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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday January 13, 2009 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton.

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Join Kevin Pelton from BasketballProspectus.com to talk some pro hoops and spread some sunshine about the NBA.

Kevin Pelton: Thanks for showing up for our latest Basketball Prospectus chat on BaseballProspectus.com. As we've turned the calendar, it's time to start getting serious about basketball, with conference play beginning in the college game and playoff races taking shape in the NBA. As usual, my disclaimer is that I'm an NBA guy, not a college guy (look out for future John Gasaway chats there), but I'm happy to answer questions about the Pac-10 and other West Coast leagues. Anything else, you probably know better than I do. Without further ado. . .

Ryan (NYC): Are the Cavs now the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, or is it too early in the season to put them ahead of the Celtics?

Kevin Pelton: It's too early to make any kind of definitive statement or bold proclamation, but it's not too early to put Cleveland ahead. Their point differential (+12.4) is now miles ahead of either the Lakers (+8.9) or Boston (+8.4) and they got through their rough patch much more quickly than either of those two teams. There was a brief period where the Cavaliers had the league's best offense (they're #2 at the moment) and best defense. And they just beat Boston pretty handily. Right now, the line forms behind them.

Ted (Milwaukee): Last night, both the Celtics and the Raptors scored more points in the overtime period than they did in the fourth quarter -- any idea when that last happened?

Kevin Pelton: Good question, and no idea. I'll forward that along to our friends at basketball-reference.com and see if they can pull something.

Clonod (St. Louis): Would the Cavs even be a playoff team without LeBron?

Kevin Pelton: Interesting question. My numbers suggest the Cavaliers would be about .500 without James, who's been worth 11.6 Wins Above Replacement thus far this season. So from that perspective yes. If they had to play Wally Szczerbiak and Sasha Pavlovic 48 minutes a night at small forward, that would probably go down a little bit. On the other hand, if they got to add a below-average but above-replacement small forward (let's say James Jones or someone of that ilk), I could see them being a low playoff seed with an Ilgauskas-Mo Williams core on offense. Mike Brown would probably still have them amongst the league's best defenses.

Adam (Milwaukee): What do you think of the rumored Sessions and Alexander for Conley swap? It seems like the Bucks are selling low to buy really low.

Kevin Pelton: I don't like it at all from the Milwaukee perspective. At this point, I'd be inclined to favor Sessions over Conley (who has a couple extra years of development ahead of him but has yet to really have any sustained NBA success), and then you're giving up Joe Alexander too? I'm not a big Alexander fan, but you're largely giving him away. So I would say Milwaukee would be selling low on Alexander in that deal, but selling high on Sessions and for cents on the dollar.

Naturally, I love that deal for Memphis if it's really on the table.

paulbellows (Calgary): What big names do you think will be getting dealt this season? Also is there any hope at all for Mike Miller this year?

Kevin Pelton: I'm not sure you're going to see a lot of big names get dealt. It will be interesting to watch how things play out this year because of the number of teams planning for 2010 and a slight added reticence to take on big deals because of the economy.

Shawn Marion's name continually seems to be in play, and if I had to pick a wild card guy who might get dealt, it's Carlos Boozer. (I've got a column that should be up later today on how well Paul Millsap has replaced Boozer in the starting lineup, and the Jazz almost certainly won't be able to afford both power forwards this summer.) For the most part, though, I think it's going to be the Brad Millers and the Chris Wilcoxes and the Gerald Wallaces of the world that get traded. Which is really normal--last year was the exception in terms of big midseason moves.

As for Miller, I'm not sure most NBA coaches understand how to get their players to start shooting more, and that's his issue. Certainly I don't think Kevin McHale--famous for his argument why he shouldn't pass the ball since he shot a higher percentage than his teammates--has much experience with that.

Sanchez101 (Santa Barbara): What would you do with the Lakers comming up to the deadline? Stand pat with a championship caliber roster, but know you're loosing Odom for nothing this summer - or trade Odom for someone more helpful or who will be around next year?

Kevin Pelton: Is that a foregone conclusion? Most likely if you make that kind of trade you're taking back a similar salary, so I'm not sure how much that trade would do to help the Lakers out with regards to the luxury tax. Or is the thinking that Odom is likely to go somewhere he'll have a bigger role? If I'm Mitch Kupchak, I wouldn't be inclined to make any moves unless I had to.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): How many years are we from having your projections turned into a fantasy drafting tool comparable to what we have with PECOTA? I'm looking for more things to outsource. Thanks!

Kevin Pelton: I've never used PECOTA's projections since I don't do baseball fantasy, but I'm assuming the setup is similar to Football Outsiders' KUBIAK Fantasy spreadsheet, which I have used. I would say that's a possibility for next year. The first step is improving the quality of the projections--SCHOENE is very much a work in progress at this point.

UngratefulDead (Bay Area): Hey Kevin, love your work. As a Warriors fan I'm desperately seeking some kind of silver lining, and lately that seems to have come in the form of Marco Belleneli. My question is, How high could Marco's ceiling go. Do you ever see him developing into some sort of leggitimate talent? or is he just one part of an 8 man rotation at best? Also, Brandon Wright, or Anthony Randolph, your thoughts??

Kevin Pelton: Ceiling? I think the best-case scenario is a slightly above-average starting shooting guard. I don't think it's unreasonable, given his age, to see him develop into a reasonable option as a starter. The big trick is getting him to do less, and that's somewhat easier than getting guys to do more. His turnover rate is way too high, and he often seems out of control when he's creating off the dribble. That tends to improve with age. I'd also like to see him contribute more on the glass. For an athletic two guard with decent size to be grabbing 4.3 percent of available rebounds is unconscionable.

Definitely Wright over Randolph. The latter has unique talent, but simply can't put the ball in the basket nearly often enough. How a guy so athletic makes 42.6 percent of his twos is beyond me.

Brad (Chicago): Now that Heinrich is back, why don't the Bulls have him concentrate on defense since he's been their best defender in the past and has worn down on offense and have Rose concentrate on offense? Why can't both play? I'd love to see them keep Rose, Heinrich, Gordon and Sefolosha and get rid of the rest of the guards.

Kevin Pelton: You mean like Rose stands in the frontcourt and Hinrich in the backcourt and they trade off tag-team style all game long? I like it. Heh.

I think that's probably a consensus view about the Chicago backcourt, but Hughes isn't going anywhere any time soon; it's a matter of benching him and letting the other guys play (part of that being getting Luol Deng healthy). I like a Rose-Hinrich backcourt for the reasons you line up in terms of balancing their skillsets, but Chicago has desperately needed Ben Gordon's scoring and I don't think there are minutes or the money to go around for all three, which is why Hinrich's name has ended up in trade rumors.

Dylan (NYC): You are the GM of a team. Your owner tells you that you must offer one of these players a max contract. Let's assume that these players are all in their "prime", so to speak. Who do you pick from: Bill Curley Adam Morrison Rafael Araujo Trajan Langdon Nikoloz Tskitishvili Man, all that team needs is a PG and that might be the very definition of sub-replacement-level.

Kevin Pelton: Most of the prominent PG busts have been because of injuries. Maybe Will Avery runs point? But in fairness, I don't think Trajan Langdon belongs in that group, as he actually was a pretty good shooter during his NBA career and probably could have hung out on someone's bench as a specialist if he wasn't busy making more money in Europe.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Does Chris Duhon have a home for the next three seasons?

Kevin Pelton: He certainly does through 2010. What happens then is the interesting question. There are not a lot of PGs out there in the summer of 2010--Steve Nash will be pushing 36 then, while T.J. Ford will be available. The ideal scenario for the Knicks might be getting Ricky Rubio in the draft and letting him develop overseas until he joins whoever they add in free agency. If not, I could maybe see a scenario where New York sticks with Duhon, who has certainly done a credible job this year.

Mike (Cleveland): When the Cavs lost Big Z, I thought they would slow down. But in steps in JJ Hickson, who has played decent enough for a 20 year old. How big is his upside?

Kevin Pelton: Haven't seen Hickson play yet, but the numbers are, like you say, pretty good for his age. I think his upside is more like a shot-blocking Chris Wilcox than star potential. Still an excellent value pickup for where the Cavaliers got him.

Fred (Houston): Do you think health is the only thing holding the Rockets back or would you like to see them make a trade to shake up their roster? I imagine Morey's wishing he'd flipped T-Mac for Billups this past summer when he had the chance.

Kevin Pelton: I think their issues are a little bigger than health, but I would like to see their projected core get a chance to play together at some point before doing anything rash if I was Daryl Morey. I couldn't believe it when I read that Rick Adelman has had to use a different starting lineup 10 straight games because of all the injuries. What I don't quite understand is why the defense has slipped so much recently. My colleage Bradford Doolittle has suggested that Yao Ming has struggled at that end of the floor, and I haven't seen enough of the Rockets to say whether I agree or disagree.

As far as a move, obviously the guy you'd most like to deal is McGrady, and I'm not sure what kind of value he has right now besides an enormous expiring contract in 2010.

TomH (Lexington Park MD): when projecting how teams will do, how much is players learning to play together? Is there some 'break in' period for a new guy where the team may underperform? Does it level off over time? Would this be a big factor in evaluating a potential during-season trade?

Kevin Pelton: That's never anything I've studied (and I'm not sure how you would). Off the top of my head, I can think of examples both ways. Last year the Lakers started rolling as soon as Pau Gasol got off the plane, and I remember the Sonics integrated Ray Allen very quickly a few years ago when he was acquired midseason for Gary Payton. One small thing that helps in those situations is it takes a while for opponents to get a good handle on how to defend teams that completely make themselves over during the year.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Contractually, can the Knicks make Curry run up and down the court for 40 minutes a game until his heart explodes, or would he be able to file a grievance? Thanks!

Kevin Pelton: Maybe just until he decides to agree to a buyout that saves the Knicks some money until 2010? You might be on to something.

chrisb (madison, wi): Thanks for the great chats...long term upside, can Eric Gordon become sort of a mini D.Wade?

Kevin Pelton: Gordon's play has been the pleasant surprise of a dismal season for the Clippers. Mini-D Wade? I think that's a stretch because Wade is better at creating for his teammates than Gordon. Of course, Wade is one of the three best players in the league, so. . . .

Paul Lucas (Clev.): Anderson Varejao is playing tenacious D (not the rock band). Ben Wallace has rebounded some from his lackluster season last year. The Cavs have found the right mix of role players along James. It looks like Varejao has a player option next year. He's making quite a bit for a role player (~$6M). Do you believe he's worth that much money? And is his stellar performance this season sustainable? He played pretty awful last year.

Kevin Pelton: I don't think it's that much for a role player. That's mid-level money, and historically mid-level guys have either been fringe starters or top reserves. It's tough to see Varejao doing a whole lot better if he opts out, given that requires a team with cap space to make a play for him and not a team with just the mid-level to offer.

Is Varejao's performance sustainable? I would say some of it. He was way down last year from the previous two seasons, in no small part because he was playing catch-up all season after holding out during training camp. I wouldn't read much into that. This year his FG% has been a bit fluky, but the rest of his game hasn't been hugely different from those two seasons.

KG (NY): Similar to the Duhon question, What do you think the future holds for Q-Rich?

Kevin Pelton: Lots of threes the next two years, then trying to get someone to ignore his back problems and overpay him in the summer of 2010. Too bad for him the Clippers won't have any cap space.

Kevin Pelton: Thanks to everyone who joined us and for all the great questions today. We'll try to do it again in a couple of weeks as we near the All-Star break and pass the midway point of the season. Until then, see you on BasketballProspectus.com.


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