The NBA season is underway, so if you're following hardcore hardcourt coverage, you'll want to check in the Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton to talk about what's going on.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Morning, everybody--or good afternoon, for most of you. About a tenth of the way into the NBA season, some early trends are already emerging, so let's talk about those and more over the next hour while I listen to the Blueprint 3. Shall we?
Hayesfan (Kentucky): So how is that Rockets vs Grizzlies usage comparison experiment holding up? :)
Do you think that having no Iverson (who was part of the original equation) makes a difference to the outcome so far?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): A timely question the night after they met ... and Houston delivered a 19-point win. (See the Dream Shake for more, though they do need to trademark the name: http://www.thedreamshake.com/2009/11/12/1127301/thoughts-on-houston-vs-memphis .)
Before the last two games, the battle on offense was actually fairly even. Now the Rockets (ninth) are dominating the Grizzlies (20th). Houston's players have done a phenomenal job so far of picking up the extra possessions without sacrificing anything on efficiency. Memphis' starting five has actually been pretty solid, but their bench has played poorly on offense, which is where Iverson's absence has had an effect. They needed a scoring anchor for that group, which is why they were looking at guys like Flip Murray (for better or worse) in addition to Iverson. Without him, Lionel Hollins is having to play the starters way too many minutes to keep at least two of them on the floor at all times.
Of course, the bigger difference between the two teams remains the defensive end of the floor, where Houston ranks 14th and Memphis ranks 30th. The Rockets have missed Yao, but their team defensive principles and guys like Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes will keep them from ever getting much worse on defense. The Grizzlies are an awful, awful defensive squad.
dianagramr (NYC): Which squad wins more games this season .... Knicks or Florida International and NJIT combined?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Knicks. There's too much talent there for them to continue to play this bad. They did win 32 games last year.
Blooki (Los Angeles): Marc Gasol, fluke or real deal?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say real deal. If you look at his line, nothing individually jumps out as a fluke except maybe his much-improved turnover rate. He's the guy who has benefited from the usage experiment in Memphis, and his improved body has certainly helped.
lbihced (Medford, New Jersey): Kevin:
What are your thoughts on Elton Brand being anywhere close to the player the 76ers thought they were getting? He seems to be struggling so far in the new system but he says he is close to 100% healthy. What gives?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think this might be it for Brand. In the book I took a look at superstar players who barely played over a two-year period (inspired by Gilbert Arenas, actually) and the results were not pretty. Brand has gone through two major surgeries and is at the point in his career where he would be slowing down even if he remained healthy. His athleticism numbers are way down across the board (except, oddly steals) and I don't think that has much to do with the new system.
I feel terrible for the 76ers because I loved the signing at the time, but it looks like Brand might have one of the worst contracts in the league at this point.
planman81 (St. Louis): I was really hopeful for the Grizz entering this year. They flat out cannot play D! Can Hollins turn this thing around?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): His track record doesn't really suggest that he can, alas. The only thing that might help is Thabeet developing into a useful contributor by the end of the season.
Will Clark (Philadelphia): Is Speights defense really as bad as they keep saying or is that just something to refer to to avoid the "why isn't he starting?" question?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I suppose I had never had occasion to look at Speights' on-court/off-court numbers, but they are not for the faint of heart. The Sixers were 7.9 points worse per 48 minutes last year; this year it's a ridiculous -12.5 (though also +15.8 on offense, so a net win: http://www.82games.com/0910/09PHI10.HTM ). On the other hand, Bradford Doolittle's counterpart stats are actually highly positive on Speights, so I'm not sure. I think he'd probably be best-suited defensively with a shot blocker alongside him, but that configuration is more problematic on offense.
Either way, he's gotta start.
Blooki (Los Angeles): To what or who can we credit the Thunder's much improved defense this season?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Two ex-Bulls: Ron Adams joined the OKC coaching staff last spring and has really helped out their defensive principles. Not long after, the Thunder traded for Thabo Sefolosha, and he really seems to have emerged as a stopper this season. Of course, it's a team thing, and everybody deserves credit for playing hard enough to build a top-five defense around Nenad Krstic.
Ryan (DC): How to see Earl Boykins immediately impacting the injured Wizards? Do you think he could get this offense moving?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm dubious. Boykins wasn't very good in 2007-08 in Charlotte and is two years older now. Boykins relies more on quickness than almost anyone in NBA history, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he fell off a cliff pretty quickly.
DJ (New Jersey): More wins in 2010: Celtics or Nets?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): That would be best presented as odds. Overall, you're taking Boston every time because that's the safer bet. But how much chance does New Jersey/Brooklyn have of surpassing the Celtics? 10 percent? 20 percent? I'd peg it at 15 percent because of everything that has to fall into place.
Tuttle (Michigan): Can Paul avoid having his peak wasted on a craptastic team? Does this mean leaving NO, or are they already taking some steps?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would like to see this team without Byron Scott before we completely give up hope on them putting something together around Paul. I mean, it was only two years ago they were the second-best team in the Western Conference postseason. That seems like an eternity ago.
Eddie (Burnaby, BC): Thoughts on Bill Simmons's book? I've been enjoying it, but my two favorite teams are the Jazz and the Lakers. My favorite players are Kobe, Malone, Stockton, Kareem, Magic.....You can see his biases colliding with mine :)
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I loved it: http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=776
Of those guys, I think Kobe, Magic and maybe Kareem ended up getting treated relatively fairly. I was actually most surprised how little credit Simmons gave Stockton in his prime. Maybe that's the difference between being a fan on the East Coast as opposed to a Western Conference rival who was absolutely terrified of Stockton (plausibly moreso than Malone).
And, lo and behold, Marc Stein is reporting that Byron Scott has been fired. I don't know how they could possibly not have fired him after that embarrassment last night. We'll see who replaces him. There isn't really an obvious candidate among the assistant coaches (Charlie Parker, Paul Pressey, Robert Werdann and Robert Pack).
BK (Boston, MA): David Lee currently has the worst adjusted plus/minus on the Knicks, and his defensive issues have really been exploited so far. Would the persistence of this hurt his contract value next year, or would better teams feel comfortable that they could "protect" him in their systems (in a way the Knicks can't)?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I wouldn't read anything into adjusted plus-minus yet. His defense was problematic but not a disaster last year, so that's one of the things about this year's Knicks that baffles me. Ultimately, I think most other teams see Lee as a PF, not a C, so it's not nearly as large an issue.
Clancy (Springfield): When McGrady comes back, does he produce at his normal clip?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Depends on what you mean by normal clip, since he wasn't healthy last year before the surgery. I would be surprised if McGrady ever approached his peak again. I will give him credit for working his behind off to get back on the court quickly (he was a machine before the Rockets' opener in Portland). I also wouldn't be surprised if Daryl Morey isn't real excited about what he might do to the mix Houston has built that's been fairly successful.
Dexter Fishmore (Hollywood, CA): As between Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, who will have the better career? And how big will the difference be?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Were you at our table at Sport last night? I would say Rose, but the argument can certainly be made for Westbrook. Believe it or not, Westbrook is actually a tiny bit younger, and their comparable players last season were virtually identical. Westbrook has dramatically improved his playmaking this season, while Rose hasn't yet taken big strides, and he's clearly the better defensive player of the two. Still, I think Rose's superior finishing ability gives him the upper hand.
Eddie (Burnaby, BC): What's funny is that -- half way through, just on Kobe in the pyramid -- I actually thought he was good to put Stockton about 25, which is where I'd have him approximately. But the constant calling Kareem a ninny....
Here's my biggest beef though: Karl Malone did brick two FTs in the 97 finals. Otherwise, he and Stockton gave the greatest player of all time all he could handle. Those two finals were close. How does that make Malone a choker on the level Simmons posits? It took the greatest player of all time to deny him a title.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): For the record, I feel the same way about the '96 Sonics (dismissed by Simmons as having "no bench"!) This was a team that ripped off a 14-game winning streak with its third-best player (Detlef Schrempf) sidelined. I swear he'd talk about Nate McMillan the same way he does about Derek Fisher had the Sonics won a couple of championships. Chicago had to work to win those Finals.
Clancy (Springfield): RE: McGrady, is he a must add over a Blake Griffin in a fantasy league?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say no. McGrady's minutes will probably be limited for some time after he returns. For Griffin, it will mostly be a matter of rebuilding his conditioning.
Tom (NYC): Thoughts on Byron Scott apparently being canned?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It was time. The Hornets really could have saved themselves a lot of time and money by just unloading him on a willing Kings team last spring. (Would Sacramento possibly be playing better than under Westphal? I say no.) New Orleans desperately needs to make use of its young talent, which Scott was always reluctant to do (which is odd because he played Jefferson crunch-time minutes as a rookie in New Jersey--when did this change?). Also, as somebody talked about yesterday (Hollinger, I think?) there's no ready explanation for why the Hornets have been so terrible defensively. Okafor, even without practicing much, can't explain that.
I'm interested to see a replacement. This might be a time to go outside the organization, especially because the season is so young.
Yalta (New York, NY): Why does everyone assume teams like the Knicks have to use their entire cap space this offseason? What's to stop a team like the Knicks from "just" signing one superstar (say, Chris Bosh) and then sitting the rest of the year out to then make another play in 2011 when Curry & Jefferies are off the books?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Depends on what's out there, but the 2011 class is much more thin in terms of UFAs. (Potentially Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker.) None of those guys seem as likely to move. Actually, if you're going to wait on a year, it might have to be 2012, when Durant could become a UFA if he badly wants out of OKC. Greg Oden's future will also be very interesting to watch.
Brian (Seattle): Joakim Noah and Andrew Bynum - I had both pegged for breakout years. Do you think Bynum will be able to keep it up post Gasol coming back? And crazy as it is I think I'd rather have Noah on my team right now. Thoughts?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No, to the extent that there's no way he'll continue playing 40 minutes a night (and shouldn't, given his age and injury history). Check out his per-minute numbers. They're very similar to last year: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bynuman01.html
Wendy (Madrid): Noah is a top 5 center.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Right now, yes, but his block and rebound rates have taken some pretty significant leaps. I'm going to need a couple more weeks to be convinced this is legitimately Noah's level.
Jon L (Austin, TX): Signing Earl Boykins was a terrible idea, right?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I wouldn't say that. Who else would they have signed with injuries ravaging their backcourt?
Tuttle (Michigan): As a Sonics fan, how are you on the GP/Stockton write up in the book? I will leave it up to you to decide if that's too much of a spoiler to say who gets where. And why did you think he slagged on Stockton (apart from never mentioning the steals record)?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think Simmons was too harsh on Payton's final year in Miami. Not everybody can retire at the top of the game. I also don't think you can degrade Payton for being traded by the Sonics when he was dealt for a Level 2 guy in his prime (really, that was an amazingly awful deal by the Bucks that nobody ever talks about). Plus he talked about the terrible centers Ray Allen played with, then didn't mention that half of that list was GP's big men in his late prime. So I would have him higher, but I'm not totally sure I could put him ahead of Nash.
I thought Stockton's ranking was fair.
JayC (NJ): Brook Lopez or Andrew Bynum?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Bynum, but the way Lopez is playing this year has made it a legitimate question. Remember this next summer. Whoever goes to New Jersey gets to play with one of the best young big men in the league. The Knicks do not offer this. For that matter, Cleveland doesn't offer this.
BK (Boston, MA): So SCHOENE probably didn't figure on the Knicks starting at 1-8. But how aberrant is the team's performance so far, and what are the chances for recovery? I find it hard to believe Duhon is going to keep shooting 25%, as terrible as he's looked so far. On the other hand, it's arguable players like Douglas and Hughes have overachieved.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Plus Nate Robinson has been a non-factor, which at best Douglas has canceled out. I dunno. Did you know the Knicks are better on defense than offense right now? Never thought you'd say that about a Mike D'Antoni team, did you?
DontFakeTheFunk (Seattle, WA): Is the great start by Phoenix this season a testament to just how bad of a fit Shaq was last year?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think it's more of a testament to how terrible Terry Porter was as their coach. With Shaq in the Amar'e Stoudemire role, they weren't bad down the stretch last year and Nash was able to do his thing. So I don't think you can put that much blame on O'Neal.
Mark (Milwaukee): I knew the wolves would struggle this year but this is sad. Do they miss Love this much? With him are there any building blocks there?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): They are really struggling to fit into the triangle right now. They should be much better in the second half of the season, when Jefferson is healthier, Flynn is more experienced and Love is healthy. For now ... long season.
Bonds Fan (Bay Area): How is the Blueprint 3? The first Blueprint is one of the greatest albums of all time of any genre.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The singles are good, but there's a lot of filler. I didn't like it the first time I listened to it, but it's gotten better with relistening. Young Forever (which I like) has inspired a tremendous debate between with brother (who hates it). It's definitely no original Blueprint.
Vern (Calgary): Is that Devin Brown fellow (I might be getting his name wrong), who took Mo Pete's starting SG slot, a player, or is he just a placeholder?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Placeholder. I'll be surprised if he's starting next week. Devin Brown is replacement level at this point.
Blooki (Los Angeles): What team is the most overrated after early returns? Underrated?
Same questions for players.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Phoenix is the most overrated. Their record has overstated how well they've played. I would say Portland might be the most underrated. Yes, they've beaten bad teams the last three games, but they have thumped them. There's predictive power in that. (Amazing this is my only Blazers reference all chat.)
Also, Marc Stein passes along on Twitter that Ric Bucher is reporting the Hornets will make GM Jeff Bower head coach and are bringing back Tim Floyd (?!?!?!) to be their lead assistant. Bower should be willing to play the guys he drafted, but really?
SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Do you think Mike Brown should continue starting JJ Hickson at the 4? Certainly seems like a better fit, and I think any of his shortcomings will be hidden playing along the starters.
Also, any Cavaliers rotation suggestions? Seems like MB needs a lot of help there. Z and Shaq on the floor at the same time against the Bulls? Please tell me that needs to stop.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think Hickson should see the floor. He's still much too raw defensively. Ultimately, I think their best bet is to suck it up and start Varejao or start small (James at the four) to accommodate their need to start Shaq (who justified it last night). Yes to ultra-tallball being a bad idea.
joonpahk (Somerville, MA): chris paul isn't going to shoot 68% all year, but is it sacrilege to suggest he's better than lebron right now?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No. I took him No. 1 in my fantasy draft, not that it really matters, and no regrets.
Bernie (The Hamptons): Thoughts on DeRozan please? I know the Wade comps 'round draft time was just internet hyperbole, but do the Raps have a player?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): His willingness to take a step back in the (very efficient) offense has been good. His inability to get to the free throw line much has been a concern. Haven't watched him enough in the NBA to say much more than that.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright everybody, thanks for stopping by. We'll do this again in a couple of weeks. Until then, keep checking out BasketballProspectus.com and follow me on Twitter (@kpelton) for quick hits.