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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday November 20, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton.

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Kevin Pelton's work on BasketballProspectus.com has drawn national attention. Now's your opportunity to talk hoops with the man himself.

Kevin Pelton: Hey everyone, thanks for joining me for our latest roundball chat on BaseballProspectus.com. Fresh off watching the Blazers pound the Bulls at the launch party for The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, I've got the Kooks going and am ready to discuss the first three weeks of the NBA season.

TomH (Lexington Park MD): I'm a baseball-aholic, but basketball dummy. Sum up in <80 words or a few bullet pts player evaluation & how teams win.

Kevin Pelton: Well, if they've scored more points at the end of four 12-minute quarters. . .

OK, you were probably lookinig for something a bit more substantive than that. In baseball, the currency of the game is outs, as this site and others have reinforced. In basketball, everything starts with the possession. You get as many of them as your opponent and you need to be more efficient with them. You do that in eight ways--good shooting, getting to the free-throw line, avoiding turnovers and offensive rebounding and the opposite at the defensive end. Shooting is the most important factor, with turnovers and rebounding about half as important and getting to the line slightly less important.

Per game stats are the Triple Crown stats of basketball, and points per game tends to have a special allure. At the player level and at the team level, things should be measured per possession to filter out pace of play (basketball's park effects). Scoring efficiency is underrated, if not quite as important as _Wages of Wins_ will tell you.

Chris (Chicago): As a Marquette student, it has interesting to see the difference between Buzz Williams and Tom Crean. The team has scored in bunches this season, but they lack a big man. What do you see them doing this year?

Kevin Pelton: I think I'm getting a few more college questions than usual in part because the intro doesn't specifically mention I'm one of HoopsP's NBA guys, while John Gasaway, Ken Pomeroy and John Perrotto (as well as Joe Sheehan) focus on college hoops. Feel free to submit those questions anyway, but I may not have much to offer. I'm pretty good on the Pac-10, but you're surely more of a Marquette expert than I am.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): It seems that the Cavs are attempting to get McDyess. Would he be a good fit? He would probably cut into Wally's minutes because they have him playing some 4 - perhaps diminishing his trade value. What do you think?

Kevin Pelton: I don't know that the Cavaliers need McDyess, but adding him certainly can't hurt. As a veteran option in the frontcourt, he's a serious upgrade on the expired Lorenzen Wright. Cleveland has gotten along fine by playing more smallball this year, but McDyess would if nothing else be a great insurance policy. The bigger plus for the Cavaliers might be keeping McDyess away from the Pistons.

As for Wally Z, his trade value has very little to do with his play. It's all about his expiring contract.

Chris (Chicago): In the short time you have seen Greg Oden play, what is your assessment of him?

Kevin Pelton: My assessment is that anyone who called him a bust over the last couple of months better like the taste of crow. Look, we're talking about someone who posted one of the more remarkable statistical seasons for a freshman in NCAA history and was the No. 1 overall pick. Barring serious injury (and I'm talking about recurring knee problems, not the mid-foot sprain that sidelined him the last couple of weeks), he is going to be a stud.

Right now, Oden needs a lot more court time to get comfortable and continue shaking off the rust. Yet he's already a nightly double-double guy. Be afraid, be very afraid.

bctowns (Chicago, IL): Kevin, Are you as annoyed by fantasy questions as some nameless writers at BP? Because my hoops team may need some serious help.

Kevin Pelton: Fire away, but I should tell you the team I drafted in an experts league is in last place by a mile, so I'm not sure I'm much help.

Scott (Greenville, SC): As an NBA peddler, why do you think the popularity is down so much? Or is it down, I guess?

Kevin Pelton: In my opinion, that's one of those stories the media loves to write (we saw it a few years ago in baseball too, though that's mostly died down). The popularity of _everything_ is down. That's the nature of how our pop culture has evolved, with myriad potential options. So of course the TV ratings aren't where they used to be. And everyone wants to compare the NBA and MLB to the NFL, which is simply an unrealistic standard.

The NBA, for better or worse, is always going to be a complete turn-off to a lot of fans. It's weird to me how it's acceptable to criticize the NBA in a way people never would MLB or NFL. Yet there's still more than enough interested fans to draw from, especially when you factor in the league's phenomenal popularity overseas.

bctowns (Chicago, IL): For this season, would you rather have Oden or Carmelo? Carmelo sure seems to be struggling right now.

Kevin Pelton: Carmelo. I'm not that worried about his poor shooting in the early going. That should come around. his rebounds and assists are both up, which is encouraging. Oden won't help your FT%, and we're still not sure how cautious the Blazers will be with his minutes.

Peter (Cleveland): Kevin, I am very excited about the Cavs. Can they win it all? Also, what can we expect to get for Wally Sczczczczcerbiak's Expiring Contract?

Kevin Pelton: I think you missed a Z there. I wouldn't rule out the possibility the Cavaliers just hang on to them, because where do you want to spend that money right now? Power forward, maybe, but Ben Wallace's contract is already there and he can still contribute defensively.

I would strongly consider giving this group a shot to grow together without a jarring midseason trade and see what they can do in the playoffs. Right now, Cleveland is tops in the league in Offensive Rating, which is a ridiculous improvement from last year and good enough to seriously think about winning it all. Right now it's the Lakers and then everyone else when we talk championship, but Cleveland is prominent in that second group, what with the league's second-best point differential.

Brian (Brooklyn NY): I saw in a recent hit list the Nets were ranked really close to the bottom. Are they really one of the 5-8 worst teams in the NBA?

Kevin Pelton: 5-8 is a pretty big group, so yes. By record, New Jersey is a little better, but their differential is 27th out of 30 teams and the Nets have played slightly more games at home. They're not so bad as to be uncompetitive, but they're rebuilding. It's supposed to go like this.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): What % of defense is an individual skill, and what % is knowing where you're supposed to stand and lifting your hands over your head when the guy shoots?

Kevin Pelton: Big Brooklyn chat today.

I'm not sure how to answer because knowing where you're supposed to stand is a skill in my book (and a valuable one at that). The more interesting question to me is what percentage of defense is individual ability and how much of it is team system/coaching. My answer to that is as high as 60/40 and as low as 40/60. Then again, the Spurs being 17th in the league in Defensive Rating might convince me to increase that number.

ahren (denver): Saw the Nugs/Bucks game the other night in person. Richard Jefferson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute each finished the game with 5 fouls, and played 23 and 20 minutes, respectively. Given that with them on the bench and Charlie V out, the Nuggets were able to score at will on jokers like Austin Croshere, isn't it coaching malpractice to sit players for too long just because you fear them fouling out? Isn't it "better" if they foul out, because then you have certainly maxed their minutes?

Kevin Pelton: Foul trouble is the NBA's equivalent of going for it on fourth down in football. (Not sure the comparison in baseball--maybe reliever usage?) You're rarely going to get criticized for taking a guy out according to the standard rules, whereas if you leave a guy in and he picks up another foul the broadcasters and fans will be all over you. The numbers don't matter until the entire viewing public changes its perception.

In this case, at least they finished with five fouls. The worst, as John Hollinger loves to harp on, is coaches who will take out players (especially guards) with two fouls and bench them the entire second quarter only to see them finish with. . .two fouls.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Is there a good website that has $ and duration for NBA contracts by team, along with the declared salary caps? I want to think about plausible Knicks dismantling scenarios rather than working. Thanks!

Kevin Pelton: HoopsHype is probably the one I use most:
http://hoopshype.com/salaries.htm

If you want full contracts instead of year-by-year salaries, I use:
http://www.eskimo.com/~pbender/contracts

My apologies to your employer for being an enabler.

bctowns (Chicago, IL): So question about real basketball, how would you fix the Bulls, Kevin? Del Negro sure doesn't seem too impressive, but a lot of blame for this has to fall on Paxson too, right? What should we be doing, other than clearing out cap space for a run at LeBron?

Kevin Pelton: Certainly. I understood the decision to not pursue one of the big names a couple years ago, but in hindsight few NBA moves have come out looking worse.

The bright spot, of course, is Derrick Rose. So what you have to start thinking is "How do we complement Derrick Rose?" If the player isn't part of that solution, odds are they're not worth keeping around. Also, if you're going to miss the playoffs, you're better off missing the playoffs with Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah playing up front instead of Aaron Gray and Andres Nocioni. Even if they fail, you have to know and make that decision instead of keeping these guys in perpetual limbo.

Alex (Milwaukee): Ramon Sessions has been playing so well. I'd say he's playing better than his 12 game outburst at the end of last season. He's only 22 years of age. What is his upside? Can he become a centerpiece to build around from?

Kevin Pelton: . . .

Chris (Austin, TX): What's Ramon Sessions potential? I see him as a poor man's Chris Paul. Am I right in thinking that?

Kevin Pelton: Who knew Ramon Sessions would end up such a popular topic of discussion. I feel slightly ashamed to admit I've never really seen Sessions play for an extended period, other than in Vegas at 2007 Summer League, when he was an afterthought. I'd like to get a better idea of his style. Right now, I'm thinking more Andre Miller--an above-average point guard, if not quite All-Star level. That ceiling has the room to get higher as Sessions continues to grow, however. By this point, he's kept his play up long enough--and in enough different ways, both as a scorer and as a passer--that it can't rightly be called a fluke.

Joe (Brooklyn): Hi Kevin, I've been really impressed with Wilson Chandler this season. I see him as a Danny Granger/Shawn Marion type of player. Obviously these are favorable and highly optimistic comparisons, but where do you see his ceiling as he develops?

Kevin Pelton: Yeah, I'm not sure I'd compare anyone to Shawn Marion because The Matrix is so unique. Certainly Chandler doesn't have that kind of impact on the defensive end, or as a rebounder. Let's temper this somewhat by saying that Chandler has been put in a highly favorable situation in D'Antoni's system, which emphasizes his athleticism and open-court ability. The question is where he takes his game from here. The biggest improvement he could make would be becoming a more consistent three-point threat, which would make the Marion comparison legitimate--at the offensive end.

wrightfan5 (College Park, MD): Haven't been following the Knicks that closely this season (I'm a transplanted New Yorker living the harried life of a grad student) but there finally seems to be some upside here, as long as Walsh is able to dump Marbury and wait out the end of the Curry contract. Do you agree, and what moves do you think the Knicks should make to make themselves a legit contender this season, or more likely the next one?

Kevin Pelton: I'm looking forward to putting the Knicks under the microscope in a column before too long, so I'll have more to say then. My first reaction to your question is to say you can't get distracted from the focus on clearing cap space and getting the house in order for 2010. So I would say the moves should be relatively minor, along the lines of the Chris Duhon deal. The beauty of D'Antoni's system is that aside from the key cogs, he's had success plugging in guys like Raja Bell, so they might be able to add a couple of guys to help the depth next year and be a playoff team without sacrificing flexibility.

Aaron (YYZ): Are the Raptors still trying to figure out how to play together or does their record reflect their level? Also, Ukic or Solomon backing up Calderon?

Kevin Pelton: Not sure they're trying to figure out how to play together any more than the other East teams that made even bigger changes (Miami and Philadelphia, for two, and I suppose you could add Detroit now too). The Raptors are about where I figured they'd be right now.

Solomon as a backup is fine; Solomon as a starter was a tad ugly the other night.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Any murmurs of a game charting program a la what Football Outsiders does to get some useful defensive info? There are going to be lots of people with nothing to do based on employment forecasts.

Kevin Pelton: Worth thinking about, but we're probably at least a year away from considering that. Fortunately in the NBA other people have started down the charting path, most notably 82games.com. BasketballGeek.com has also done some groundwork for open-source charting.

Kevin Pelton: Thanks everyone for some great questions today. We'll try to do it again in a few weeks, when things are settling down and we have a better idea of how things will shake out in the Eastern and Western Conferences. Until then, keep reading Basketball Prospectus and look out for my two-part series on Coaching Trees starting today.


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