With the NBA Finals about to swing into action, you'll want to touch base with Kevin Pelton to ask all of your questions about the Conference champs and the shape of the series to come.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hello everyone, and thanks for joining me to chat about the NBA Finals and everything else going on in the world of pro basketball. We're two days away from Orlando and the L.A. Lakers tipping things off and my preview went up on Basketball Prospectus this morning. Let's get to it.
Matt (Whittier, Ca): Do you think it would be wise to play Dwight straight up and let him go one on one similar to the way Det played Shaq in 04? Granted none of the bigs are Ben Wallace but if you recall Shaq dominated but the rest of the Lakers players played poorly. Dwight isn't a great post player and seems to get most of his points off of the pick and roll situations and Off. Reb. situations rather then great off. post play.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It's a tough decision. Howard showed in the Eastern Conference Finals a newfound ability to score one-on-one in the post even without deep position, though yes, he is most effective out of the pick-and-roll or with second chances. If he's hitting like he was in Game 6 against Cleveland, you basically have no choice but to bring the double-team. I do think the best way to defend Howard in the post is to play him straight up, but if gets too hot, there are times where the Lakers will have to adjust and offer help. And you're going to want to have a third defender involved in the pick-and-roll, though that too opens up three-point looks for the Magic shooters.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): Thought experiment: If the NBA were to expand internationally to add a third European conference, which European teams would you choose for that conference?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): There's two issues here, which is the quality of the team and its traditional support as well as the size of the market and quality of arena. London doesn't have much of a Euroleague tradition, but it's an ideal market. Real Madrid and Barcelona offer both, and I think you'd have to look at CSKA Moscow in Russia. Olympiacos and Panathinaikos in Greece fit, Maccabi Tel Aviv is a must and a couple of Italian teams--Benetton Treviso and AJ Milano? Oh, and surely a team from Paris as well and maybe Alba Berlin, again because of market.
KD (Lafayette, IN): If the Lakers go "small" with Ariza and Odom at the forwards, does the Orlando screen and roll attack have a hope in hell?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): You should be telling me, Dwyer!
If you're running the Turkoglu-Howard pick-and-roll, the bigger problem is keeping Howard from finishing at the rim, so having Ariza matching up with Turkoglu doesn't solve that or keep the Lakers from having to bring a defender over. So I think the Magic will still be able to create good looks out of the pick-and-roll, though not as easily as in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ultimately, if you've got the right offensive personnel, the pick-and-roll is virtually impossible to consistently stop. There's a reason why Jerry Sloan has run it for 20 years.
planman81 (St. Louis): Who will make a bigger impact on the Grizzlies nest year, Thabeet or Rubio? Who would you pick??
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think Thabeet has a slightly better chance of making an impact next season. Rubio is still so young that there will be an adjustment period for him, and expecting him to make a difference right off the bat as dangerous. Down the road, I think Rubio has a much, much higher ceiling than Thabeet, so he would be my choice of those two guys.
We haven't had a lot of draft coverage yet on BP, but my colleague Bradford Doolittle has been tasked with looking at the draft while I focus on the NBA Finals, so look for that in the near future. And I'm sure I'll find some time to consider translated NCAA/European statistics.
twinkies25 (MN): Kevin,
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a good group of players that could form a good team. I was wondering if you agreed with me, and I was also wondering if Al Jefferson will ever get back to his old self after his ACL tear surgery? Also, who has a better future : Kevin Love, or O.J Mayo?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): There are definitely some pieces in Minnesota. The challenge is going to be putting those together to create a team, and I would be lying if I said I had a lot of trust in the Timberwolves front office to complete that task. Their search for a new GM was something of a disaster.
On Jefferson: Yes, I think it will take a year or two, but ultimately I don't think his ACL injury will be a huge setback. Look at Nene in this year's playoffs for an example of a player who has come back from tearing his ACL even better than before, and he's a player who relies a lot on his athleticism.
From a statistical perspective, no doubt it's Love that has the brighter future. He had a far better season in terms of my metrics, and has the age advantage as well.
Cole (Portland): Do you think Orlando has a bit of "we're just happy to be here" attitude and has there ever been a more lopsided coaching advantage in a recent finals?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I could see how for the Magic, beating Cleveland would be their championship. However, I think Orlando has been thinking about a championship all season and Stan Van Gundy will keep their focus on the task at hand.
As for the coaching advantage, to which side? And wouldn't the answer be Popovich against a young Mike Brown two years ago?
Joshua (Austin, TX): What does Dexter Pittman (Texas) have to do to get drafted in 2010?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Lose 30 pounds? You have to be able to stay on the floor more than 17 minutes a night at the college level to have a prayer of playing in the NBA, though his physical tools are evident.
Dennis (East Brunswick, NJ): Is Farmar or Brown more likely to get more minutes in this series? Which of the two do you feel will be more effective on the court?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm not sure either is particularly well suited to this matchup, so I think Phil Jackson will play the hot hand. Farmar's quickness could give Anthony Johnson a little trouble at the defensive end. However, like Jackson I like what Brown brings to the table defensively.
wileecoyote121 (Larchmont, NY): Would you care to take an early stab at who might be 2010's No. 1 overall pick?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): John Wall, no doubt about it. The only question is whether he might go No. 1 in this year's draft had he tried to press the issue of his eligibility.
dianagramr (NYC): Hi Kevin ... thanks for the chat ...
LeBron's no-handshake, no post-game presser ... a big deal, a little deal or no deal at all?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): A little deal. He should have done it, and he should have admitted afterwards that it was a mistake. Here's the thing, though--can you ever remember a time when a player shook hands after a series? I doubt it and I can't, because nobody ever pays attention to it when it does happen. Suddenly when it gets skipped it's the biggest ritual in the world.
Jay (Philly): Andre Iguodala doesn't have a great reputation in Philly, though in advanced analysis, he seems to come out favorably. However, I need some help putting him in context. Is he a guy you build a team around (his salary would seem to indicate so). Is he a better 2nd banana? If you're Stefanski, how do you go about the next 5 years of his contract?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think he's ideally cast as a 1A. You don't necessarily need to have a legitimate top-tier star alongside him, but someone else who can help carry the load since he's still not a guy you can count on to have big nights on offense on a consistent basis. Theoretically, that player is Elton Brand.
jschmeagol (hyattsville, md): After the Elton Brand Signing, John Holloway stated that the Sixers should be real contenders starting in 2009-2010. After an okay 2008-2009, is there any reason to think that this is still true?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Continuing the thought from above, Eddie Jordan should help Philadelphia on offense, but now it's a matter of getting the right pieces. The biggest thing is a shooter who can space the floor, preferably one who can handle the basketball because of the way Jordan's offense makes the two guards relatively interchangeable. Might Louis Williams thrive in that setup?
Tim (Tampa): Hypothetical #1: Given how the playoffs have played out, with a healthy KG, would the Celtics have found a way back into the Finals this season?
Hypothetical #2: If Nelson comes back and is able to play at...75% of his level he was playing at pre-injury, do the Magic become slight favorites in the Finals?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): 1. I forget who pointed this out (Kelly Dwyer?), but the Cavaliers were built to beat the Celtics and never got the chance. So I wouldn't assume a Boston-Cleveland series would go the same way as the Eastern Conference Finals.
2. 75% of Jameer Nelson isn't appreciably better than Rafer Alston in my opinion, so I would say no.
wileecoyote121 (Larchmont, NY): What's the buzz on Ricky Rubio? I've heard that he was dropping because of Euro-contract issues. Who may benefit?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Sacramento. That's a market he hasn't ruled out, and the Kings seem to want him more than any other NBA team.
Jay (Philly): In his press conference yesterday, Eddie Jordan praised Jason Smith a lot for a backup forward who played one year and is coming off a major injury. Is there any there there?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not a big believer. Guys who shoot a long of long two-pointers don't tend to be really valuable.
David (Sonoma State University, CA): Why don't teams "freak out" sooner? I mean, the Nuggets were down 21 with ten minutes to play. At that point, why not put in your 4 best shooters and 1 rebounder and tell them to take the first good looks they see, preferably 3's?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Because teams don't want to lose by 40 points. From a logical perspective, something like that is exactly what you should do, but human nature comes into play.
Mike M (Branford, CT): More likely to make an impact in this series: Sasha Vujacic or J.J. Redick?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Vujacic, if only because I don't think Redick will get off the bench much in this series. If Vujacic found his shot, that would be a huge boon for the Lakers' chances.
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): If you're Gary Williams, and you have the opportunity, do you take Stephenson for one year?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not if it's going to result in some sort of NCAA investigation, which sounds inevitable.
Tom (Jacksonville, FL): Kevin, in today's Washington Post, Sally Jenkins pushed for a rule that would ban all college athletes from playing sports their freshman year of college. To me, this would be a step that would be even more in a wrong direction than the current one-and-done rule, just wondering what your thoughts on the whole one-and-done/Rose situation?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I love the notion that this would solve all of college sports' problems. Yes, things were idyllic and tranquil before freshmen became eligible. Nobody ever got paid under the table. No siree. So the tradeoff for avoiding the Rose/Mayo scandals is you never see a minute of Kevin Durant or Greg Oden in college. Does that actually help the NCAA? Let's not overreact. In my post on BP Unfiltered, I called the age limit a "mixed blessing" for the college game, and I think that's more accurate. Certainly it has brought benefits.
Cole (Portland): What would it take to get you and Shoals down to Portland for an episode of "Talkin' Ball" ?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Here's what I'm unclear about - the show is filmed in a bar. Are people actually drinking on the show? If I could drink and spout off on television, I'd be all for it.
No, if the producers of Talkin' Ball are reading this chat--and I can only assume they are--I'm totally game to continue the trend of having more Seattle people (Ian Furness, Steve Kelley) on than those from Portland. Even though I'm terrified of television and mortified by my appearance on ESPNews today (6:15 Eastern/3:15 Pacific) to talk about the Finals.
BK (Boston, MA): I generally don't like to second guess coaches outside of one or two occasional moves ripe for second guessing, because of the enormity of the situation and the difficulty of the choices. In other words, I like to give coaches the benefit of the doubt as being smarter than I am -- revolutionary concept, I know.
With that said, could you explain why Denver seemed to stick with a lot of double teaming and trapping of Kobe in Games 5 and 6? Was it Carmelo's health issues that made it more difficult to defend one-on-one? The tide seemed to turn in the series when the Lakers were able to break the traps at will.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, keep in mind that the strategy was decently successful in Game 5, which the Lakers won more with defense than with offense. The Nuggets didn't trap quite as aggressively in Game 6, but their defense was a disaster that night and I would definitely have changed things up coming out of halftime.
Kevin (New York, NY): I keep seeing certain draft experts citing Terrence Williams' off-court issues as a major reason for GMs avoiding him on draft day. Do you have any idea what these issues are? I can't think of a damn thing.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No clue. He's both a Seattle guy and apparently following me on Twitter (@kpelton), so I'm totally positive on Williams.
Joshua (Austin, TX): Would the relatively low success rate of drafting HS players have eventually convinced GMs that drafting players that young was generally a bad idea, without Stern's interference? If yes, how long would it have taken?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think the success rate was low. What we saw were ups and downs. High Schoolers were generally undervalued up through 2001, when three went in the top four and they did not live up to expectations. Then Amar'e Stoudemire was undervalued the next year. I think the real downside was that sometimes lesser prospects who went in the second round didn't get the time they needed to develop, but I'm not sure that's worth keeping the truly elite guys like LeBron James and Dwight Howard out of the league. As I've said, however, I do think in general the age limit has benefited the NBA from a marketing perspective.
wmchad (Portland, OR): Does LeBron's loss motivate him to work on his game even more over the summer, or is he sufficiently internally motivated that it won't change how he progresses?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think it always helps to have a reference point for motivation like that. It will be interesting to see what James works on. Is it improving his jumper or does he start to work on a post-up game?
Jay (Philly): Who's the team most likely to be a Top 3 team in the east besides Cle/Orl/Bos next year?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Chicago or Philadelphia, with Miami also having an outside shot.
Cole (Portland): If Jameer comes back for Orlando, what impact will he have? I could see him playing 18-22 minutes a game.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Tough to say. He may have been able to work on his conditioning because he's rehabbing his shoulder, but you can't replicate game speed. His shooting figures to be extremely rusty. Ultimately, I'm not sure he can be a better player than even Anthony Johnson at this point.
Travis (Portland): Isn't it ironic for "draft busts" that Darko Milicic won a title before his draft class (Wade, LeBron, Melo, Bosh); and J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison will win a title before Brandon Roy :)
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Kudos to the person who tweeted that we finally got our long-awaited Morrison-Redick showdown. Too bad Morrison will be wearing street clothes.
wileecoyote121 (Larchmont, NY): What would be your 3 point plan to improve the Knicks THIS Summer, as opposed to taking the shot that the LeBron/Bosh FA class of 2010 will gravitate to MSG's money like lemmings.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The only thing the Knicks could do this summer is trade and re-sign their own pieces, and since their RFAs are the only guys on the roster with much value, I don't see them being able to improve much this year even if that was their goal. Waiting for 2010 makes sense even if it's for, say, Stoudemire instead of LeBron.
Raj (Philadelphia, PA): Kevin, looking forward to seeing you ESPN News tonight! Anyway, simple question- if the Magic had a healthy Jameer Nelson (a guy who produced 1.5 more WARP than Alston despite missing almost half the season), would you pick them to beat the Lakers?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think I would. Nelson is such a horrendous matchup for the Lakers that I do believe he would make the difference in this series. It truly is remarkable that the Magic has gotten this far without him.
BL (Bozeman): Sorry to go off-subject of the Finals for a moment, but do the Bucks have a chance of being relevant again? Ever?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): They've got the right defensive-minded coach and some decent pieces, but to be truly relevant they need a star player and I don't see how they're going to get one.
Mike M (Branford, CT): Big picture: What percentage of good NBA coaching is motivation vs. scheme and gameplan? How about NCAA coaching?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I tend not to be a big believer in the importance of motivation. In the NCAA, the magnitude of each game creates the motivation. In the NBA, you want guys on a relatively even keel throughout the long regular season and then up in the playoffs. So I would say maybe 10%, at least in the NBA.
PokerPlayer24 (Kansas City): The obvious question- who takes the finals? How many games? Give me Lakers in 6.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): My pick is in fact the Lakers in six games. Be sure to check out my comprehensive preview on BasketballProspectus.com to see what led into that conclusion.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks for all the great questions today. Again, you can see me today on ESPNews at 6:15 Eastern. Look for some more preview coverage on Basketball Prospectus as well as our recaps after each of the Finals games and stay tuned for another chat at some point during the series.