Hoops action's heating up, so drop by and get your pro hoops questions answered by Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton.
Kevin Pelton: Hey everyone, thanks for coming and chatting at Baseball Prospectus. I know this is a big week for baseball fans, but it's also a very busy week in the NBA. We're about 26 hours away from the trade deadline and already had two deals (a major one and a minor one) yesterday as well as a coaching change and news that Tracy McGrady is out for the season. Plenty to talk about, and feel free to shoot me some NCAA questions, though know I'm mostly familiar with the West Coast teams and don't get a lot of chance to watch teams on the other coast.
Dexter Fishmore (NYC): Dominic McGuire: WTF?
Kevin Pelton: I don't know. Let me try that back. WTF Dominic McGuire: WTF?
Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): 3 wide-reaching thoughts:
#1. Aren't the Raptors really getting a big time talent upgrade with Marion? I love the deal for them.
#2. Any chance the Suns just changed their coach to save their franchise player? Is this finally a good move from Steve ("I killed the window") Kerr?
#3. Marion would have looked great on the Cavs. Are they still protecting their chemistry?
Kevin Pelton: 1. If--if--they get the Phoenix Shawn Marion, then yes, but I don't think it's big-time even then because they're giving up two rotation players in Jamario Moon and Jermaine O'Neal. And I don't think they're getting the Phoenix Shawn Marion because he'll be playing quite a bit of small forward and the Raptors won't be involving him in a lot of plays.
2. Yes and yes, although there were plenty of reasons to make the chance besides Stoudemire.
3. I think they are, but they would not have been a good trade partner for Miami. Marion was already an expiring contract for the Heat; they could have just kept him rather than trade for Szczerbiak. Miami wanted guys to help them win now, and got them.
Or (Dallas): Where does the Hopes+Dreams+Fortune+Draft picks for Jason Kidd deal go down among all-time ill-advised trades, and is there any hope for my beloved franchise?
Kevin Pelton: It's bad, but nowhere near the worst of all time. I think the Pau Gasol trade is overplayed since Marc Gasol is a pretty good player and considerably cheaper, but that was worse than the Harris-Kidd deal. Even if I don't agree with Mark Cuban's adjusted plus-minus argument that Kidd is one of the top five players in the league, he's still a very good point guard and I think he's underrated at this point. The problem is Harris is slightly better now and will be for years to come as Kidd is declining.
As for the Mavericks now, the window is closing. They're not as good as the West's elite teams and their best players aren't getting any younger. I'm so disappointed that after putting together a deep, balanced team that I still think was the best in the league in 2005-06 and the 2006-07 regular season, Dallas panicked and hasn't been able to find any semblance of depth the last two seasons.
john (ct): They may not be "pros" yet but they will be soon. What's your take on what happened to UConn in the Pitt game. Blair and Fields looked like men among boys. Think UConn can adjust for the next showdown?
Kevin Pelton: I didn't get a chance to see Monday's game, but I'm a big DeJuan Blair fan. As my colleague John Gasaway pointed out in Unfiltered earlier this week, the best way to beat Pitt is to get Blair in foul trouble. We'll see if UConn can do that next time.
Javel (DC): Next year's surprise team is ___
Kevin Pelton: Minnesota, if they get a point guard and help at small forward. Oklahoma City will be much better, but that probably won't be a surprise.
BandwagonKnick (MA): Kevin, glad to hear Bill Simmons giving you props as one of the "stats guys" he really likes in his podcast with Hollinger yesterday.
My question is this: they constantly harped in the podcast about the paucity of adequate defensive measures in the stats community. What are your favorite measures of defensive prowess when evaluating players (for example, to make the claim Duhon is a better defender than Robinson)? Is on/off and +/- really all we have?
Kevin Pelton: Thanks, and appreciated the link yesterday. The podcast was a very cool moment.
On defense, I like to start with making use of the defensive statistics we do have (defensive rebounds, blocks, steals and fouls). Those certainly don't tell you everything, but there's valuable information there. Then the defensive plus-minus is certainly a major factor as well, and I do like to take a look at opponent performance as tracked by 82games.com and by my BP colleague Bradford Doolittle.
Evaluating defense is, to me, more an art than a science. My goal--and this is true in general--is to use the numbers and scouting analysis to tell a cohesive story. For example, last year adjusted plus-minus had Chris Paul as one of the worst defenders in the league, and that story did not make sense to me. This year, he's rated as an incredible defender, and I think that's too extreme as well. Sometimes the data will be really hard to reconcile, but we do the best we can with what we have.
Dexter Fishmore (NYC): Do you have a prediction for tomorrow night's big UCLA-Washington game? On the one hand: the game is at Pauley, and UCLA has the better in-conference Efficiency Margin even though it's played the Oregon schools only once each. On the other hand: possibly no Aboya, so Brockman could really run wild.
Kevin Pelton: Ah, a man after my own (purple and gold) heart. I was pessimistic about this game because of the venue switch and the fact that UCLA is in more of a must-win position after losing two games last week. And, like you said, they've been the better overall team in conference play. If Aboya doesn't play, that's a major factor. I don't know that Brockman goes wild since he really hasn't been a big part of the offense in conference play, but it really exposes the Bruins' lack of depth.
If the backcourts play even or UW has the advantage, I like the Huskies to pull the upset. If Collison plays as well as he is capable of doing, UCLA wins.
Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): Re: Or (Dallas), the Shaq/Marion trade has to rank pretty lowly, too. It killed the Suns' window, despite that the Suns had been a 7th game with suspensions the previous year.
Kevin Pelton: Two of the top teams in the decade, and two panic trades within a couple weeks of each other. Crazy. The weird thing is that Shaq/Marion deal really hasn't worked out for other side, as the Jermaine O'Neal deal made clear last week.
Scott (Chicago): Thoughts on the Time's Shane Battier article by Michael Lewis? Pretty amazing that a player like Battier with, as the article says, really no wow-athleticism or blinding basketball skill is as highly regarded as he is by one of the most apparently-progressive franchises in the Rockets. What are we (fans) missing?
Kevin Pelton: First off, I loved Michael Lewis doing basketball, since no matter the topic he is one of my favorite writers. If I become half as proficient with the English language as Lewis, I'll consider it a major success. I hope this is a prelude to an NBA book, though it's tougher because front offices are generally much more guarded in basketball.
On Battier: I think Lewis might have exaggerated his value a little to make a point, but if you look at his plus-minus and adjusted plus-minus over a number of years it has always been very strong. One thing I don't think shined through in that article is that what sets Battier apart from a lot of defensive stoppers (Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell, etc.) is his ability to contribute as a help defender as well as by shutting down his own man.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Can an army of volunteers successfully chart every NBA game a la the Football Outsiders project, or would they miss too much of the subtleties - what sort of play was being run before someone took a shot, rebounds in zones, tips, subtle defensive moves, etc.? I.e. is the basketball box score a worse proxy for performance than in baseball or football? Thanks!
Kevin Pelton: Maybe. Dean Oliver came up with a method of scoring defense by the inverse of offense. That is, each offensive action (field goal, free throw) is credited to a specific defender or defenders. He then got volunteers to chart games for the WNBA, and I did so here in Seattle (my charting appears in his book _Basketball on Paper_.) I don't think you have to know the intricacies of the game to be able to *chart* these things, but I do grow more cynical about how much they tell the full story because of rotations and what the defense is trying to do. I don't think they would tell anywhere near a complete story, but they would add some information and context.
I would say the basketball box score is better than football (where so much of unit play is difficult to separate without watching) but much, much worse than baseball. Daryl Morey is a little harsh when he says the guy who came up with the basketball box score should be shot.
Or (Dallas): On the other hand,Kevin, wouldn't the Boston-Seattle swap of last year go down as a very favorable deal? Both sides got what they wanted; Boston acquired a phenomenal piece and ultimately won it all, and the Portable Franchise got a major cog in what looks like it will become a tremendous trio.
Kevin Pelton: I was a little dubious at first because Jeff Green had a tough rookie season. Now it looks like a classic win-win deal.
Chone (greenland): Durant or Oden?
Kevin Pelton: I liked Durant then and I like him now. No knock on Oden, who especially shouldn't be graded down because he's coming back from a major knee injury. It's just that Durant's skillset is so unique. If you're not watching the Thunder on a regular basis, you're missing out.
Jay ((NYC)): Probability the Thunder make the playoffs next year after this trade?
Kevin Pelton: Hmm ... I'd say 60/40. OKC will still be very, very young.
Trev (Seattle (sigh)): If you're the [Sonics], and assuming you have your choice, do you take Griffin, the consensus best player available, or Harden, who fills your biggest hole? If you do take Griffin, how do you distribute minutes between Durant, Green, Griffin, and Chandler (not to mention Kristic)?
Kevin Pelton: Harden. I think the worst thing that could happen for them is having to take Griffin because he's the local guy and bumping Durant and Green out of the positions where they are more effective. He'd be a reach where they are now, but don't you think Stephen Curry might make sense for them as a shooter who can help Russell Westbrook with playmaking?
Dillon (Pasadena): What do you make of Roy Hibbert's ceiling? He's been pretty productive when not on the bench because of foul trouble.
Kevin Pelton: Entering the lightning round ...
Not sure he's going to get a whole lot better than this. He'll earn more respect from the refs, which will help with foul trouble. He's never going to get any quicker.
ericturner29 (Chicago): The Cavs must not be able to add salary, right? Isn't that the only possible explanation for not moving the Wally/Snow contracts?
Kevin Pelton: I don't think they see someone out there helping them enough to risk messing up the chemistry, and frankly I don't blame them. This team is already good enough to win a championship when healthy.
Jon (SF): Chris Mullin for the Hall of Fame, yes or no?
Kevin Pelton: No. Not quite good enough either at peak or in terms of longevity (I put Reggie Miller in over Mullin on the latter factor).
Kes (Dakota): Would an NBA team now have a competitive advantage in returning to a super slow pace (assuming they had the right players to do so)?
Kevin Pelton: Super slow? Generally, only if they were untalented, and it would level the playing field.
Scott (Chicago): Is that dual ability something we don't see a lot of? I know a fourth as much about basketball - especially play setting, screens, defense, etc - as I do about baseball, but it seemed that Battier is a very strange player. And I must ask; is Manu really more difficult to defend than Kobe?
Kevin Pelton: For a perimeter player, it is unique. Generally perimeter guys either rack up steals/blocks (Kirilenko/Gerald Wallace/Josh Smith/Marion) or get stops without steals/blocks (Bowen/Bell). The guys who do the best job of merging the two are Battier and Tayshaun Prince.
ericturner29 (Chicago): Do you actually believe the "chemistry" talk coming from the Cavs? On a scale of one to ten, how big of a screw up would it be to let assets like the expiring contracts they have go for nothing?
Kevin Pelton: They're 40-11 and have a +9.8 differential. It's going to be hard to upgrade. I guess, if pressed, I would say they could do better at backup guard than Daniel Gibson and (when healthy) Sasha Pavlovic, but if third or fourth guard is your biggest issue, it's not worth the money, the time or the risk of shaking things up on and off the floor (chemistry is on-court too).
S. Bialo (Toronto): Hi Kevin - Marion has struggled on offense but how is his defense at this stage? His ability to possibly play shutdown D at multiple positions is what makes him really important to the Raptors, especially after losing O'Neal's shot-blocking.
Kevin Pelton: Honestly, I think Marion is a little overrated defensively. What made him special in Phoenix was being able to hold his own at power forward while creating nightmare matchups at the other end. He doesn't shut people down.
Jay (NYC): The next player to average 30ppg will be? (Lebron/Wade/Kobe/Durant/Other)?
Kevin Pelton: Durant's averaging over 28 a game since the New Year and he's not even old enough to walk into a bar.
Jon (SF): Is Bill Russell overrated based on his reputation as a top two or three center all time?
Kevin Pelton: Impossible for me to say definitively without the stats, but subjectively I generally think he's rated about right by everyone outside of Boston.
Paul (Philadelphia, PA): Bottom line, if the Rockets run out an Alston/Artest/Battier/Scola/Yao lineup and Artest continues to shoot much more efficiently compared to earlier in the season, how good can this team be? Capable of beating anyone outside of LA?
Kevin Pelton: If that lineup defends like it's capable of doing, yes, the Rockets can still be that good without McGrady.
joonpahk (Cambridge MA): phoenix looked pretty impressive in their first game under gentry (admittedly against the clips). what's their ceiling now? can they scare the lakers or spurs in round 1? or even round 2?
Kevin Pelton: Let's give it a couple of games--especially ones where half of the opposing team's big men aren't ejected early in the game--but the early returns were obviously very promising. Did you see what I was saying about turning Barbosa loose next to Nash? With the hits the rest of the West is taking, moving up in the standings is not out of the question.
Jon (SF): Kevin, where do you see Iverson as a good fit next year and for how much?
Kevin Pelton: That is a fascinating question and one I don't yet have the answer for. (Get it -- the Answer -- ha!)
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Is it easy to regress +/- to strip out the amount directly attributable to each player (in context of the team), or is it much harder than it sounds? Is the time that each configuration of 5 players spent on the floor widely available? Thanks!
Kevin Pelton: Lineup data is available at BasketballValue.com, which is very handy. In theory, the process is pretty easy. In practice, the issue is there aren't enough different lineups to reduce the standard errors on the estimates of adjusted plus-minus. I only really learn from adjusted plus-minus when a player tends to stand out positively or negatively year after year.
Peter (St Pete): Kevin, what do you think of JJ Hickson? He has played awfully well for a 20-year-old who was drafted as a long-term project. What is his ceiling?
Kevin Pelton: I thought I looked at Hickson's comparable players when I did so for other rookies, but apparently not. I think his game translated better to the NBA than most people imagined despite his age. The question is how he can grow his game apart from his obvious athleticism. If he can, he's a star. If not, he's Chris Wilcox.
James Martin Cole (Boston): What do you see the Celtics doing, now that they've gotten rid of Sam (why did they keep him in the first place?).
Kevin Pelton: Praying some veteran center like P.J. Brown decides to come out of retirement.
paulbellows (calgary): Even though the Suns will be more entertaining will they actually win more? How do you see Orlando finishing up?
Kevin Pelton: I already talked about Phoenix. As for the Magic, I see them limping to the finish line a little above .500 while holding off anyone else for the third seed. That would make for an interesting 3-6 first-round series against one of Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia or Detroit.
Jon (SF): Kevin, the Warriors have played much better lately with Maggette playing especially well. What should the Warriors do to be anything besides mediocre in the next few years since they don't have any expiring contracts?
Kevin Pelton: Get Monta Ellis happy, give the young big men a look to see if they can work alongside Biedrins and stop signing swingmen to long-term deals.
ericturner29 (Chicago): Wouldn't Marcus Camby be a huge upgrade for the Cavs?
Kevin Pelton: Statistically, I guess, but Anderson Varejao has played really well. His strength (defending the pick-and-roll) happens to be Camby's weakness, and it doesn't show up in the numbers for either player. Is that worth the money and stirring things up? No.
TheBunk (Toronto): Hey Kevin, is it possible to have a chat right before march madness so we can get your favorites in each bracket?
Kevin Pelton: I'm not really your guy. I'm sure we'll have my colleague John Gasaway on here to break everything down as only he can.
ericturner29 (Chicago): Durant is averaging 28, but doesn't the "lots of shots on a bad team" discount apply?
Kevin Pelton: He's shooting about 50 percent from the field and over 40 from three, so ... no.
Kevin Pelton: Lots of great questions today. The 33 I answered were surely a new record for one of my chats. Thanks to everyone for joining us and be sure to check out BP: Unfiltered for instant reaction to any moves over the next 24 hours or so and be on the lookout for more in-depth Transaction Analysis pieces and all the great features you've come to expect from Basketball Prospectus. We'll do this again before too long.