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Chat: Kevin Pelton (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday December 16, 2009 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton (Basketball).


For all your pro hoops questions, you'll want the answers from BasketballProspectus.com's Kevin Pelton.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Happy Holidays and thanks for joining me for our latest NBA chat on Baseball Prospectus. I've got Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas on, so let's get to your questions.

TD (Suffering without a team in Seattle): Is Portland the weirdest stop in the NBA?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): In what sense? Probably so, given to my knowledge no other NBA city has the motto "Keep (city) Weird."

Hayesfan (Cincinnati): Can we get an update on the Rockets vs Memphis Usage experiment?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): As of this morning, Memphis is 15th in the league in Offensive Rating and Houston ranks 16th. Right now, usage is ever so slightly winning. Both projections are looking pretty good--SCHOENE had the Grizzlies precisely 15th and the Rockets 19th. All the concerns about Memphis sharing the ball are looking overstated. It's defense that has been the far bigger bugaboo for the Grizzlies thus far (29th). I'm not sure I'd go as far as Jamal Mashburn in suggesting Zach Randolph has played like an All-Star, but he's certainly rehabilitated his reputation quite a bit this season.

The big loser of the experiment so far has been Trevor Ariza, wildly inefficient in his role as the Rockets' go-to scorer. It will be interesting to see how many of those possessions go to Tracy McGrady. Did anyone else catch his debut? I missed it at the Blazers game.

TD (Suffering without a team in Seattle): In the sense of holiday celebrations and George Foreman video promos.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yes, then.

MarinerDan (San Francisco): How do you see the Gonzaga-Duke game playing out on Saturday? Will Elias Harris and Rob Sacre be able to control the middle?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I haven't seen much of Duke this year (just the end of their game at Wisconsin), but the Blue Devils certainly have plenty of size to match up with the Zags. According to KenPom, Duke is eighth in effective height and Gonzaga 15th, so it figures to be a physical battle in the paint. I think Duke's ability to knock down the three against a Zags defense that is occasionally permissive beyond the arc will be key to whether KenPom's supercomputers are right when they predict a fairly easy Blue Devil victory.

paulbellows (Calgary): Are the Kings a better team without Kevin Martin? Any chance of a trade?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think they're a better team without him. They really didn't have much time with Martin before he went to down, and it's certainly possible that many of the elements that have made them better than expected would develop even with Martin playing. (Though Beno Udrih and Sergio Rodriguez would have had a tough time playing the minutes that have allowed them to shine.)

In the long term, yeah, Martin and Evans are a tricky combination. I'm not sure there's enough passing for that to work as a backcourt without a very good ballhandler at small forward. Omri Casspi doesn't qualify. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Martin moved, but I don't think the Kings have to be desperate in that effort. They can afford to be patient and give the Martin-Evans combo a look.

Hayesfan (Cincinnati): I saw Tracy's debut. He looked a little out of sync on both ends of the court (understandable) and didn't look too terrible defensively, where I think he will most likely have issues. He seemed to struggle to keep up with the rest of the guys on the fast break but did try to move through the offense when it was half court. He did jump a couple of times and it didn't look awkward, only one of his rebounds was in traffic.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Good to know. The Rockets have been very patient with McGrady's return, whether because they're uncertain how he fits in the lineup or because they want to ensure he's completely healthy or both. You definitely have to credit him for working hard to get back.

Adam (Santa Barbara, CA): Does it bother you that half the NBA pieces on Basketball Prospectus feature the Portland Trailblazers? I know you live in the area - but it seems like a little much.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): There are five NBA pieces up on the site now, and one features them. (They were a secondary story in John Perrotto's Friday's On the Beat, since he happened to see them play too.) The only non-game column I've written about the Blazers in the last month was about Greg Oden's injury. That seemed pretty newsworthy to me.

Matt (SLC): Wes Matthews has a PER under 10, but is playing starter minutes on a decent Jazz team. What's his future?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): His winning percentage is even worse, but he always looks pretty good when I watch them play. He's efficient enough that he's not really hurting Utah much on the offensive end, so the big issue is that his defensive ability doesn't translate into numbers (few steals, almost no blocks). He's also a terrible rebounder. By plus-minus, he's essentially a neutral contributor. I think his current role is overexposing Matthews, but he's shown the ability to be the effective role player off the bench.

Trieu (Cambridge, MA): Which (projected) lottery team would be the best fit for John Wall? And by "best fit," I mean, most enjoyable for fans with League Pass.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well ...

elcubano (CA): What are the odds the Nets finish with the season with league's worst record, draft John Wall, Sign Lebron and win at least one championship in the ought-tens?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Is there any question that a Brooklyn Nets team featuring John Wall and LeBron James would sell more merchandise than any other team in NBA history? And be awfully good, too, if they got a defensive specialist/shooter at two-guard and a defender/rebounder at power forward. Still, that possibility saddens me, because Wall really needs a team all his own.

I'm not really sure of an answer, then. Wall in Golden State would be fun, but the bitter Warriors fans already filling up the chat window with questions (we'll get to them soon) would note Nellie would probably play C.J. Watson over him. Wall in the Minnesota triangle would be a terrible fit. So maybe the answer is the Nets with them signing Amar'e Stoudemire or Chris Bosh.

Jake Kohlman (washington, dc): Next Wizards home game I go to I'm going to hold a giant sign that reads "20 foot two-pointers are the worst shot in basketball!". After the Wizards read this and reel off 10 wins in a row, should I be made an assistant coach?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Maybe "shot selection consultant"? Be sure to take that sign to the United Center next, although the Bulls need more help than the Wizards, who at least are losing close games that could be wins with a couple of extra threes.

(see: http://hoopdata.com/teamshotlocs.aspx)

twinkies25 (MN): How's Al Jefferson looked so far? PLEASE tell me there are brighter days for the Wolves. Is Sessions a bust? Wayne Ellington a bust? Who can I place my hope on. Rubio?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Here's the thing I think people need to remember about the Timberwolves: They're not trying to win now. They're not actively tanking or anything, but they're building for tomorrow. So I think Rambis is getting too much heat for not playing Sessions alongside Flynn. If his goal is to make Flynn the best PG he can be, then putting him as the SG in that lineup stunts his development. So now let's actually answer your question.

Jefferson looks much better to me than he did the first couple of weeks of the season, which is to be expected. He'll be fine. I'm still not quite as optimistic as Anthony Macri about his fit in the triangle. Sessions is struggling with the system and his small role, but hopefully teams are smart enough to look past that and realize the value he can have. It's become immensely obvious Kahn signed him simply to flip in a trade. The news is not so good on Ellington, who is a shooter who can't shoot right now. That makes him a nothing. It's too early to say the word bust, but it's not looking good.

Charlie (Winnipeg): I hate the Raptors so much. Jose Calderon is the worst starting PG in Basketball. I wish the Hawks roster could be the raptors. Why do the Raptors smell so terrible?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I know his defensive lapses are frustrating, but it's hard to see the actual worst starting PG in basketball (Knicks fans would argue Chris Duhon) leading the league's best offense. No PG can be that bad defensively. The Raptors problems on D start from the inside out, not the other way around.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Kevin, What kind of impact do you see Powe making with the Cavaliers in the 2nd half/playoffs?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think he'll be a huge help if healthy. Hickson is still killing them defensively when he's on the floor. Powe has shown the ability to be part of an elite defense while also providing the finishing at the rim and athleticism that makes Hickson useful on offense. People--myself included--should probably be talking about this more. Powe will be rusty early on, but he's like a free trade pickup for Cleveland.

DJSykes (Atlanta): Although Washington still holds a respectable national standing, recent losses to well ranked Georgetown and Texas Tech are discouraging for passionate Husky fans. How telling are these losses for the UW basketball season and the immediate future of this program? Are they hiccups or are the Huskies likely unable to match up against top non-Pac 10 schools in the coming months?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): They're a good team that briefly masqueraded as a great one because the Pac-10 is down so far and thanks to a non-threatening early schedule. If expectations were to get deep into the NCAA Tournament, those definitely need to be tempered, but there's no reason UW can't win the Pac-10. Like many of the teams in the conference, the Huskies should be better in March because of the development of their young guys, most notably Abdul Gaddy.

UngratefulDead (Santa Rosa Ca.): Hey KP. In your opinion, how is Steph Curry's rookie season stacking up with the other rooks this year? Listening to the Warrior games, one can hear the announcers gushing about his vision and passing ability constantly, but wouldn't the leagues most average passer, look like a godsend to this team? Also, brief side question: Have you ever seen the movie Semi-Pro? Might be my favorite basketball movie.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Other than Evans and Jennings and the polished reserves (Blair and Lawson), he's played as well as anyone. I like his assist rate, which is solid. Two things Curry needs to do: Cut down on his turnover rate and get more easy buckets at the rim to help out his two-point percentage.

Wasn't a big Semi-Pro fan, but I've heard it's better on a second viewing. Will Arnett was hilarious, though.

T (San Diego): Is there any hope out there for the Golden State Warriors? What can they do in the long and short terms to turn things around?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): FREE ANTHONY RANDOLPH!

No, I think the biggest thing the Warriors need is continuity. The injuries almost forced that for a while--with eight guys, there's only so many lineups you can use--and that was Golden State's best stretch. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen under Nellie.

Owen (Oakland): Is Monta Ellis's current plus-minus the worst figure of all time? Has there even been a bigger disparity in starter vs. backup production than Mikki Moore v. Anthony Randolph? Do people realize the only team in league history with a worse rebounding differential than Nellie's '09-'10 Warriors IS NELLIE'S '89-'90 WARRIORS? Has there ever been a franchise quite this dysfunctional?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): (Wrapping up the dysfunctional Warriors section of the chat)

Holy wow! I had no idea it was so bad. See: http://www.82games.com/0910/09GSW4.HTM#onoff

I know the sample is small, but how could the offense possibly be so much better with Ellis on the bench?

I'm sure we could come up with a starter-backup differential if we tried, but nothing leaps to mind.

A franchise quite this dysfunctional? Sure, Ted Stepien's Cavaliers. The league made a rule to prevent them from hurting themselves. At least Nellie isn't trading away the team's future (yet).

Adam (Santa Barbara): Who would win a Martin-Thaddeus Young trade? Philly gets some much needed shooting/spacing. Kings get a Thompson-Young-Cassipi-Evans cheap, young, smallball core.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Interesting. I think it leaves Sacramento too small to compete on defense, though, assuming Young is at the four and Thompson the five.

jerjapan (toronto): Kevin, if you were Jay Triano, would you start Jack ahead of Calderon? Seems Calderon's had his best run as a backup playing against the second unit. Also, how do you improve the Raps overall D with nary a solid defender in the starting 5?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I haven't seen enough of those two units to really say, but that could balance things out. For now, I think Triano has to get creative to the point of gimmickry. Are the Raptors running much in the way of zone defenses? Things like Hack-a-Shaq also start to make more sense when you're this bad defensively.

jdhastings (San Francisco): Does Jerome Randle have even a shadow of a chance of being drafted in the second round or invited to a team camp? I know his limitations, but his attitude and work ethic can't be topped. Could he turn into an Aaron Brooks?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think BBP will probably be championing Randle's cause before the draft. He would be really, really, really bad defensively in the NBA, but could he develop into a poor man's Eddie House if the right team knew how to hide him on D? Maybe.

CraigR (Houston, TX): Chase Budinger has been a pleasant surprise for the Rockets so far this season. Long-term, can you envision Budinger being a quality starter on a playoff team?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): His defense has most pleasantly surprised me. He played for some really bad Arizona teams on the defensive end, but getting into a system that emphasizes defense seems to have helped him. I think his upside is probably one of the weaker starters on a playoff team, but there's value in that.

Charlie (Winnipeg): I hate the Raptors so much buddy. Let's say Bosh resigns - what do you do next?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Look for moves where you swap offense for defense. I would start with Andrea Bargnani. I just don't think you can build a quality defensive team around him, whereas Toronto has been able to be at least average with Calderon playing heavy minutes.

jdhastings (San Francisco): If you could add 1 stat to box scores/ play by plays, what would it be? And-1s so that possessions could be precisely calculated? Or something else?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Most of the really valuable stuff is in play-by-plays, so it's trackable but putting it in box scores would make things easier, especially at the game level. (For example, five years ago I could have looked at Joel Przybilla's plus-minus over the course of the season, but would have had to calculate his rating for last night's game by hand.)

The big thing to add, then, would probably be defensive tracking--assigning a defender (or defenders) to all offensive actions. That would be revolutionary.

Nick (Bronx): What's Gallinari's perfect world scenario? What's he most realistically going to become? Am I fooling myself when I see him possibly reaching Dirk levels?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The Dirk comparisons are probably inevitable, but he's not big enough or good enough as a rebounder to really make that a likely outcome. I'd think more like a better-rounded Peja Stojakovic as a best-case scenario. I was reading about this recently in BaseballThinkFactory's NBA discussion thread and they threw out Stojakovic and Rashard Lewis. That's a good place to think. Lewis didn't show up in Gallinari's comps last year, but I think it was about the same age where he became a big-time three-point shooter.

Trieu (Cambridge, MA): I hate the end of most semi-close NBA games, because they inevitably degenerate into drawn out foul-shooting contests. It's ugly and not real basketball. Any chance the NBA will ever revise the rules to do away with it (e.g., by calling such desperation fouls flagrant).

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't really mind. If anything, it's way worse in college basketball because free throw percentages are lower, teams are occasionally in the single bonus and threes are easier. You see college coaches take timeouts down 10 all the time. It's aggravating.

twinkies25 (MN): Follow up to my first question, how's Rubio doing? Is the PG job his in a couple years, or would it be better to stick with Flynn (Exspecially after the night he had Monday), and trade Rubio for some good perimeter shooters. Would the Cavs take a Lebron James-Rubio swap? (I can only dream)

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'd set my sights a little lower than that. I think it depends on Flynn's development, which is the luxury of time Rubio playing in Europe does give the Timberwolves. I really think Rubio is going to be special, but if you think Flynn is a bad fit for the triangle, double that with Rubio.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think that wraps it up for today. Thanks to everybody for some great questions. This might be the last chat I do before the New Year, in which case I hope everybody enjoys the holiday season.

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