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Chat: Kevin Pelton (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday May 19, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton (Basketball).


Kevin Pelton has been covering the NBA playoffs over at Basketball Prospectus. Today, he's here to talk about the big Game Seven in New Orleans and the Eastern Conference finals.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hey everyone, thanks again to Baseball Prospectus for letting us take over to talk hoops for the day. With what should be an epic Game 7 tonight between the Spurs and Hornets and the Eastern Conference Finals set to begin tomorrow, plenty to talk about. There's also the coaching changes, tomorrow's Draft Lottery and if anybody has a question about the opening weekend of the WNBA, I'd be happy to answer that too. Let's begin, shall we?

roguerouge (JP, MA): What's wrong with Ray Allen?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Forget winning on the road, I think this is the big question the Celtics have to answer going into the Eastern Conference Finals. It was one thing in the first round when Ray wasn't getting good looks and was forcing threes. Against the Cavaliers, particularly yesterday, he was getting wide-open looks and missing them. I watched Allen on a nightly basis for four and a half years, and I've never seen him go through a prolonged slump like this. What's also strange is that historically Allen has been an excellent postseason performer.

I'm not sure there's any sophisticated answer here. Allen's a shooter, and he's got to keep shooting and eventually I assume he'll find his way. If not, the Celtics are in trouble.

Bogomil (Santa Monica): The Lakers don't defend or rebound well. If they win the championship, can we retire the "Defense and rebounding win championships" trope?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): That's a bit harsh, don't you think? The Lakers will be the weakest defensive team in the conference finals, but we're talking seventh in the league, not Phoenix Suns territory. They did a pretty good job of defending the Jazz and keeping Utah from dominating the offensive glass after Game One.

So I'm not sure the Lakers winning should hurt that theory any more than Miami winning two years ago, but we can always hope, can't we?

kj (boston): If you have watched espn's cold pizza lately, they have been absolutely trashing garnett. Why no mention of ray allen's disappearence, or pierces horrible game 6, or sam cassell getting schooled? Is it just me?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hmm. Actually, I haven't been watching that much, but not really a surprise. It's like Bill James observed in baseball years ago -- the best player always gets too much of the blame. Look, Garnett is not a great late-game player. As Kelly Dwyer has pointed out, nor are most big men. Shaquille O'Neal's reputation might look a lot different had he not had the luxury of playing with great guards throughout his career. Garnett hasn't really had that other than Cassell's year in Minnesota and now. Garnett is more versatile than O'Neal, of course, and should be a little better suited down the stretch in theory -- Duncan does more in clutch situations -- but this is not some character flaw like people want to make it out to be.

LeBron James (Ohio): After watching my performance yesterday, can I be declared the best player in basketball right now?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, I think so. I think this series was the ultimate example of the LeBron factor. The Celtics were 21 games better than Cleveland in the regular season, and the gap was even bigger by point differential. While the Celtics obviously aren't playing well and the Cavaliers are slightly better since their midseason trades, far and away the biggest reason this series went down to the wire in Game 7 was because James was so clearly the best player on the court. This is why you hate to pick against Cleveland even when James' teammates are so weak.

Trieu (Cambridge, MA): If the Celtics continue to play like they have, there's no way they win against the Pistons. Is there a precedent for a great team under-performing for two rounds of the playoffs and then turning it on?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hmm, I'm trying to think of an example here and I can't come up with anything. One round, yes. I remember Phoenix way back in 1993 having a disastrous first-round series with a Lakers team on its last legs that went to overtime of Game 5, but the Suns played pretty well in the second round before ultimately losing to Chicago in the Finals. Anybody got a good example here?

According to the ultra-talented Justin Kubatko, the Celtics are the first team ever to win two rounds in the postseason without winning on the road.

kj (boston): Do you think Kevin Love can be a star in the NBA?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): A quick NBA Draft question. Star? I don't think so. We've seen a lot of undersized guys succeed in the NBA, but it really helps if, like Paul Millsap, you're a good leaper. Love is pretty floorbound. That combination can work, but more as a role player than a star. I'd compare his potential to Sean May coming out of college -- he should go somewhere in the late lottery.

Tim (Alabama): Now that Andrew Bynum had the surgery on his knee if you are the lakers would you let him sit out the entire 08-09 season, or bring him back in the second half of the season. I really feel for the guy because he was really turning the corner.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, let's wait for the results of the surgery before we start drawing any conclusions. It sounds suspiciously like it may entail a microfracture of some sort. A big key with microfracture surgery is patience, so the more time the Lakers can give Bynum the better. If the Lakers fall short, some people may call Bynum the missing piece, but I'm still not convinced he's going to fit in tremendously well with Gasol and Odom, who are working together quite nicely right now.

Either way, yeah, you really feel for Bynum because he had put in so much work to improve his game and that's been at least delayed by the injury. Also, he was well on track to being the guy to break the remarkable trend of centers drafted in the late lottery being busts.

Fernand (Orlando): In your opinion,who has been the best player in the playoffs so far or at the MVP of the playoffs?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say James, followed by Chris Paul and Tony Parker. Kobe Bryant has been a notch below so far in the postseason, though how much of that has been back-related is tough to say. Injured or no, his shot selection was terrible in OT of Game 4 against Utah.

Raymond (Los Angeles): Whats up Kevin, if Kobe Bryant wins a championship this season will he finally end all the Kobe Bashing and unfair hating end? It just seem that people just want him to fail.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Sorry, but no chance. Kobe is probably the most polarizing player in NBA history. His fans think he can do no wrong and his critics think he can do no right. The fans will gain the upper hand in the debate if the Lakers win it all this year, and it will certainly be on some level a validation of his talent and style of play, but the debate will go on forever.

And I guarantee that both sides will continue to accuse columnists of being haters or jockers, depending on the day. Sometimes I've gotten both responses from the same column!

Wendy ((Madrid)): So what exactly is going on with the Bulls' coaching search? Are they really as conservative as they seem? If so, can being conservative win a championship? I'd love to see them be a bit more risky.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I have no idea what's going on with the search, but let me go on the record and support Dwane Casey for this position. I'm biased, having worked with him in Seattle, but I think Casey is a great candidate. Ideally, the Bulls would get a balanced coach (who that entails I'm not sure), but they'd be better off hiring a defensive-minded person than an offensive-minded one. The key is getting someone who is more of a players' coach than Scott Skiles and will give the young guys more freedome. I think Casey can be that coach.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by conservative, but it seems like the big question is big name versus a less-sexy coach. I don't think the Bulls should feel pressured to go with a name just because they were jilted so publicly by D'Antoni. Win and the coach becomes a big name. In terms of lower-profile candidates, I also love Tom Thibodeau, though I'm not sure he's the right fit for Chicago.

cfehrman (CT): What should the Cavs do in the offseason? What kind of complementing player would most help LeBron?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The Cavaliers have had the right idea in terms of getting guys who can shoot the ball and defend. The problem is they haven't really gotten them in one player. That is, Ira Newble could defend and Wally Szczerbiak can shoot, but neither does both. Someone like, say, Raja Bell would be perfect for the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, those guys aren't easy to come by.

Cleveland also needs a couple of guys who can create their own offense when James is on the bench. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is one of those guys; maybe Delonte West is the other, though he seemed to dominate the ball at times in the third quarter yesterday.

Ray (Detroit): With the Starting 5, Who has the edge there?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm assuming that's referring to the Celtics and Pistons, not the old NBA video game?

I give the Celtics a slight advantage in terms of the starters. The Pistons don't have anyone as good as Garnett, and Detroit's best players are about at the level of Paul Pierce. That said, I don't think the starters will determine this series. I'm really fascinated by the matchup of the benches, which went a long way towards determining the outcome of the regular-season clashes between these teams. Who would have thought before the playoffs that the matchup of backup PGs (House/Cassell vs. Stuckey/Hunter) would so clearly favor the Pistons?

Beyond that, the other big question is will the Celtics get going versus Chauncey Billups' health. He'll play, but the Pistons need him to be at full strength.

Right now, I'm leaning toward Detroit, but until I have to submit my pick for the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown, I'm not ready to go on the record.

Richie (Washington): Until Phil put in the triangle, no one thought Pippen was anything more than a potentially good player, and Horace Grant was considered to be a very poor man's Charles Oakley. If your offense consists of 1 guy setting a high pick for James and the other 3 watching to see what happens off it, no way any of those 4 can look like, turn into or ever be anything special.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The difference is those guys played only in Chicago and were both young players. Other than Ilgauskas and maybe Daniel Gibson (the best balanced role player the Cavaliers have put alongside James), these guys have played limited roles for other teams too. But yes, Mike Brown, while a terrific defensive coach, deserves a lot of the blame for Cleveland's stagnant offense.

kj (boston): The WNBA is still around?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): *sigh* Not only is it still around, it's better than ever. If you're a serious basketball fan, you ought to be able to get into it. Watch Candace Parker play one time and tell me you don't come away impressed. All she did in her debut Saturday was score 34 points, grab 12 boards and hand out eight assists in a 40-minute game.

Trieu (Cambridge, MA): The other day I thanked BD for all the great work you two have put in during this postseason. I'd like to thank you too!

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks, but more importantly thank you for reading. I love this time of year and the opportunity to really talk strategy instead of the soap-opera BS that too often dominates regular-season NBA coverage. It's been a blast.

Kendall (Texas): Whats up with Jordan Farmer? The guy was a huge coming off the bench during the regular season for the Lakers, but his offense has plummet and so has his confidence.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It's a really bad slump combined with a really bad time of year to go through one. He'll be fine.

Pete (LA): Who you have winning game 7 in NO?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright, let's wrap up on this note. The Hornets-Spurs series has easily been my favorite of the postseason thus far. To steal from James again, he wrote about how a fun aspect of baseball in the 1980s was how it represented a clash of philosophies. I feel the same way about the NBA recently, as opposed to the late-90s and early-00s when it was who had the better three-point shooters surrounding one guy in the post. The Spurs and Hornets aren't that different ideologically, but this series represents something more in terms of youth versus experience, and I find myself rooting for the exuberience of youth.

If David West is healthy, and that remains a big if, I like the Hornets. For the most part, the bizarre extreme home-court advantage in this postseason seems like a fluke to be, but I think it might be real in this series. Because the Spurs' role players are so inconsistent and because Byron Scott's strategy has forced San Antonio to be heavily dependant on those guys shooting three-pointers, I think it's inevitable that the Spurs' offense is going to go quiet at times. That's when at home the Hornets have been able to get the crowd into the game with transition buckets and extend the run (which, coincidentally, has always seemed to come in the third quarter.)

New Orleans isn't exactly deep, but the Spurs are so dependant on their big three I can't see them keeping this up. I've been saying that a lot in this postseason, and maybe I'll be proven wrong again, but I'll take the Hornets.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright, thanks everyone for lots of great questions today. I'm sure you'll see my colleague Bradford Doolittle chatting at some point in the near future and hopefully we can do this again leading up to the NBA Finals.

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