Join in the conversation as BasketballProspectus.com columnist Kevin Pelton takes your questions about what's going on in the NBA.
Kevin Pelton: Apologies for my tardiness. Along with two of my co-workers at the Seattle Storm, I was out at Redmond High School's Career Day and we got back a little later than anticipated. I'm here now and ready to make up for lost time answering your questions about the NBA at midseason. I hope there aren't any huge David West fans here.
Mark (Milwaukee): Is there life in the T-Wolves? I realize they should not schedule ring-fitting appointments just yet but is their January at least a sign that they have something resembling a core to build upon?
Related, you thoughts on Love?
Kevin Pelton: Absolutely. Our projection system had Minnesota on the fringe of the playoff hunt entering the season, which looked awful when the Timberwolves tanked early in the season. The talent was already there and now Kevin McHale is doing a better job of harnessing it. Believe it or not, he might actually be a pretty good coach. It's too late to make any noise this year, but the Wolves are setting themselves up to contend for a playoff spot in 2009-10.
As for Love, his progress has matched his team's. Now that he's converting in the paint at a higher percentage, he's been as valuable as any rookie. It's a complete joke that he wasn't on the Rookie team, though nobody can seem to agree on who should have been bumped off (my answer was Michael Beasley).
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): On your site, you suggested that Kevin Love's comps were physical wunderkinds, distinct from Love for whom positioning is the major attribute. In your mind does this bode better or worse for him in the long run? Is it better to be a ridiculously productive player than a phenom who produces?
Kevin Pelton: Speaking of Kevin Love ...
In general, I think the numbers back up the conventional wisdom that it's better to have the athleticism to go with the production. Rebounding, blocks and steals don't tend to go up a whole lot as players age, so it's important to do those things from the start. The old-player skills (shooting, passing, avoiding turnovers) do tend to come.
What makes Love unique is that he has a lot of the young player attributes from a statistical sense but not from an athleticism sense. I think this limits him a little, but there's also probably more he could be getting out of his body with more time in the weight room. We'll see.
Kyle (Toronto): Many have said that fan selection of players for the all-star game is largely inaccurate and unfair. What changes would you make to the process, if any?
Kevin Pelton: I don't think that it's *largely* inaccurate. I mean most of the time eight or nine of the guys are no-brainers. And if an Allen Iverson gets in every year, I don't think that's a huge deal. I do think the proliferation of international voting is a concern. It's been argued, and reasonably so, that China voting for Yi en masse is no different than fans voting for everyone from their favorite team. I don't blame the Chinese in any sense, but the problem with that logic is that all of those homer votes are generally matched by homer votes from fans of other teams. They cancel each other out and the impartial votes end up mattering. There is not another group of hometown fans out there that is going to cancel out the Chinese vote in particular; it's not like there are billions of Seattleites voting for Brandon Roy because he's a native. So I think there's got to be some sort of limitation put on online voting. Maybe scale it so it's a certain percentage of the vote and in-arena voting is a certain percentage of the vote?
TheBunk (Toronto): Hey Kevin, I was just wondering if anyone on the staff was planning on writing a piece about Bargnani's recent break out, maybe something on Randy Foye as well?
Kevin Pelton: I did touch on Foye not long ago: http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=504
As for Bargnani, I would like to see him keep it up a little more before being completely sold. Also, I think there's already been a strong analysis of Bearded Bargnani vs. Clean-Shaven Bargnani: http://hoopheadsnorth.blogspot.com/2009/01/mo-better-beard-bearded-bargnani-vs.html
Seriously, how has every 7-foot European of questionable toughness not grown a beard by now? Look at the wonders it did for Pau Gasol's reputation and Bargnani's production. I can't wait to see Nenad Krstic with more hair on his face than on his head.
(Please note that Fabricio Oberto was already considered a bruiser, so growing a beard has done nothing for his game or rep. And yes, Oberto is a Euro, even if he was born in South America. Sorry, I don't decide these things.)
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): In theory, a team that plays 20% fewer possessions has a higher chance of producing an upset for the weaker team because of the reduced sample size. Is the statistical difference significant enough for this to be a remotely deliberate strategy?
Kevin Pelton: Yes. Dean Oliver wrote definitively on this topic years ago before he got too busy working for NBA teams:
It's a bigger factor in college hoops, naturally, because of the length of the shot clock. However, it is one easy way for a team to cover for a lack of talent. All other things equal, it's better for bad teams to play slowly.
SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Kevin,
It seems that during the absence of Ilgauskas and West that the Cavs aren't getting the praise they should for remaining an elite team despite missing two starters. How good has their performance while they've been out?
Kevin Pelton: Yes and no. The Cavaliers have covered decently for those two guys and had enough of a cushion in their performance that they could afford to suffer a bit of a hit and still win games. You still see the difference in their differential. They've won just one game by double-figures (New Orleans) since West went down. So things definitely could be much worse, but the absence has helped keep Orlando in the race.
Kyle (Toronto): Can Orlando win it all this year?
Kevin Pelton: ...
Joel (GA): I've heard some people compare Orlando's style of play to a college team. I'm sure that's an exaggeration, but it's easy to see that Orlando's success isn't exactly done in traditional NBA style. How far do you think Dwight and 40% team three point shooting can take them?
Kevin Pelton: You'll enjoy my latest column for Basketball Prospectus, which should hopefully be up at some time today. I draw from college hoops to understand the Magic, while also comparing them to some recent champions. I don't want to give away all the fun, but suffice it to say I do believe this style can win them a championship.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): What offer sheet should we expect for David Lee at season end? Thanks!
Kevin Pelton: Interesting question. RFAs who are worth more than the mid-level but less than the max are always somewhat challenging to predict because they are so heavily dependent on one of the teams with cap space having interest. I would guess something in the 5/40-50 range, but maybe that's a little pessimistic from the Knicks' perspective. I would not be stunned to see them get a bargain.
Kyle (Toronto): If the Kings were to trade Salmons and Miller at the deadline, do you think that picking up a guy like Adam Morrison on the cheap would be a wise play considering they will probably be playing for the cellar anyways?
Kevin Pelton: I'm not seeing it. Morrison has been disastrously bad during his NBA career, even before he tore his ACL. I think there are better make-good options out there, and the first guy the Kings should be looking to give those minutes is Donte' Greene.
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): How much would LeBron's value drop on a team where he wasn't the alpha and omega - Boston or LaL or what not? Or conversely, do you think his 'contributions' would improve because of the higher percentage shots he'd be allowed to take?
Phrased a different way, on a pure money for production ratio, do you think a better or worse team would get a better deal for him come free agency.
Kevin Pelton: A worse team. Look at Kobe Bryant as an example. His usage has gone way, way down since its 2005-06 heyday when he was surrounded by very little talent. However, his True Shooting Percentage has barely budged. It was 55.9 percent in 2005-06; this year it's 56.9 percent. What makes guys like Bryant and James so valuable as lead scorers is that their usage-efficiency curves are flatter than they are for role players. That is, their efficiency is going to be largely the same no matter how many possessions they have to use, whereas someone like a Fred Hoiberg (I need an updated example) is going to see his efficiency fall off a cliff if he has to create more shots.
MA (Athens, GA): Are the Hawks regressing to the mean (of their ability level), or is this just a temporary slump?
Kevin Pelton: I haven't seen them play lately, but you did have to anticipate their three-point shooting (Mike Bibby in particular) was going to drop off a little at some point. Al Horford's absence is also surely a major factor.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Don't want to beat a dead horse, but isn't Lee worth 11-12 for 4-5 based on comparable contracts? Isn't he just tremendously unlucky with the 2010 UFAs on the horizon, but also very lucky to be playing for a team that will overpay him on a shorter term deal if he stays loyal? Will he take the security anyway?
Kevin Pelton: It's rare that you see someone pass up the security. There are too many cautionary examples of guys seeing the market for them dry up. (Bonzi Wells, for one, when he went from Sacramento to Houston.) I guess the Knicks could try to sell him on the possibility of a relatively small deal for a couple of years that they could enhance after they've used their cap space in 2010.
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): What do you consider the reason that other people overrate Allen Iverson? Is this a one-man issue, or does it apply to other players known for scoring inefficiently?
Kevin Pelton: I'm not totally sure people overrate Allen Iverson anymore, All-Star voting aside. He got too much credit when he won MVP, yes, but then the pendulum may have swung back too far the other direction in recent years. Iverson's True Shooting Percentage was, without looking the league number up, above average last year. The trade was a disaster for the Pistons and a boon for the Nuggets, but that's more about the fact that Chauncey Billups is terrific and Iverson showing his age this season.
In general, high scorers do tend to be overrated, yes.
Kyle (Toronto): A lot of people talk about how good Portland, Memphis, etc. can be in a few years from now. The Clippers have a severe lack of depth and a star that doesn't fit into the coach's system. However, they also have an imposing front court, a good shot at a top five pick and two rising young wing players. How good can the Clippers be in a few years? Where do they start when shaking things up?
Kevin Pelton: You start with an organizational philosophy. If there's one in place in L.A. right now, I don't know what it is. The talent is there, but the parts don't fit together. I also think it's a bit of a stretch to call Al Thornton a rising young wing player, Rookie Challenge selection aside. Right now he looks like a one-dimensional player who's not all that great at said dimension. The Clippers would be better off with a three who can rebound and defend.
lbihced (Medford, N.J.): Now that Elton Brand is back with the 76ers, what do you see for him and the team going forward? There is talk that he doesn't fit in with the up tempo style and he may be a trade candidate. Your thoughts?
Kevin Pelton: Not sure. I want to take a deeper look at the Sixers. Obviously Brand's absence helped them get more shooting in the lineup and put everyone in more natural roles. How do they keep it up now? Good question. That said, I would not want to give up on the experiment after half a season.
TheBunk (Toronto): Is Golden State becoming a black hole for player development of young draftees?
Kevin Pelton: That's probably a bit harsh. Andris Biedrins got a chance under Nellie and Anthony Randolph is coming along fine considering how raw he is. Brandan Wright is the question mark; his numbers are solid but the playing time spotty.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): How about Nate Robinson? Is he going to get a long-term deal at the exception level?
Kevin Pelton: That sounds about right.
SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): What do you see the Cavs potentially receiving for Wally' Szcerbiak's expiring contract? I've heard the name Brad Miller being thrown around a lot, but Ferry thinks he can get better. What do you think?
Kevin Pelton: I still don't think I would make a move if I was Cleveland. When that squad has been healthy, it has been very strong.
George (Indiana): Danny Granger has had a superb season. He's actually improved every single season. Tell us all pacers fans that this is not a season hotstreak and actually his true level of play. What have you seen so far?
Kevin Pelton: Last year felt like more of a natural progression than this year's huge leap. A half a season is too long for a hot streak, but I would expect Granger to settle in at a level a little below this over the next couple of years.
TheBunk (Toronto): Hey Kevin, Are we looking at the best draft class since 2003? It really feels like a good chunk of these guys could be good contributers to their respective teams for a long time.
Kevin Pelton: That sounds like a good column. One thing I did not work into my Rookie Challenge projected rosters was the very real possibility--if not likelihood--that the rookies are going to win this thing for the first time since 2002. That's only been enhanced by the fact that, Love aside, the selection of the rookie roster was better than for the sophomores.
Kevin Pelton: Thanks to everybody for all the questions. We were able to pack a lot into what was unfortunately an abbreviated session. We'll plan on doing this again either going into or coming out of All-Star Weekend in another couple of weeks. Until then, be sure to keep reading at BasketballProspectus.com.