Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton stops by to preview the Lakers/Celtics NBA Finals.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hey everyone, thanks for joining me on the eve of the NBA Finals to talk some hoops. Obviously, all eyes are on the Celtics and Lakers, but the NBA draft is three weeks from tomorrow and there is plenty of coaching news so we've got more than the Finals to discuss.
Nick Kaczur (Foxborough DEA): How much of a shot do the Celtics really have? The Lakers have the best player, the better team and the better coach. What's your series prediction? Make sure you speak clearly and directly into the flower.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Uh oh, is this a Boston fan trying to pull a reverse jinx, Bill Simmons style? Of course they have a chance, they won 66 games and were clearly the better team in the regular season. I also like a lot of their matchups. I still think the Lakers are he favorites and picked them in six, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this series go either way. For more, make sure you check out my preview on BasketballProspectus.com:
jeremydneezy (Greenville, SC): I agree that the Lakers should be considered the favorites due to their stellar playoff performance, but it seems that Kobe's struggles against the Celts in the regular season are getting underplayed in the media's rush to anoint him MJ 2.0. The bottom line is that Boston's strategy to utilize Ray Allen on Kobe worked very well. Do you see any changes forthcoming from Doc in that regard?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm not sure the regular-season results for Kobe have really been underplayed. It was only two matchups, and don't discount the fact that Bryant chafed (figuratively and literally) at the short shorts the Lakers donned for the first half of the matchup in L.A.
Clearly, the Celtics have the personnel and the strategic ability to contain Bryant in a way most NBA teams can't. The same could be said of the Spurs, however, and Bryant still came up with a very big series. I think Boston will definitely start with the same kind of defensive philosophy, but over the course of the series the Celtics will have to mix things up at times. I think we'll see multiple defenders on Bryant, though primarily Allen.
dangor (New York): Naive question. Why wouldn't the Celtics employ a box-and-one zone on Kobe? Would the Lakers have the outside shooters to break such a defensive strategy?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): In my time covering the NBA, I've seen the box-and-one defense employed maybe once or twice. At the NBA level, the shooters are too good and the difference in ability between the star player and his teammates is so relatively small compared to lower levels that it just doesn't make sense. Think about it this way -- all the discussion lately has been about the improvement in the supporting cast around Bryant. If teams didn't use the box-and-one against the Lakers a couple of years ago, why would they now?
BL (Bozeman, MT): As a Bucks fan, I have spent a considerable amount of time hating the Lakers (in the '70s) and Celtics (good playoff rivals in the '80s), so this Finals matchup brings some misery-tinged nostalgia into my life. Is there any chance of future happiness?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm sure Milwaukee fans aren't the only ones who aren't exactly loving all this nostalgia. In the short term, it's awful tough to get excited about the Bucks. The eighth pick isn't going to bring them an instant-impact player next season. There are some pieces in place, but not enough talent overall. It's also clear Milwaukee isn't going anywhere until the defense gets significantly better (Scott Skiles will help, but he's not a miracle-worker).
Over the long run, I think John Hammond has the ability to give the organization direction and execute a solid master plan. We'll see if he makes good on that and how long it might take.
max (DC): With this particular matchup we have seen a ton of film and video from the 60s, 70s and 80s in recent days. Reminds me how much less muscle appeared on your average basketball player then......how much do you think the game has changed as a result of the emphasis on strength (not to mention improved shorts)
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm not the right guy to answer this -- my first NBA memories are from the late '80s and early '90s. I think the big difference is probably in terms of making the game more difficult to officiate because of the physical nature of the game.
I think the bigger differences probably relate to the game slowing down, the advent of video scouting and the three-point line.
Jeremie (Phoenix): Will the Suns have a new head coach any time soon?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Looks like Steve Kerr wants to wait to do some more interviews, including potentially Tom Thibodeau at the end of this series. I think the Suns definitely ought to consider Flip Saunders. In terms of coaches who can maintain the caliber of offense Phoenix has had while adding a little more defense to the mix, Saunders is right up there. His use of zones on defense could be an ideal fit. Obviously, the concern is that Saunders has never taken a team past the conference finals, but I'm not convinced the Pistons' shortcomings come from the sidelines. The weird thing about Detroit is that while most teams have their head coach set the tone from the organization, that's clearly not the case with the Pistons, where it's more about Joe Dumars and their core group of starters.
kevin (maryland): I haven't seen any discussion of the relative health of the Celtics and Lakers right now. Isn't Kobe still injured in several ways, and doesn't this potentially affect his performance?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): If Kobe's injured, I'd hate to see him healthy. In seriousness, yeah, Bryant still has the ligament tear with his finger, but it hasn't seemed to affect him at all. The only injury that really looks like a potential factor in this series is Tony Allen's Achilles, and he returned to practice and has not been a major player for the Celtics in the postseason. I could see him coming in as a stopper in offense-defense situations down the stretch, but I'm not sure his role will be any bigger than that.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): As a Sonics guy, do you find yourself rooting for Ray Allen?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Certainly, knowing how hard he works, it's hard not to root for Ray. As an NBA guy, I also want to root for Kevin Garnett Paul Pierce. That said, I'm heartless now. I mostly root for my prediction to be correct. My mom is definitely rooting for Ray.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): Did the Pistons make a mistake letting Saunders go?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Probably. I don't think it's a decision they can't overcome or anything, but Saunders is a good coach and Michael Curry seems unlikely to control some of the mistakes Detroit (read: Rasheed Wallace) has made in the postseason any more than Saunders. Curry is clearly a bright guy and has been destined to be a head coach for a while now, but I can't get over the fact that Kevin O'Neill and Rick Carlisle played him so many minutes when he was long past being able to contribute. Curry probably inspired more John Hollinger invective than any other NBA player.
Wendy (Madrid): Why do the Bulls want Collins as their head coach? I thought the Bulls had one of the faster teams out there, and Collins likes to slow it down. Seems to be a pretty bad match.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, I don't see this one at all. Chicago played at the ninth-fastest pace in the NBA this season, and while Hollinger and I disagree on who is the slowest coach in recent NBA memory (my money is on Mike Fratello), Collins is certainly in the discussion.
To me, the pace is a relatively minor issue here. After reading Michael Lahey's book When Nothing Else Matters about Michael Jordan's time in Washington, I came away convinced that, for all Collins' Xs and Os ability and knowledge of the game, he doesn't manage players well enough to succeed as an NBA head coach. The irony here is that's exactly where Scott Skiles fell short. I'm a big believer in the importance of contrasting styles with coaching changes, so this makes no sense to me.
Rod (Somerville): Who do you see as potential X-factors in this series?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): On the Lakers side, I think Sasha Vujacic. The matchups are going to require that he plays a lot alongside Kobe and he's already been finishing most games. If he shoots the ball well and does a good job defensively on Allen, that's huge for the Lakers. For Boston, I'm fascinated to see how Rajon Rondo does in this series. I'm a Rondo believer, so it's not an issue of "will he come up short?" or anything like that. It's that if he can have a really strong series, the Celtics become much more difficult to stop.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): The 2-3-2 is strange. And I find the explanation for it a bit fuzzy. Media logistics? There's plenty of media covering the conference finals too, right?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): It is strange, but I think the reasoning makes sense even if it's not necessarily better than 2-2-1-1-1. Not only does the media contingent grow exponentially (especially the international media), but the travel is always longer because you've got teams from opposing conferences.
The travel argument would make a bit more sense if the two-day breaks were timed for travel situations instead of based on when is best for television. Ultimately, I think everybody spends way more time worrying about this before the Finals than after them.
Grasspike (NC): If you were GM of the Chicago Bulls, would you draft Rose or Beasley? I think I would go with Beasley, because the lack of a good PF has held them back for a few years now...
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm of the opinion that the Bulls already have a pretty good power forward in Tyrus Thomas. I know his issues in terms of focus and consistency, and they're very real, but he's not going to overcome them on the bench. The next head coach, whether it's Collins or anyone else, needs to turn Thomas and Noah loose and live with some mistakes because it will pay off in the end.
More than that, though, you don't decide the No. 1 overall pick based on need. You pick the better prospect and fill around them. This might be an exception because both players are outstanding prospects, but I like Rose slightly more. The way the game is developing has tended to favor perimeter players as compared to post players, and Rose showed very special ability during the NCAA Tournament.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): I'm a huge fan of Hubie Brown. (I've watched Miami and NJ games just to listen to his analysis.) Who's your favorite TV analyst?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm going off the board for Marques Johnson, who called about six games for the Sonics last season and is primarily an NCAA analyst for FSN at this point. The combination of Kevin Calabro and Johnson calling Sonics games in the '90s will never be matched again.
Amongst the national guys, I'd take Jeff Van Gundy first (I can't believe this guy has a sense of humor), Doug Collins second and then Brown. The one thing I've learned as I've become a more serious basketball analyst is just how good these guys really are. When I'm watching the game with TiVo, I can pick a lot of things up by going back and watching in slow motion a second time. These guys all see it the first time through at game speed. Van Gundy, Collins and Brown all know the game extremely well and they respect that viewers care about the intricacies.
costa24 (Montreal): From your answers regarding Saunders, it seems like you're among those that think of the Pistons as having underachieved. Am I crazy for thinking a team that has come out of an up-phase with a championship, another finals appearance and at least 2 series victories 5 or 6 times in a row should be considered as having done quite well?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): If we look strictly at the post-Larry Brown era, we're talking about three years of two series victories apiece. Certainly that's not underachieving, and I usually tend to argue that we underrate how difficult it is to achieve consistent success like that. However, two of the three losses have come to lower-seeded teams without home-court advantage, and how the Pistons have lost (blowing a fourth-quarter lead last Friday, for example) has often been the issue more than that they've lost. So underachieved might be unfair, but are there things they could tweak to do better? I think potentially so.
dianagramr (NYC): What will it take for the Knicks to become relevant again?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Time and patience. Let Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni build something there. It won't happen overnight, but there's no reason the Knicks can't turn this thing around in three years or so.
Grasspike (NC): Who are the top 5 pure athletes in the draft? I assume Rose and Randolph are included, but who are the others?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Tough question, and I haven't seen everyone. Based on his combine numbers, Joe Alexander definitely belongs in that group. I would say UCLA's Russell Westbrook, one of the better defenders around. As a wild-card pick, a guy who has gotten a little buzz lately, Mike Taylor. He left Iowa State early because of some off-the-court issues, spent last season playing for the D-League Champion Idaho Stampede and is now eligible for the draft.
bloodwedding (BK): Will the Heat really take Mayo if Rose is gone and if so, is that a huge mistake?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): If they don't take Beasley, I have to figure they'd trade down instead of just taking Mayo second. Depending on what they get, not necessarily a mistake, though usually those deals work better for the team trading up.
costa24 (Montreal): In a couple of years, the vaunted '03 draft class potentially hits the market. If you had to venture a guess, come 2010, where are LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh, Wade (and heck, Kaman too) playing?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think most of those guys will probably stay put. People tend to overestimate how frequently elite players change teams, at least in their prime. I am buying stock in LeBron to Brooklyn, however.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): Were those '90s Sonics the best team never to win a championship? (Sorry to be asking so many questions.)
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'll wrap it up on a sentimental note, the great Sonics teams of my youth. Because Jordan and the Bulls were so dominant, there are plenty of '90s contenders, with the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns also in consideration. The Sonics probably had the most complete run of the three, winnng the Pacific Division four times in five years. If only they could have put it together when Jordan was retired/just had come back. Sigh.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks to everybody for stopping by and apologies to the people whose questions I did not get too. I've got to get out of the way for MLB Draft chatting. Enjoy the NBA Finals and be sure to check out our coverage after every game on Basketball Prospectus.