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Chat: Kevin Pelton (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday October 28, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton (Basketball).


With Opening Night just around the corner, Kevin checks in to talk about the upcoming NBA season.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): When we first scheduled a chat for the morning of the NBA's opening night, we figured the timing was also good because it was a scheduled off day in the World Series. Obviously, Mother Nature had other ideas, though it sounds like there won't be any baseball tonight anyway. That gives you the chance to watch a great TNT double-header tonight featuring the defending champs and the other NBA Finalists opening up against two upstart young teams in their conferences. Alright, let's get to your questions about the start of the season, the SCHOENE projection system and whatever else is on your mind.

mp (Santa Monica, CA): Will you be able to post the remaining division previews on basketballpropsectus.com before the season starts tonight?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): This is the biggest question I'm getting right now, and understandably so (though I'm not used to people wanting to read more of me -- it's usually less).

As you may know, we share Joe Sheehan as our managing editor with the baseball site and his writing duties here. It's his busiest time of year as he covers the World Series, so that's made it challenging to get stuff up. We'll space everything out, so no, not everything will be up today (and I don't think the start of an 82-game season renders the previews moot).

The first priority today will be a holistic preview that has my projections for every team as well as award picks.

Hershiser (NY): Better career: Braun, Wright, or Longoria?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Definitely Brandan Wright, though you could make a case for Julian. Unless you mean Tony (Longoria-)Parker. Who is this Braun fellow? Is he an NCAA player?

bob (chicago): two teams that will surprisingly make/miss the playoffs this year are _______ and ______

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I guess Golden State and Washington. SCHOENE doesn't really have a lot of surprises in terms of the 16 playoff teams, more how they're ordered within that group.

modofacid (Philly): Kevin, what's the best way to turn the values from you fantasy basketball projections into auction values? So many players have negative values, that I'm having trouble determining the easiest way.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hmm. I've never done auction in any fantasy league, let alone hoops, so I'm not sure. The averages are an issue. When I'm converting to something that takes into account playing time, I use a sort of replacement level and add that to everyone's 8-CAT or 9-CAT numbers.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Plan on rolling out the same fantasy draft aid using SCHOENE that BP has with PECOTA?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Potentially in the future if there's interest (and be sure to make sure your interest is noted, as it is here). For now, the spreadsheet available at BasketballProspectus.com is about as much as I've got the skills to offer. For the record, I drafted off of my projections in an 82games.com draft-only league against a handful of fantasy experts, John Hollinger and some other big names (Chris Ballard of SI, Jonathan Givony). We'll see how I do.

TraderBob (Dayton, OH): Does Hoops Prospectus have any plans to expand their coverage to the mid size conferences?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think Kyle Whelliston has that covered so well our college guys don't really feel the need to do much more than monitor it, though you'd have to ask them.

By the way, I completely forgot to mention in my introduction that besides tonight being Opening Night in the NBA, today is also the official release of College Basketball Prospectus 2008-09, in bookstores everywhere. For NBA fans, I've got an essay in there about top pro prospects using the translation system I debuted before the NBA Draft. I'm really looking forward to reading through everything.

lagronem (Delaware): Hey Kevin, Thanks for the chat. Who do you think are the best national and team-based play by play announcers and analysts? I love Marv and van Gundy.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It's impossible to go wrong with Marv Albert, certainly, and I find myself warming to Mike Breen more and more. Amongst the analysts, Van Gundy has been a very pleasant surprise with his humor in addition to his insights. You learn listening to Hubie Brown and I enjoy Doug Collins despite his bizarre fixations like finishing quarters that bother some of my analytical peers.

Amongst the teams, I enjoy Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith for the Clippers and New Jersey's broadcasts are the equivalent of national ones much of the time. I will say it is an absolute crime that the Sonics' move means Kevin Calabro isn't calling 80 games a season. If you're flipping around and see him doing an ESPN game, it's probably worth watching just for him.

Justin Singer (Miami): I dont understand the public perception that the Heat will be a 35-38 win team. Wade, Marion, Beasley...isnt that alone good enough for 40+ wins? Maybe i'm just being a biased fan, but our division is not very strong and we have good players. I am still waiting for your SCHOENE preview for the Heat. When will the other divisions come out?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No, in this case SCHOENE doesn't think you're being biased at all. That's a terrific trio to build around. If one of the point guards gives Miami solid minutes and if Spoelstra goes small to keep Marion, Beasley and Haslem all on the floor, the Heat could easily win the Southeast, as SCHOENE has Miami doing.

equatorx (New York): Have any good news about the Knicks this year? Should Patrick Ewing Jr. have made the roster?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yes, Isiah Thomas is gone. (Haven't you heard?) No, it's going to be a long season, but at least the Knicks are starting to move in the right direction.

I don't think Pat Jr. is a huge loss, but I do disagree with the philosophy of not buying anyone out. Obviously expiring contracts have value, but it sounds like more of a money thing in New York right now, and this is a silly time to get cheap. It's classic BP lecturing on sunk-cost theory.

Jon (SF): You missed the best in the business, Jim Barnett.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Best in the business is a little strong, but Barnett is very, very good. Nobody is better at successfully predicting what's going to happen in the final seconds of a close game.

Mavsfan (Dallas): Have you ever heard Chuck Cooperstein's play by play? If not you'r e missing out!

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Cooperstein is radio, right? I used to do stats for Sonics radio and sat next to all the broadcast crews, so I could hear some of the louder play-by-play guys, but no.

Sanchez (Santa Barbara): Who wins the battle of the bigs tonite - Bynum or Oden? Assuming both stay healthy, who would you rather have long term and why?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not sure I've seen enough of Bynum this preseason to pick tonight's matchup. Both are going to be a little rusty early in the season, naturally. Long-term, I'd rather have Oden because I think the difference between them defensively (favoring Oden) will be greater than the difference on offense. Hard to go wrong with either guy besides their knees, however.

gabbymatt (new york): which NBA teams do you think that the economic realities will strike other than Memphis & Oklahoma City? San Antonio got too cute getting rid of Scola last year. Will the crisis effect anyone with a chance for the conference finals?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Henry Abbott at TrueHoop had a post about this last week where he noted that a bunch of NBA types thought the financial crisis would be a big story this season, while the economists he asked tended to disagree. I guess I side with them.

San Antonio has run a tight ship financially, but I think moving Scola was a basketball decision (and a mistaken one). My perception is they didn't think he would fit well alongside Duncan, and it is true he isn't much of a shot-blocker, which they like to have.

rrosie41 (San Francisco): What rookies do you see making a fantasy impact this year?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm fairly pessimistic on most of the rookies in fantasy terms. Derrick Rose, for example, I don't see being a good fantasy play this year. Greg Oden and Michael Beasley are the obvious choices, and I think both Rudy Fernandez and Kevin Love are late-round sleepers. I was debating between them with my last pick yesterday, eventually going with Love because I could get another guard easier than I could another big.

roguerouge (jp, ma): Which team crashes and burns this year?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): San Antonio, at least compared to expectations. The young guys they've added don't really play like young guys, and Manu's injury will be devestating.

brett (harrisburg pa): could you give me your projections for rookie production listing the top 5 rookies in order as you see them?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not sure if this question is about fantasy or real value. Having answered the former, let's try the latter:


Don't sleep on the Spaniards.

Dennis (Monterey Park, CA): Thank you for the chat. I only have a very rudimentary knowledge of basketball and would like to understand the plays better so that I can better appreciate what's going on as I watch games. For example, I still don't quite get the principles behind the Triangle Offense or the Princeton offense. Are there any books you would recommend reading to understand the game of basketball better?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Good question. I recall reading, for whatever reason, Basketball for Dummies many years ago and thinking it was actually pretty good even as a die-hard fan. Mostly I'd suggest paying close attention to the (good) color analysts. They're teaching all the time.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Forgetting any injuries. Who should be the starting two guard for the Cavaliers?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Delonte West, hands down. Wally Szczerbiak is better as a reserve and can't really guard twos and Sasha Pavlovic and Tarence Kinsey just aren't that good.

Brian (Brooklyn NY): I saw you were surprised by the projection for the Warriors. Any other team by team surprises out there?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Golden State was by far the biggest. Without totally killing the suspense, I was surprised by Portland (good) and New Orleans (low) to a lesser extent. Maybe San Antonio and Miami too. Oh, and Philadelphia, a bit.

Ted (Jacksonville): Thanks for the chat Kein. SCHOENE is really interesting. My impression has always been that individual FT% is pretty stable year on year, but 3P% fluctuates, maybe even more than 2P%. If so, why combine FT% and 3P% into a single "Shoot" rating? Am I missing something on 3P%?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): That's part of the reason, Ted. FT% is very, very stable, so even if a guy has a bad season from beyond the arc hopefully he'll still show up as a shooter. Also, there are guys who are pretty good shooters but simply never take 3s, and they deserve to be represented at all. 3P% tends to be the area where SCHOENE is most flaky overall. I've got Deron Williams shooting like 48 percent on threes. So there's some work to be done there.

roguerouge (watertown): Who's your top three breakout candidates?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Amir Johnson, T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant. Now that's an eclectic group illustrating the different types of "breakouts."

Bobby Drake (Memphis, TN): Please re-assure me that Nash won't fall off a cliff this year and I wasnt a fool for taking him in the late second round.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Nothing foolish about the late second round. I have him a little lower than that, but you're sure to compete in assists.

Chris Douglas-Roberts (New Jersey): Do I have the potential to be a great player?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Great scorer? Maybe. Great player? A reach.

Jon (SF): Can you name one good reason the Warriors want to extend Jackson now? Makes no sense.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Nope, can't really come up with much reason you'd be that excited to keep a 30-year-old with a history of legal trouble off the free-agent market.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Anyone else doing stat driven comparable player work? Are you confident that you'll get more accurate results than the rate & usage guys (not to imply that you don't spend alot of time thinking about usage)? Thanks!

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): What I'm doing at the player level is essentially very similar to what John Hollinger has done (we both came up with similar systems around the same time, but his has gotten just a tad more attention and I haven't done much the last few years). Where I think SCHOENE is a step forward is how it incorporates the team context, including usage.

Fred (Houston): Hey Kevin, thanks for the chat. Who you got winning the Southwest Division? I see a NOLA repeat with the Rockets coming on strong in the second half.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It's rare that I'm trying to talk someone into their team (I'm assuming Fred is a Rockets fan, I guess). In this case, Houston finished one game back in the division and added Ron Artest. I don't think SCHOENE is going out on a huge limb by pegging them the second-best team in the West and tops in the Southwest. The size of the projected gap between the Rockets and Hornets is a bit more surprising.

Chin Music (Dallas, TX): Hey Kevin, longtime reader going back to your stuff on Hoopsworld and 82games. Curious what your thoughts are about Tracy McGrady's decline, particularly his efficiency as a shooter. He was arguably the best player in the game in his last couple of seasons in Orlando. Now the Kobe vs. TMac question isn't even worth discussing. Your thoughts?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, it's surprising this doesn't come up more, maybe just because McGrady was underrated early in his career. I think it's basically the back, even when it doesn't specifically keep him out. If you look at McGrady's numbers, the gap between his free-throw attempts and three attempts keep going down. And, alas, he's not a very good three-point shooter.

Mike (Memphis): You said not to sleep on the spaniards. I've been following Marc Gasol since the Olympics. He looks like a player with smarts and know how of the game. What do you think his upside is? What does SCHOENE reveal?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't know that anyone's ever translated ULEB Cup numbers before, which is where Gasol played last year (not the more prestigious Euroleague). It's a small sample size to create the translations, but they come out very well for both Gasol and Rudy Fernandez. Lest this be seen as too much optimism from the translation system, Bobby Brown looks like a disaster based on his numbers in the same league, and Dee Brown as nothing special. While I'm not sure Gasol's upside is huge, he should be a very strong role player and help quiet some of the criticism of the Gasol-para-Gasol deal last year.

Sanchez (Santa Barbara): Could this be Kobe's last season in LA? If he opts out, should the Lakers give him another $100m for his 'sunset' years - or let someone watch him decline and re-build around Bynum-Gasol-Farmar ?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I know Kobe has a lot of mileage on his legs, but he's 30 and just won MVP. I don't think now is the time to be thinking about letting him go. As long as Jerry Buss is OK paying the luxury tax, the salary shouldn't be a big deal. Maybe we'll eventually see a Magic-Kareem dynamic in reverse where the aging guard gives way to the emerging big man instead of the other way around.

Luol Deng (Chicago): No one thinks I'm going to break out anymore. What happened?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): You and your team tanked last year. Even before that, I think Deng's upside was somewhat limited. He's more of a good No. 2 option than a go-to guy.

Mavsfan (Dallas): Thinking in terms of coaching changes, what is the more proabable effects of a coaching change overall? Positive or negative? Or is it dependent on too many factors?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The historical record is pretty clear: It's the player changes that make a difference, not coaching changes. In specific cases, it can make a big difference (and I think Mike D'Antoni ultimately will ine New York). For the most part, it's best to ignore the preseason hype. One of my favorite things this time of year is how everything the old coach was doing was wrong. When you get as many coaching changes as the Sonics had the last few years, you actually see things flip from season to season.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Anything more important for the Knicks right now than Zach Randolph to play his way into tradeability? Is this plausible? Can Lee be flipped for an expiring contract and a draft pick, or will he walk as an FA and sign under the limit? Thanks!

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Definitely plausible. I'm certainly no Z-Bo fan, but his value might have gone down a bit too far last year. He's a useful player. The question is whether, if you're a team like Memphis, you'd want him as part of your rebuilding process. The answer there is no, you wouldn't.

Rhett (San Francisco): What do you think of the point guard situation in Golden State? Is Watson capable of putting up quality numbers if he is the guy? What about Azubuke?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): In a word, a mess. Something tells me DeMarcus Nelson isn't the long-term answer. He's sort of a poor man's Chris Duhon. While the numbers like Marcus Williams, they can't take defense into account. And now C.J. Watson is hurt. I'm not really buying this whole Jackson as point guard thing either.

This is why everyone else in the world has the Warriors missing the playoffs. We'll see if SCHOENE is on to something here. I'm not counting on it.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Does the prevalence of role players on NBA rosters confuse the definition of a replacement player? Is there any evidence that overall average guys (i.e. skilled in some areas but duds in others) can be leveraged to a greater degree in basketball?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think so. One area if difference is that it's easier to put pieces together in a lineup than it is in baseball (where relative strengths aren't really that important) or in football (where it's generally harder to cover for one specific weakness, I'd submit).

I think where the importance of roles confuses things is in terms of attempts to create a single-number measure of player value. Bruce Bowen's value to San Antonio is very different from his value to, say, Memphis. There's not really any sport where you can draft and sign simply off of a spreadsheet, but it surely would be folly in the NBA.

Pete (Dallas): How is SCHOENE measuring the Mavs this year?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Still a playoff team, but not capable of seriously threatening to win the West anymore.

Rafe Guttman (Cunningham Wake): What does SCHOENE see in the bones for Portland and Boston this season?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Definite buy on Portland sooner rather than later. Far fewer regular-season wins for the Celtics, though no reason to believe Boston isn't going to play deep into the postseason.

Andrew R (Chicago): Tell me more about what you make of the Bulls. Is the upset for his team to win 50 game totally gone? Should I take anything from Derrick Rose's preseason performance? This team has long needed a guard who can get to the rim and Rose looks like he's that guy. Do I really have to wait until his sophomore season for him to put things together?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't know that it's totally gone. SCHOENE certainly isn't optimistic. Subjectively I think the Bulls are one of the hardest teams to project because they dropped off so much last season and there are so many question marks. Given what I've found with preseason stats, Rose's performance is encouraging, and I think there's reason to believe that his regular-season college stats understate what he might have done had Memphis needed more from him. On the other hand, he wouldn't be the first point guard to struggle as a rookie (remember, Deron Williams was a non-factor his rookie year), the guard situation is still muddled and Vinny Del Negro may go with the "proven" veterans instead of giving Noah and Thomas extended run. I'll be watching the early part of the season very closely with Chicago.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): On that note, I think it's about time to wrap things up. Thanks to everyone for a ton of great questions today. If I didn't get to yours, I'll try to get back for another chat a couple of weeks into the season or we'll have my HoopsP partner in crime, Bradford Doolittle. In the meantime, check out our season previews as we get them posted (root for the Phillies tomorrow if you want to see them quickly), go buy your copy of College Basketball Prospectus and stay with us all year long for the best analytical coverage of both NBA and college hoops.

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