5 Philadelphia 76ers Allen Iverson is looking for a scoring partner, and he's looking at Larry Hughes

November 01, 1999

Larry Hughes is not given to self-disclosure, so the best way to
learn about him is to read his body language. Philadelphia's
6'5" second-year shooting guard sports 14 tattoos, which he says
represent a mural of his life. Stenciled on his right shoulder
is SILKY SMOOTH, his nickname since high school. On his left
forearm is written FEAR NO MAN, which sums up his disposition.
This summer Hughes decided to be a bit more verbose, so he
visited his favorite tattoo joint in St. Louis. Hughes asked his
friend Nate to engrave all six verses of Psalm 23 across his
torso from neck to navel, but to save time and considerable
pain, Nate suggested they allude to the most pertinent passage.
Therefore, on his left upper arm Hughes now exhibits the words
THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I SHALL
FEAR NO MAN. "That phrase reminds me that I should never doubt
myself or be scared to face a challenge," he says.

The 21-year-old could have been a carefree junior All-America at
Saint Louis University this fall. Instead he is a father figure
and the primary provider to his 14-year-old brother, Justin, who
received a heart transplant two years ago. He is also a doting
father to his daughter, Lauryn, whom Hughes flew in for her first
birthday on the opening day of the 76ers' training camp in
September. Meanwhile, one of the NBA's youngest players is
imploring Philadelphia coach Larry Brown to audition him for the
role of Pippen to Allen Iverson's Jordan. "Allen has told me he
wants me to be our second scoring threat," Hughes says. "He gets
so much defensive attention that it leaves open shots for the
rest of us, and I need to step into that opportunity."

As Hughes fidgeted on the bench for much of his rookie season,
the 76ers offense consisted of Iverson and four guys setting
picks for Iverson. On his way to averaging 26.8 points and
winning the NBA scoring title, Iverson collected twice as many
points and twice as many shots as any teammate, and he launched
twice as many treys as the rest of the 76ers combined. After
leading a vastly improved Philadelphia team to the playoffs for
the first time since 1990-91, Iverson was showered with
compliments, but he knows what he really needs are complements.

Enter Hughes. The eighth selection in the '98 draft, Hughes burst
from the starting gate as a rookie by scoring 22 points against
Iverson in the team's first public scrimmage and by sinking his
first shot just two seconds into his first NBA regular-season
game. However, because of the lockout, Brown considered Hughes
too raw to play regularly, and he averaged just 19.8 minutes and
9.1 points as the 76ers' top scorer off the bench. Hughes spent
his downtime studying the action, and after each game he would
jot down a list of the things he had learned. In Philadelphia's
opening-round playoff upset of Orlando, he did provide a glimpse
of his future by scoring in double figures in all four games and
executing a series of poster dunks on alley-oop passes from
Iverson.

Iverson and Hughes have been dubbed the Flight Brothers, and they
do behave fraternally. Iverson says he sees a lot of himself in
Hughes. Both come from hardscrabble upbringings, both left
college early with the huge expectations of lottery picks, both
have a history of being the focal point of the offense, and both
are generally reserved personalities until they set foot on the
court. Iverson regrets that he didn't have a player to guide him
when he came into the league, so he hangs out constantly with
Hughes, advising him on everything from hoops to hair. After
Iverson joked about Hughes's unkempt Afro throughout last season,
Hughes arrived at training camp this year wearing Iversonesque
cornrows. "Allen and Larry have been extremely tight right from
the beginning," Philadelphia G.M. Billy King says. "It's been
good for Larry to have a mentor, and I think it's been good for
Allen to be a mentor."

Hughes is a deft defender with dazzling leaping ability and a
streaky shot. Hailed as a genius for switching Iverson from the
point to shooting guard last season, Brown will risk moving
Iverson back to the point this year for parts of games in
deference to Hughes, who struggled at small forward in '98-99 and
is best suited to the two. In the new arrangement, Iverson and
Hughes will play together in the backcourt for 15 to 20 minutes a
game, with Hughes teaming up with the current starter at the
point, Eric Snow, when Iverson needs a breather. "I truly believe
that Larry is going to be an amazing player," Brown says. "The
way we can help him the most is to let him get some of his
minutes with Allen at the point. Allen can be Allen for 30
minutes, and then for 15 minutes he'll be Mo Cheeks setting up
chances for Larry."

Brown hopes that rookies Jumaine Jones and Todd MacCulloch,
veteran Billy Owens and returning youngsters Snow and Theo
Ratliff (who could miss up to a month with a stress fracture in
his left ankle) will take further pressure off Iverson. Still,
none of those players represent an elixir for Philadelphia's
woeful shooting. In '98-99 the Sixers shot just 42.6% from the
floor (22nd in the NBA), including a league-worst 26.2% from
behind the three-point line. Iverson (41.2% from the floor,
29.1% from three-point range) has vowed to improve those numbers
by cutting down on his long-range bombing. However, to be a
serious contender, the Sixers will have to rely on their
aggressive defense, which held opponents to 87.6 points per game
last season.

Iverson promises to improve his defensive game as well,
insisting that this year he can join Jordan as the second player
to lead the league in scoring and steals and win an NBA title,
especially if his buddy Hughes blossoms. "Larry's ready to shock
the world," Iverson says. "If he gives me the help I need on
offense, I believe this team can win a championship."

In case Iverson proves prophetic, Hughes says he's already
reserved a prime spot on his epidermis for Nate to put the
trophy.

--T.C.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN RACK IT UP Iverson's relentless forays to the hole helped him seize the '98-99 scoring title. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO BRAIDED BUNCH To help out his mentor Iverson, Hughes has to do more than match his 'do.

FAST BREAKDOWN

STARTING FIVE [3 1/2 stars]
BENCH [3 stars]
COACH [4 1/2 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [3 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 1/2 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 28-22 (tied for sixth in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Larry Brown (third season with 76ers)

1998-99 PER GAME POINTS FG% REBOUNDS TURNOVERS
AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

76ERS 89.7 (21) 42.6 (22) 43.1 (7) 16.4 (27)
OPPONENTS 87.6 (8) 42.3 (8) 40.4 (9) 17.9 (1)

In Fact

The 76ers hit an NBA-low 26.2% of their shots from three-point
range last season, and their 371 three-point attempts were the
fewest in the league. Allen Iverson (199) was the only Sixer to
shoot as many as 60.

Projected Lineup

STARTERS PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

SF George Lynch 147 8.3 ppg 6.5 rpg 1.8 apg 42.1 FG%
98 steals; among forwards, only league leader Kendall Gill had
more

PF Theo Ratliff 64 11.2 ppg 8.1 rpg 47.0 FG% 2.98 blocks
Ranks 13th alltime in blocks per game (minimum 500 blocks or 250
games)

C Matt Geiger 77 13.5 ppg 7.2 rpg 1.2 apg 47.9 FG%
Fouled out of 11 games in '95-96 and only four times over last
three years

SG Allen Iverson 14 26.8 ppg 4.9 rpg 4.6 apg 41.2 FG%
The NBA's most diminutive scoring leader at 6 feet (Tiny Archibald
was 6'1")

PG Eric Snow 154 8.6 ppg 6.3 rpg 3.4 apg 42.8 FG%
Ninth in league in steals per game (2.08) in first year as starter

BENCH PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

G Larry Hughes 91 9.1 ppg 3.8 rpg 1.5 apg 41.1 FG%
Second in total points among players with fewer than 1,000
minutes last year

F Billy Owens [#] 160 7.8 ppg 3.8 rpg 1.8 apg 39.4 FG%
Scoring has decreased each year since 1992-93, when he averaged
16.5 points

F Tyrone Hill 193 8.6 ppg 7.6 rpg 0.9 apg 45.5 FG%
Has not hit a three-pointer in his nine-year career (0 for 10)

C Todd MacCulloch (R)[#] 212 18.7 ppg 11.9 rpg 0.8 apg 66.2 FG%
Three-time NCAA Division I leader in field goal percentage at
Washington

G Aaron McKie 278 4.8 ppg 2.8 rpg 2.0 apg 40.1 FG%
Over past four seasons he has sat out just two games

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)