Preview the second round of the playoffs with Kevin Pelton.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hey everybody, thanks for joining me on a Monday morning as we kick off the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Yesterday's action couldn't quite match the drama of one of the best opening rounds in memory, but it sets up a pair of intriguing series with two more tipping off tonight. Meanwhile, 22 teams look ahead to the NBA Draft and the offseason. Should be plenty to discuss ...
coogeehog (Maui): Obviously COTY Thibs won't look ahead to the conference finals, but since the Bulls are such heavy favorites, especially with Hinrich hurt, what do the Bulls need to do in the Atlanta series to get geared up for what promises to be a significantly more competitive conference final?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Sweeping the Hawks has been bad luck for teams the last two postseasons, so maybe Chicago should let the Hawks win a game? No, after a competitive first-round series, I think the Bulls won't mind if this one is a little less eventful. I think the biggest thing Chicago needs to do to prepare for a possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup is to get Carlos Boozer going after he struggled so much in the first round and then injured his big toe. The Bulls are going to need Boozer's scoring at some point here.
Dexter Fishmore (Hollywood, CA): Kevin, in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 you wrote:
"There is virtually no carry-over from year to year in terms of how teams defend three-pointers. Elite teams like the Lakers are little more likely than their ineffective counterparts to fare well in terms of opponent three-point percentage the following season. As a result, SCHOENE assumes everyone will defend the threes equally."
This season, once again the Lakers held their opponents to a very low three-point percentage. They finished 3rd best in that category after finishing 1st last year and 3rd the year before that. It seems unlikely to me that they're merely enjoying three straight years' worth of this very specific kind of good luck.
Are you willing to concede that the Lakers might actually be onto something when it comes to forcing three-point misses? And if so, will you be softening SCHOENE's assumption that all three-point defense is equal?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Dexter, not sure if you saw that I wrote about the Lakers' three-point defense briefly last month here: http://basketballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=682
Doing a better job of predicting three-point defense is definitely something I'll look at in the process of improving SCHOENE this summer. If it's truly a case where the Lakers are an outlier, however, I think we'll just have to take it for granted as something SCHOENE is going to miss, as it wouldn't make sense to change things in order to better predict one team and make the estimates for the other 29 worse.
Tommy (Philadelphia): Kevin, I can't help but shake the parallels between this year's Bulls team and the Cavaliers of 2009. High-usage star (although Rose's level this season is well below that of LeBron's that year), slow paced team, full of lots of solid role players but ultimately lacking a second guy. Boozer could be that guy but has shown it only in flashes this season. Unless he steps up, aren't the Bulls poised to go out in six games to Miami in the conference finals should the Heat make it there?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): [ ... ]
Perry (Gary, IN): How does this Bulls team compare with the 2009 and 2010 Cavs? There seem to be a lot of parallels with the extreme high usage star surrounded by one or two "semi" offensive stars and a bunch of defense-first role players.. which scares me as a Bulls fan. Overly simplistic analysis?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Wow, virtually the same question from back-to-back fans. It's an interesting thought. I see two key points of difference:
1. Those Cleveland defenses were good, but the Bulls are at a different level defensively. The Cavaliers allowed 5.7% fewer points per 100 possessions than league average in 2008-09 and 3.2% fewer last year, when they were not nearly as dominant. Chicago is 7.3% better than league average, which puts them sixth in modern NBA history.
2. I don't see a matchup as problematic for Chicago as Orlando was for Cleveland in 2009. The Magic won that season series 2-1, which was a bit of a warning. The Bulls split with Boston and swept Miami, so there's no potential matchup as troublesome.
RMJ=H (Raleigh): Does Zach Randolph eat small guards for breakfast? If so, doesn't his diet lack fiber?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): He relies on a supplement. No worries, clearly.
charlesf (nyc): I think it's safe to say that the Spurs won their championships with capable (and height-appropriate) centers alongside Duncan. Popovich obviously wasn't happy with Splitter this year (very low minutes), so how do they address the need around the basket, since they're getting killed by big teams. Also, is the Richard Jefferson experiment over? He still looks very uncomfortable out there after two seasons.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I fully expect that Splitter will be that guy next season. A big reason he was so far behind as a rookie was because he suffered a calf injury early in training camp that really set him back as far as learning the Spurs' systems and getting acclimated. He started to get it toward the end of the regular season. A real training camp would also help give Pop a chance to work on getting Duncan and Splitter comfortable together.
At the same time, I do think this is partially a reflection of Duncan's age. He has a much tougher time defending power forwards, especially undersized ones, than he did five years ago.
As for Jefferson, I just think he's aging. The track record of wings of his ilk at his age is terrible. Jefferson's a year younger than Rashard Lewis, to name one example, but look how quickly Lewis has gone from All-Star to anchor.
RMJ=H (Raleigh, NC): Were you bummed that SCHOENE seemed to miss so badly on Golden State? I had high hopes coming into the season.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I not-so-secretly root for the SCHOENE projections and would love a Warriors resurgence on many levels, so yes. SCHOENE was right that Golden State would be improved, but dramatically overstated the magnitude of that improvement, especially on the defensive end. That makes me wonder what might have been had Andris Biedrins not regressed due to his series of injuries.
BK (Boston): How much help does a "defensive assistant" really provide relative to simply acquiring better defenders? Grizz jumped from 23rd to a top 10 defense because of Tony Allen, not a diff set of coaches, right?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): As I understand it, Dave Joerger is the Memphis assistant who has the most defensive responsibility, and he was there last year, so no, I don't think it really reflects coaching. On the other hand, Joerger/Lionel Hollins deserve a ton of credit for their scheme in the playoff series with the Spurs.
Michael (Memphis): What exactly is the difference between Memphis' defense last year (subpar) and this year (excellent)- is it all Tony Allen?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): You'd have to consider Allen the biggest factor. The Grizz went from 20th in the league in forcing turnovers to first while Allen led the league in steal rate for the second consecutive season. Darrell Arthur has really grown defensively and the addition of Shane Battier for the stretch run surely helped, but Allen is the biggest difference.
Paul (Orange Park, FL): Kevin- did not see your pre-playoff similarity analysis, the one in which you compared current playoff teams to ones of the past- it proved very predictive in the last couple years in fingering Boston last year as a team likely to overachieve relative to seed and Cleveland to underachieve. Any chance of running one for the second round teams?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think you found it more insightful than I did! Ultimately, it seemed to me to mostly be random with a few hits.
Daniel (St. Louis): A non-playoffs question, but what else is a Wizards fan to do? Have you studied any of the half-dozen foreign lottery prospects? Does anyone stand out to you?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I can't say I have. You might check out David Locke's analysis on the Jazz's website. He's watching a lot of film on the international prospects.
Terry (Wallingford, CT): Kevin, what do you make of the fact that the Grizzlies' point differential was better without Gay after he got injured? Especially in light of this playoff performance? Could he be potential trade bait in this offseason in order to free up more money to keep Marc Gasol?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer (a great follow on Twitter right now: @ChrisHerrington) has spoken very well to the fact that the improvement post-Gay injury really reflects other ways the Grizzlies have improved than it has anything to do with Gay himself. I think they've benefited to some extent from having little choice but to pound the ball into the post on offense, but if you put him in the role Sam Young is playing right now, Memphis is a better team.
I don't think keeping Gasol is an issue this summer. As the Grizzlies move forward, Gay might be sacrificed to maintain payroll flexibility, but right now you're weighing him against keeping Shane Battier/signing a backup center, that sort of thing.
Matt (Denver): What do you do next if you are the Denver Nuggets? It seems like they are a player or two away from being really good.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Extend Nene, apparently, which is great for them. Depending on what happens with Oklahoma City in this series, I don't think you overreact to running into a team that might just be the second-best in the Western Conference in the first round and losing three close games, one of them influenced by a terrible call. I'm still not a huge Wilson Chandler fan and I think the Nuggets will miss J.R. Smith if he indeed walks, no matter how frustrating he can be, but Denver should be a solid regular-season team again next year. If the goal is to get deep into the playoffs, this group might have a tough time doing so, but they've shown how successful they can be in the regular season and that shouldn't be underestimated.
Manny (Boston): Kevin, is Russell Westbrook worth a max-level contract extension (or whatever such an extension will look like under the new CBA)? He is incredibly talented, but his plus/minus has never been overly impressive, and he has not curbed his high usage tendencies (which are even higher than the far more efficient Durant). I can easily see an offseason of trade rumors, questions about his maturity etc. being leaked by the Thunder much as the Celtics did with Rajon Rondo to help bring down his extension price a couple years ago
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm still not sure quite what to make of Westbrook. His plus-minus remains heavily tainted by the fact that Jeff Green started and Serge Ibaka came off the bench most of the year, and if you look at lineups with actual starting-caliber frontcourt players, the Thunder's plus-minus makes a lot more sense. I don't worry as much about his usage vis-a-vis Durant because both players need to pick up a huge load in the offense, but as that becomes less true--if James Harden moves into the starting lineup, for example--that might change. I do find it interesting that his defensive numbers aren't as good as you'd expect given that he came into the league with the reputation of being a stopper first and foremost.
Ultimately, Oklahoma City seems to be making this odd combination of players work at a high level, so I don't think you mess with that until or unless it becomes clear that there's no other option. Knowing the Thunder organization (and without commenting on whether those Rondo/Celtics rumors are really legitimate), I don't think they're going to undermine their own player. As conscious of flexibility as Sam Presti is, he's also worked to keep his stars happy, so I think an extension will probably be relatively painless.
Thomas (Chicago): The thing that really scares me about the Bulls is that unlike the Celtics or Heat, their best players essentially maxed out their minutes during the regular season- there's no room for guys like Deng and Rose to play any more minutes. By comparison, Wade and LeBron are poised to play 41, 42 minutes. Do you feel that we accord too much weight to just regular season point differential without accounting for the changes in playoff lineup minute distributions?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think that in the case of teams like Boston last year, that might be a factor, but for the most part regular-season performance predicts playoff performance better than anything else, so I don't think it's a huge difference.
(I have the only chat where Bulls fans worry about their team rather than complain about MVP voting!)
Victor (Sugarland, TX): Kevin, I feel like the Rockets are poised for a leap in 2011-12 much like the Grizzlies had last year if they can bring in a coach with great defensive bona fides (Stan Van Gundy..please!). They seem to be a similarly well balanced team to the Grizzlies with a couple semi-stars and some cap room this summer. They lacked a defensive presence this year but seemingly could address that offseason with a guy like Tyson Chandler and be poised for a 50 win season next year.. thought?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Don't underestimate the loss of Rick Adelman, whose teams generally tend to regress when he leaves. If the Rockets replace with him a Stan Van Gundy, that's one thing, but most of the time an improvement on defense will be offset by a drop on offense. They also might find the pickings on the free agent market a bit slim. The issue of a lack of size in the middle is not a new one, but it's a difficult one to address in free agency. Can't see Chandler or Marc Gasol going anywhere, Nene is likely off the market and after that it's a big step down.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks for all the questions and apologies to Ben that I can't answer about the Pacers. We'll try to do this again when the conference finals are tipping off. Until then, check out our free daily recaps and additional analysis on BasketballProspectus.com.