Check in with BasketballProspectus.com's Kevin Pelton to talk about what's hopping in the NBA playoff picture.
Kevin Pelton: April has always been my favorite month of the year, and not just because it brings my birthday. The weather is starting to turn--albeit slowly--baseball has started up and, of course, the excitement that is the NBA Playoffs. We're already starting to get some clearer pictures of the first-round series, so let's hear your questions. We're not averse to looking ahead with the lottery-bound squads, so bring those on as well.
Josh, steinalive (los angeles via Boston): The Celtics of game 3 look like their old selves. Can that team put up a fight against the Cavs? If Pierce only has to play 28 minutes a game until then, wont he have enough juice to defend Lebron?
Kevin Pelton: Ah, how quickly momentum turns in the playoffs. Yesterday, the Celtics were fighting for their lives. Now we're talking Eastern Conference Finals? The tone of the series could change just as quickly on Sunday. I don't think we can consider Pierce being able to play short outings and rest because of blowouts as a realistic possibility.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): How far can the new look Celts go with such a perimeter oriented team after the two big man injuries?
Kevin Pelton: On the other hand, the encouraging part of the entire series--even Game 1--has been Rajon Rondo continuing to come into his own. All Boston needs is to have two of Rondo, Allen and Pierce firing successfully to have a potent offense. When all three are clicking, you get last night. Improving Rondo + home court could be enough to hold off Orlando, but that's looking awfully far down the road.
Ben (Champaign, IL): Any chance for the Bulls to pull off the upset? I thought that they had a good opportunity with Garnett out, but last night wasn't pretty.
Kevin Pelton: Since everybody seems primarily concerned with this series, and understandably so, let's look at things from the Chicago perspective. First off, forget last night's game. This postseason has already offered reminders that blowouts don't linger in the playoffs--witness the turnarounds from Game 1 to Game 2 made by both Portland and Miami. John Hollinger in particular does a lot of work with playoff point differential, but I'm not convinced. In an extremely small sample (a single game or even the first few of a playoff series), I don't think differential is a better predictor than record because it can be so heavily skewed by a single game.
I'd like to see Chicago give more time to the three-guard lineup of Rose/Gordon/Hinrich. According to BasketballValue.com, that group has played about 23 minutes in this series and Chicago is +16 in that span. The Bulls need Hinrich's defense against either Allen or Pierce, and you can't take Rose and Gordon off the floor at this point. Plus John Salmons has been hampered and not really particularly effective in this series.
Oliver (Austin, TX): My family says the Spurs need to trade Parker to start rebuilding/reloading. I say they need to trade Ginobil if possible and should not trade Parker under any circumstance. Which of us is (closer to) right?
Kevin Pelton: I'm not sure it would make sense to trade either player, but I definitely would build around Parker. Given what we've been talking about in the postseason with the difficulty of defending point guards, as well as Parker's age, he's the obvious centerpiece going forward. San Antonio has done well to surround their stars with shooters who can defend, but last night showed that when opponents shut down the stars and the shooters aren't making shots, there is no Plan B.
BK (Boston, MA): Boozer or Millsap, if you can only keep one after the season? (or alternatively, if you're a team with dollars wanting to spend on a free agent PF)
Kevin Pelton: I'm on the record as saying Millsap. If money was no object, Boozer is the better player, yes. However, he's going to get a deal at least twice as lucrative, and there's no way to gap in production is that large--especially when you consider Boozer's history of injuries.
I think there were times this season that Jazz fans might have been ready to drive Boozer out of town with pitchforks (do they still do that in Salt Lake City?), but last night was a reminder of the kind of force he can be when he's right. Naturally the best hope for Utah is that the bad economy drives down salaries to the point where they can keep both players.
This will be an interesting summer for mid-tier big men. You've got Millsap and David Lee both on the market, and it's uncertain how much money will be out there for those guys. There could be some real bargains along the line of the summer of 2002.
Paul (Los Angeles, CA): Kevin, I'm seeing some similarities between the Lakers of 2009 and the Pistons of 2006. Both were teams that finished in the top 6 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, their SRS' are pretty similar, and both seem to have a tendency towards "turning it on when it counts" and lackadaisical play. Is it possible that they are headed towards a conference final surprise loss (perhaps to Denver?)
Kevin Pelton: I'm not sure I see it. I think of that Detroit team, like Dallas the following year, as teams that overachieved during the regular season and didn't have the next gear in the playoffs. (Obviously the reasons the Mavericks lost to Golden State go far beyond that.) The Pistons also benefited a bit from starting quickly as opponents adjusted to Flip Saunders' use of the matchup zone mixed in with their traditionally strong man-to-man defense.
Why did they lose to Miami? I think the minor injury suffered by Rasheed Wallace (who, if memory serves, was *awful* in that series) and the fact that the Heat was a pretty good team with a star perfectly suited for the new rules were the biggest factors. Miami winning that series was far less surprising than any team knocking off the Lakers would be.
The bigger concern for me is that longer series in these early rounds will put a lot of wear and tear on the Lakers with their stars playing 40 minutes a night. Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith brought this up last night on Inside the NBA, though to hear them tell it those things never happened to their teams. How quickly Charles forgets a mediocre Lakers team taking the Suns to OT of Game 5 in the first round in 1993, what very nearly was Nuggets over Sonics a year before that happened.
Tristan (Seattle): Were you surprised at the beating the Blazers took in game 1? How does the Mutombo injury affect the rest of the series?
Kevin Pelton: I was definitely surprised by the margin in Game 1, but we've seen now that almost any series can produce one blowout. With Mutombo out, Yao and Luis Scola avoiding foul trouble becomes crucial. The Rockets don't want to use the frontcourt of Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes, which is very undersized. That lineup combination was outscored by 7.5 points per 100 possessions when on the floor together this season, and it's even worse against a Blazers team that mostly always has a 7-footer on the floor.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): What pieces do the Jazz need to become world champs?
Kevin Pelton: Utah's down season at the offensive end seems to mostly be about injuries. The offense was championship-caliber last year, no doubt. How they adjust going forward depends heavily on what happens with Millsap and Boozer this summer. If either leaves, you'd like to see Utah be able to add a legit shot-blocker in the paint to play as a third big man alongside one of those two and Mehmet Okur. Oh, and I'm sure Jerry Sloan would like more toughness, but shot-blocking > toughness.
BG (portland): would you draft john wall?
Kevin Pelton: Of course!
Cole (BE ARMY): Who ordered the Cobb Salad?
Kevin Pelton: No comment.
Jose (Thorndyke): What are your feeling about Ken Griffey Jr's slow start?
Kevin Pelton: Naturally anyone who expected the Griffey of old to reemerge with his return to the Mariners was fooling themselves. He is capable of playing a lot better than this. His batting average on balls in play is .219, down from .304 a year ago. That will come up. It's interesting that we're not seeing the classic old slugger pattern with tons of strikeouts. Griffey's biggest problem right now is he's beating the ball into the ground, which is why he has just two extra-base hits. When I saw him on Sunday, he had four groundouts.
Of course, I still wore my Griffey in '96 t-shirt and had a grand time when "Hip Hop Hooray!" played for his first at-bat.
Cole (BE ARMY): What is your take on the lineup Portland used a little bit against Houston in game 2? Roy, Rudy, Outlaw, Aldridge, and Oden.
Kevin Pelton: If your small guards can't defend Aaron Brooks, and so far they haven't, I think it makes sense to maximize the advantage elsewhere by putting more size on the floor. That group creates a lot of defensive issues for Houston with its size. The biggest downside, as I see it, is you can't get Roy the rest he needs if he's playing a lot of backup point. That's why I can't advocate taking Sergio Rodriguez completely out of the lineup.
BK (Boston): I really enjoyed your assessment of Igoudala, especially his defense. To what degree do your numbers (and those of other sites, like 82games.com) take into account players who don't technically guard the man playing their position for significant stretches of a game? For example, D'Antoni has had Duhon guarding 2s and even 3s while Jeffries guards the 1 for many games (and that team switches heavily anyway). And in the Nuggets-Hornets series, Butler has guarded Billups while Jones has guarded Paul for big stretches as well.
Kevin Pelton: Bradford Doolittle could give you a better idea about the defensive numbers we report, but my understanding is he assigns defenders based on matchups but it's a bit "probabilistic", so to speak--other perimeter players get the credit/blame for the opposing SG going off as well as the team's SG. 82games.com's numbers strictly match position by position.
You can address this by looking at teammate's numbers. I once coined the term "Hedo Turkoglu Effect" for how Hedo had great counterpart numbers the year he spent in San Antonio because he was getting credit for Bruce Bowen's defense.
Even if we knew who defended whom on every possession, you'd still have issues with switches and the critical role of team defense. That's a big reason why I'm a proponent of using the on-court/off-court numbers at the defensive end. Fortunately, in Iguodala's case, the counterpart numbers only amplified and helped explain what adjusted plus-minus already told us.
Cole (BE ARMY): How do you think Twitter and the real-time aspect affects sports? I love being in arena and getting everyones reactions via twitter. follow @colewagoner (shameless plug)
Kevin Pelton: It's interesting how it has already affected my watching of a game. I loved getting the real-time reactions during Game 1 of Chicago-Boston as everyone experienced Derrick Rose's phenomenal game. I sort of feel like I enjoy the late games less since the East Coast folks are asleep or not bothering to react by that point.
Also, for the record, I'm @kpelton.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): Which teams would benefit most from signing Millsap or Lee? Would any team be able to sign both and, if so, should they?
Kevin Pelton: Off the top of my head, Memphis seems like a pretty good fit for Millsap. They're hoping Darrell Arthur becomes that kind of player next to Marc Gasol, but his first season wasn't highly encouraging. I could see David Lee complementing "Shock and Hawes" in Sacramento if the Kings look to the perimeter with their lottery pick and they decide to spend their cap space instead of rolling it over and saving money.
kprince (Boston): Kevin, thanks for the quality hoop analysis. I'm guessing KG injury has provided Big Baby good salary drive opportunity. What do you think he signs for and is he legit starting 4?
Kevin Pelton: Bob Hill once remarked that there are no secrets in the NBA, and that's doubly true in the playoffs. People are surely taking notice of the way Davis has played thus far. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, since I've never been a huge fan and his regular-season statistics were not strong (though CelticsHub had a good post yesterday about how they improved as he developed a midrange jumper. I still can't see him as more than a third big man off the bench long term, and I think a lot of people are going to put him in the box. Add the number of backup bigs on the market and it's hard to see him getting even all the way to mid-level without a really terrific postseason.
Trooper (Outside): This morning on a sports radio station, Hugh Millen cited Games Started and Completion Percentage as the biggest predictors of college QB's heading into the draft, a formula which has been popularized by football stats website Footballoutsiders.
How do you feel about advanced statistics rapidly entering the mainstream?
And, using this formula - would you be worried if your team selected Matt Sanchez?
Kevin Pelton: Well, I'm certainly not against it. David Aldridge cited some of our work from BP in his column on NBA.com yesterday, and it seemed like a nice milestone in terms of legitimacy.
Do you mean Mark Sanchez? If so, not that worried. In part I think David Lewin's formula is picking up the importance of playing time in college to QB development, but it's also a matter of eliminating late bloomers. Sanchez doesn't qualify; he just happened to be at USC.
PJ (NYC): Speaking of mid-tier big men, isn't Marcin Gortat a restricted FA this off-season? If so, any chance someone can pry him away from the Magic? And what about Sheed (despite the great career, he'd have to be considered mid-tier at this point, right)? Glen Davis is also a FA (restricted?).
Kevin Pelton: It seems the consensus around the Magic is Gortat is a goner because of luxury-tax concerns (which could even cost Orlando Hedo Turkoglu). In terms of defense and rebounding, Gortat has proven himself to be very effective. I wouldn't project him to get a whole lot better, but there are many teams that could use him as a reserve.
Wallace and Iverson and guys like that are going to be fascinating question marks this summer because of both the economy and their reputations. I'm not even going to try to guess what happens with them.
Josh, Steinalive (Los Angeles Via Boston): While we're at it, I'm @steinalive
and I do think the real Celtics showed up last night. It's not momentum, it's the team that won 60 plus games minus KG for a good stretch. No one in the Cavs back court can stop Rondo. We keep LBJ to 30/13/12 and it's Lakers/Celtics Part II.
Kevin Pelton: Agree to disagree.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): One of the concerns raised at the time of Ainge's two big trades was that this team would have a limited window of opportunity before it all fell apart. Does Rondo's development keep that window open longer? And who else can develop enough to help this team avoid a horror show when the Big Three decline?
Kevin Pelton: It's funny that the Celtics are heading toward a similar position to where the Spurs are now, with a young PG emerging as the centerpiece of their next unit. I think it's more about adding players through the draft than the development of guys who are there now. Remember that Danny Ainge has shown a solid ability to pull contributors from the second round.
Cole (BE ARMY): Bayless on Brooks?
Kevin Pelton: When Nate McMillan was asked about this before Game 2, he smiled and didn't say much. I'm still not sure what to make of that reaction. I wouldn't expect it.
Tommy (Houston, TX): Kevin, despite Ron Artest's proclivity for taking some ill-advised shots, by any statistical measure (net +/-, Adjusted +/-, etc.) he's a major positive for the Rockets. What kind of fair market value should he have this offseason (with the economy a consideration)
Kevin Pelton: Speaking of interesting free agents ...
I think Artest has proven indispensable enough to the Rockets that he'll probably re-sign in Houston without a ton of outside competition. His leverage in this situation is needing enough money to stay content. I can see a two-year deal in the $20M range.
Cole (BE ARMY): Will we see a less aggressive Yao on the defensive end , now that Deke is out? Can Hayes provide enough of a lift to make a bigger difference?
Kevin Pelton: Interesting thought. Yeah, he may have to try to conserve himself--but remember he picked up most of his fouls in Game 2 long after Mutombo was out. A lot in his case will depend on how the game is officiated. Hayes just gives up too much height to be effective in this matchup, I think.
Steve (Cleveland): Much was made of Orlando's beatdown of the Cavs just before the season ended, but since the KG injury, its all been worry-free for the Cavs, supposedly. Can't Orlando put a scare in them?
Kevin Pelton: That's looking a long ways ahead, but yes. Orlando had the best record against elite teams of any of the contenders. It will be interesting to see how meaningful that ends up being.
Terry (Philadelphia, PA): Kevin, are the Sixers just a legit 2-guard away from being a 50-55 win team? It seems to me that having a black hole at the spot (cough Willie Green cough) is their main weakness for the immediate future. Do you see any legit options to fix this on the free agent market or perhaps in the draft?
Kevin Pelton: Nobody jumps immediately to mind as a solution. An off guard who can spread the floor would unquestionably be a major difference-maker to them. It's just hard to win a lot of games without shooting the ball well from distance in the modern NBA.
dianagramr (NYC): You are named Commissioner for a day ...
What change(s) (if any) do you make to the NBA draft and salary cap?
Kevin Pelton: Very few. I think to the extent change is needed, the bigger issue is on the revenue end in terms of more sharing between markets. NBA teams that are the only pro game in town have tended to have strong fan loyalty, but they can't compete in terms of sponsorship and TV dollars, which is a concern.
It might be nice to have the cap not be tied so closely to a single year's revenue so you don't see it declining so precipitously as it is right now, but it's hard to blame the league for not planning for a major economic meltdown. I'm against the age limit on principle, but it's hard to deny it's been a positive for the league, though I think they're fooling themselves if they think adding an additional year (or two) is going to help anyone but college coaches.
Cole (BE ARMY): You gonna be at the RG for game 5? It should be tied up 2-2..and maybe they wont stick us on NBATV
Kevin Pelton: I'll see you there.
Kevin Pelton: On that note, it's time to wrap things up and get back to work. Keep enjoying the great playoff action and check out our nightly recaps and other special features on BasketballProspectus.com. Thanks for reading and for the questions!