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Chat: Kevin Pelton (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday December 17, 2010 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton (Basketball).


Check in on what's happening on the pro hardcourts with Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks for joining me this morning to chat about the NBA. It's been a great week of pro hoops, with a pair of nationally televised thrillers (and last night's San Antonio-Denver game was every bit as good as Boston-New York despite having about a tenth the viewers by its end). I'm joined, as always during the holiday season, by Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas. Without further ado, to your questions.

Dexter Fishmore (Hollywood, CA): Is Evan Turner having an even worse rookie season than Hasheem Thabeet's? What's your diagnosis of his difficulties (Turner's, that is)?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hmm. That's a tough comparison. Thabeet's numbers when he played were actually decent, so he wasn't flirting with the league's worst WARP like Turner has this season (currently, J.J. Hickson is edging him out). At the same time, Thabeet's inability to stay on the court was probably as disconcerting for his long-term development than Turner's play has been. As for what specifically has gone wrong, he looks so tentative whenever I watch him. The strength of Turner's game is making plays, whether for himself or others, so if he's not able to do it he's a huge liability on offense. It's possible that his skill set is such that he can only be valuable using a large percentage of his team's offense, a role that he'll eventually grow into. That's about as positive as I can be.

James (NY): Love your work Kevin! Is Marc Gasol an All-Star this year?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Depends how literally the West coaches take their selections by position. Gasol is in the discussion for best non-Tim Duncan center in the conference this year (Nene and Marcus Camby also merit mention), but I can see the West roster loading up on forwards instead. I just eyeballed a 12-player group and had to leave Paul Millsap out to get Kevin Love on, so there are plenty of deserving fours (Lamar Odom and Blake Griffin too).

Will (Mactaquac): SUFJAN! That's the album Gaga and Kanye wanted to make (Adz).

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Ha!

James (NY): With stalwart rookies Blake Griffin, John Wall and Landry Fields, can the All-Rookie team overcome the sophomores this year in their All-Star Weekend duel?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think there's enough depth to make it happen this year. Your Rookie roster is going to be those guys, some disappointing players the league wants to hype and role players (your Gary Neals and Gary Forbes). There are four rookies worth at least 1 WARP thus far (Neal is the fourth). There are eight second-year guys at that level.

paulbellows (Calgary): If the draft was re-done today what position would Landry Fields be going?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Speaking of Fields ... I believe it was David Thorpe who re-drafted and had Fields going in the top 10. I still think GMs might find a way to bump him down a bit below that, especially since he would not be as helpful for non-contending teams, but he would fit in pretty well in Utah, no?

I was one of Fields' biggest supporters after watching him in the Pac-10, but he's doing things even I never expected. He's been amazing. I do wonder whether he would be playing with the same confidence under a different coach.

Trey Kerby (Chillinois): Now that Brad Miller's the primary jump-shooting center in Houston, how awesome are they going to be? Additionally, how many guns do you think he owns?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Trey was probably the least sad about yesterday's Yao Ming news since it means more minutes for Brad Miller. I didn't realize until glancing at the numbers just how well Miller is shooting the ball this year--47.6 percent from deep! Can't blame him for the Rockets struggling.

Also, at least 50.

JT (Michigan): So basically, LeBron and Wade are like those guys at a pickup game who are better than everyone else but still insist on playing together all night: everyone else is reduced to Darko's chair or leaving. I hate those guys. My question is this: is there any way for an NBA fan to feel something other than loathing for the Heat without simultaneously admitting that they're a bit of a jerk? Thank you.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): ...

Will (Mactaquac): Sincerely, Wade/LeBron remind me of the guys who won't change up teams when they're winning at pickup. Sure, they haven't clicked yet, but it's coming. And it's nearly impossible to be a fan.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Interesting that two readers saw Wade and LeBron in the same terms. I think there was a hope among certain hoop fans (Bethlehem Shoals most prominently) that the Heat would be fun to watch, making up for the other issues, and one of the biggest disappointments early in the season was that Miami was just so boring. I also think they represent an interesting experiment, whether you're rooting for it to succeed or to fail.

I must confess I haven't caught much of the Heat lately, so I can't speak a lot to whether the two guys are clicking together more lately, but it looks like Wade's poor early numbers might have been nothing more than a fluke/slow start for him. That should concern other teams.

Hanson (Seattle): How would you compare Blake Griffin's game to Shawn Kemp's?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I thought Amar'e Stoudemire would be the closest modern equivalent to Kemp, but Griffin has blown that away with his ongoing series of highlight dunks. He's more refined at this stage of his career than Kemp was, but the sheer physical dominance and combination of force and leaping ability is awfully similar. Kemp was a better defender, however.

If Dominique Wilkins was the Human Highlight Film in the '80s, does that make Blake Griffin the Human YouTube clip in 2010?

paulbellows (Calgary): What do you think becomes of Terrence Williams this year? Any hope of getting out of the doghouse.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think this question was submitted before the trade. Williams now goes to a team that will value him, but one that doesn't have a ton of playing time to offer on the wings. I'm curious to see how Williams will be used. Do the Rockets see him as the explosive wing player they've lacked in years past or is he just an asset to gain value and be flipped?

SCHOENE liked Williams going into this year, but if I were to add a cautionary note it's that you can't always assume average improvement. It depends on work ethic and skill development, and those are areas the Nets were apparently disappointed in Williams. Of course, if they were just upset he was late all the time ... .

James (NY): Short version: Who do you like for MVP? Long: While Lebron has continued putting up great numbers, people think the Heat should be performing even better than they are, and his name isn't dominating MVP discussions. For the 10 games of the season, Pau Gasol was the best player in the League, but he's cooled off some. New York fans, like myself, seem to think that Amar'e has a legitimate shot of winning the MVP award this year. What's your take: who's the best player of the year so far, and can he keep it up to win MVP?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I still think Chris Paul is the leader, but with the Hornets slipping so badly, it's going to be harder to make the argument for him. I think John Hollinger had it right the other day when he wrote that no one has really stepped up yet. Someone is bound to do so the rest of the way, but there's a large pool of candidates. Amar'e? If the Knicks win 50 and he keeps playing at this level, maybe, but a more difficult schedule is going to be problematic on both of those levels. I tweeted "Manu for MVP" last night after he made game-winning plays at both ends of the floor, and that might not be totally crazy, especially if the Spurs hold on to the league's best record.

Dan (Philadelphia): I'm a big fan, Kevin, and I also enjoy that you apparently are in the Town of Basketball today. Even with Turner's struggles, the 76ers have really seemed to turn it around. Not against great competition, but they've still won 7 of 9. Can they actually make the playoffs in the East?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, definitely. Their schedule-adjusted point differential is eighth in the East, so they are certainly in the mix. I like what Doug Collins has done at the defensive end of the floor and Jodie Meeks has really helped on offense. Two factors working against the Sixers: Their close losses count just the same as blowouts in the standings and the Bucks seem to be getting things together lately. Philly should be rooting for Milwaukee to turn on Scott Skiles because I think there's a huge gap between the Bucks and the 10th-best team in the conference.

Sammy (Los Angeles): Man the 2010 draft looks like one of the worst drafts in a long time. Think 2011 will might be worse than 2000?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It's a bit early to write it off. If nothing else, John Wall has been every bit as brilliant as we imagined (injury aside). Classes with one superstar and no depth (see 1990, where Gary Payton was the only player of true note) don't get as much attention as those that provide nothing but role players.

2011 will depend on how much the best young talent is scared away by the lockout potential. It's worth noting that the pre-lockout 1998 Draft was actually one of the better crops in recent memory (Dirk, Vince, Jamison, Bibby, Paul Pierce, etc.).

Dan (St. Louis): I'm finally emerging from the new-baby haze 26 games into the season. I've seen lots and lots of dirty diapers but zero NBA games thus far. So tell me, which 5 or 6 teams do you think are playing the most entertaining basketball thus far this year?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Congrats and welcome back, Dan! Most entertaining teams: New York, San Antonio, Golden State, Utah, the Lakers. Yes, that's a very eclectic mix. The Clippers and Wizards are worth watching simply for the highlight potential of their stars. Miami is very entertaining in spurts. Boston deserves consideration when Rondo is healthy. Westbrook puts Oklahoma City in the mix, though you have to sit through a lot of free throws.

Mark (Milwaukee): I know it hasn't translated into wins yet but the T-Wolves seem to be making strides in the right direction, no? Is there a reasonable path you see to at least start contending for a playoff spot in 2011-12?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Definitely headed the right way, if only because of Love, Beasley and Milicic. You can make the playoffs with that as your frontcourt. The question now is whether David Kahn can stick with a direction and build around those three guys. Minnesota still needs a shooter and defender to play the two, and it doesn't appear Wesley Johnson is going to be that guy (if only because he's naturally a three). Then it's figuring out the point between Floyd, Rubio and whoever else.

I don't think 2011-12 is realistic--Minnesota is still a long ways from the good teams in the West--but 2012-13 is a possibility, especially if Rubio comes over then.

Rick (Chicago): Just how much does the loss of Noah hurt them over the next month? What would be the best way for them to compensate -- can Gibson and Boozer handle the front court or do they need a true big in there?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think they can survive with Gibson and Boozer against most opponents. I've seen some talk about D-League callups and the like, but it's hard to imagine they're going to find anyone better than Omer Asik. This would be a great time for him to grow into the role and show the ability to stay on the floor for longer periods as the third big man. Add in Luol Deng at the four in small lineups and Chicago has more than enough talent to survive, but this is definitely bad news as far as trying to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

elcubano (Oakland, CA): This isn't a slam but would the Heat be better off with their current supporting frontcourt or the current best D-Leaguers at PF/C?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say no to the entire frontcourt. Big Z and Dampier are better than D-Leaguers. If you're replacing Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire with D-Leaguers, that's a different question. I love what Howard offers in terms of leadership, but you can't have him on the floor. The Heat is 14.6 points worse per 100 possession when he plays. Joel Anthony is borderline, as you can find one-dimensional guys like him in the D-League.

Kevin B (Chicago): There's a growing online sentiment that Derrick Rose isn't a superstar because he doesn't get to the line. Do you think this is more because he manages to avoid contact like no other, or more because he gets contact but doesn't get the calls?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't see any obvious explanation for why Rose wouldn't get the same calls that players of his perceived stature do, so I think this has to be an issue of how he's attempting to draw contact or not. It's a weird conversation, but if the question is whether Rose would be a better scorer if he drew more fouls, the answer is (of course) unequivocally yes.

jamin67038 (Wichita, KS): Memphis seems to have playoff talent on paper- are they just a victim of being in the wrong conference? Crazy to think they'd be a 7 seed in the East?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think you could say just as much they're the victim of cutting off the playoffs at eight teams, since the difference between seventh in one conference and ninth in the other isn't enormous. The competition for the last spot in the West will be tougher because there are more teams involved, but the door is definitely open for the Grizzlies. If they play consistently over the next four months, they'll make it.

James (NY): Last year the Hawks lost a game at the buzzer where video evidence showed that they should have had more time, and won. Wednesday night, the same thing happened with the Knicks. I don't think that the results of games should change afer-the-fact, but is that a topic of discussion among BP analysts and NBA media?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think there's a presumption of precision here that just isn't realistic. We're talking about tenths of seconds, so I'm not sure I buy that you can really tell that there was 0.7 seconds left versus 0.6 versus whatever.

Andrew (OKC): Do you see the Thunder ever making a move for a vet? It has been clear what Presti's plan is, but don't you think they need a solid vet to propel this team further?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think there's a need for some consolidation, but I don't think it necessarily has to be a vet. It's becoming more clear that Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka is the future and Jeff Green doesn't belong, so I think the next move is to complement Ibaka in the frontcourt. Maybe the Thunder thinks Cole Aldrich will be that guy.

James (NY): Weren't the Bucks supposed to be good this year?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not according to SCHOENE. We got this one and the Knicks.

Sammy (Los Angeles): Harden's coming on strong in December. How do you see him developing down the line? I always forget he's so young. Must be the damn beard.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): His season numbers are still about where they were during his rookie season. His youth is one reason we've been so high on him in the past, but he may need to do some growing up in terms of his work habits to develop.

James (NY): Was Wilson Chandler's improvement this season predictable? One area he's improved is blocked shots/36, which has almost doubled I think - can that be attributed to him playing at 4 instead of 2, where he spent much of last season? Can some of his improved play in other areas be because of better teammates this season?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Interesting note on his block rate. Positions are pretty fluid in D'Antoni's system, so I'm not sure that it. Other than that, I'd say the growth in Chandler's game can pretty much be tied to his improved three-point shooting. Until he continues it for more than a couple months, I'll be a tad skeptical, but you can't be too surprised when a 23-year-old gets it.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright, thanks to everybody for joining me today. Be sure to stop back on Dec. 29 when my colleague Bradford Doolittle chats right here. Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

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