 135, 45.2, 42, 70, 60.0, 4.8, 4.9, 4.8, 1.8, 22.8

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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