Want a dose of May Madness, perhaps? Check in with Kevin Pelton of BasketballProspectus.com as he catches you up on what's going on during NBA playoff action.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hey everybody, thanks for chatting again. On the seventh day, the NBA rested. Thanks to Denver and Cleveland closing out their series early, we have two whole off days before a pair of epic Game 7s between the Lakers and Rockets and the Celtics and Magic. We can talk about those games, look ahead to the conference finals and even cast an eye toward the offseason. Instead of a soundtrack, I will be debating Bethlehem Shoals over IM about the meaning of Dwight Howard for the duration of the chat.
Justin Singer (Miami, FL): Your unfiltered post today was spot on. My roommate and I have watched every game of this Magic/Celtics series and have easily noticed that when fed in the post versus Perkins, Howard is having a terrible time trying to bang him inside. Perkins forces Howard further away from the basket and forcing him to take running hooks and off balance 8-10 foot shots. However, Howard has been incredibly effective getting position on his teammates missed shots and getting easy put backs. After a JJ Reddick missed three in the first half, we even noticed Howard scream to Reddick to keep shooting, as if he was aware of how dominant he is on the inside. It seems as if Boston should TRY TO ALLOW the Magic to give Howard as many touches as possible on the inside as opposed to letting him roam for offensive rebounds. What do you think?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I sometimes think missing shots is an underrated offensive strategy, which may or may not be crazy. In this case, the best-case scenario for the Magic is when Kendrick Perkins comes over to offer help and Brian Scalabrine is left trying to fend with Dwight Howard on the offensive glass. One of Orlando's best plays all year has been Hedo Turkoglu throwing up crazy shots knowing Howard is there if they don't go in.
If I'm the Celtics, I'm happy if the Magic goes to Howard in the post, but I don't know about encouraging it. Would that translate into Perkins trying to bait them into a pass? I'm not sure that would end well.
Fred (Houston): Gutty win by the Rockets last night, but I can't help but think the Lakers front line should be dominating. If they brought some intensity and crashed the boards Gasol/Bynum/Odom should have a field day with boards/putbacks and could force Scola/Hayes into foul trouble. What am I missing aside from Bynum's awfulness?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Foul trouble is the biggest factor. I thought Houston was in trouble when Chuck Hayes picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, but it was late enough that Adelman could stick with the three-post rotation and not have to concede by bringing Brian Cook into the game. We did see some of the rest in Game 5, but Chuck Hayes has been stopping people at 6-6 (if that) his entire career and the Rockets' team concept is so good that I don't think they can dominate. But at a minimum, they shouldn't be getting outplayed.
Trieu (Cambridge, MA): I'd just like to remind everyone that the Rockets got Luis Scola for Vassilis Spanoulis, a second-round pick, and cash considerations. And Carl Landry was shot (shot! literally! with a gun!) a couple of months ago. And they're starting an undrafted 6'6" guy at center.
Win or lose on Sunday, I love this Rockets team.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): You think San Antonio is regretting that move right about now? Scola would look a lot better next to Duncan than Matt Bonner, methinks. But yeah, you sum up what makes Houston so easy to root for if you're not a Lakers fan. The heart, the resiliency, it's all very inspiring.
Paul (Los Angeles, CA): Kevin, I actually think that this Rockets' series is proving that the Lakers' perceived depth of talent isn't nearly what it was purported to be. They're getting nothing from Bynum, and have 3 PGs who are all playing only at the level of a backup. Vujacic and Walton haven't done all that much, and now Lamar Odom is hurting somewhat. I'd argue that 1-8 the Nuggets are actually more talented/playing at a level higher than of the Lakers. What do you think?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Interesting thought. I think we may not have paid enough attention to the little cost-saving moves the Lakers have made over the last year -- letting Ronny Turiaf leave as a restricted free agent, Vladimir Radmanovic getting dealt to Charlotte (even though that did return Shannon Brown). 1-11, they're not nearly as deep as they were a year ago, even with Andrew Bynum.
Part of what we're seeing in this series is that when Bryant isn't dominant, and especially when Gasol struggles too, the role players aren't capable of stepping up. Point guard has, of course, been a major disaster. So I don't think that's unreasonable. The Nuggets bench figures to have a huge advantage if that's the matchup.
Raj (Houston, TX): Kevin, is it too simplistic to say that Aaron Brooks is the entire key to the Rockets' success in Game 7? In 3 wins this series, he's averaging 26 points per game on 60% shooting, while in the 3 losses he's averaging 11 points per game on 35% shooting
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think it's too simplistic to the extent that their defense matters a lot too, but as Brooks goes, so goes the Houston offense in large part. If the Lakers figure out how to contain the pick-and-roll, the odds are very good that they win. That's largely the same thing as controlling Brooks.
Cole (Portland): Something Shoals mentioned, what single stat says that a basketball player is good?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I wrote a column on his original question, showing how common it is for average players to have big nights: http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=459
The new question he posed is slightly different -- which single measure best indicates that a player has actually helped his team a great deal in a game. I'm not sure I have a good sense without doing some research.
seanp (Los Angeles ): What sort of factors would account for the Lakers looking like 2 different teams so far? Why exactly do they look so good one day and so bad the next? Is it motivation?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Motivation is a factor, but it's more than just that. Spacing has a lot to do with it. When their role players are hitting threes and keeping the defense honest, it's beneficial for their entire offense and creates a lot better looks for Gasol in the post and Bryant. Also, they feed a lot of their offense at the other end of the floor. So a few small changes end up translating into a huge difference in terms of overall results and how they look.
krissbeth (watertown): What one small rule change would you advocate for? What one big rule change?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The small rule change would be to add more video replay, which looks like it's going to happen anyway. My big rule change would be to rewrite the rulebook so that it is consistent with how the game is actually called (or get the referees to call the game as defined by the rulebook). Henry Abbott's work with the travel rule at TrueHoop is the most extreme example, but in general the more consistent the rules are with their de facto enforcement, the better.
Norsktroll (Blazerland): To add to Trieu's comment: The Rockets also got the rights to Landry from the Sonics for a 2008 second round pick (#56 Sasha Kaun – who now plays for CSKA Moscow) and cash. When his contract was up, they matched a half-hearted offer sheet by the Bobcats for 3 years a $3 million. Morey is a freaking genius.
Also funny: Yao & T-Mac's combined salaries: $35,440,987. 8 guys who beat the Lakers last night: $28,184,606.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): This illustrates an argument I've long believed. The best situation for statistical analysis is a team with established superstars (even of dubious merit in the case of McGrady) looking to build around them. I'm not sure how much APBRmetrics helps in identifying star players, but it is great at finding role players to go around them relatively cheaply. I think the success Daryl Morey has enjoyed in Houston helps illustrate this point, though some of their best pickups (Aaron Brooks at No. 26, Luis Scola) have been as much scouting as the numbers.
Terry (Spokane, WA): Don't you think it's unfair how the media is constantly piling on the Magic for struggling to close out games and win this series because Kevin Garnett is out? Doesn't that completely and unfairly overlook the fact that Jameer Nelson is just as important to the Magic as KG is to the Celtics, and that the Magic are in some ways just as shorthanded as Boston is?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think this happens because there's a chance Garnett could return at some point, so his absence is viewed as temporary whereas Nelson is perceived to be permanently out and no longer part of the storyline. I would not say that Nelson is just as important, but he would certainly help Orlando a great deal in close games and John Hollinger had some solid analysis showing that even in the regular season the Magic's differential with Alston at the point instead of Nelson has been noticeably worse.
Andy (TV Land): Which game 7 cliche is going to make you want to vomit by halftime? Could you call a game yourself without saying something really stupid over the air on live tv?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): To take the second question first, absolutely not. One thing you underestimate before you start talking professionally is how hard it is to find interesting things to say. And I'm talking about 15-minute radio interviews and hour-long podcasts at the very most, not games that stretch to three hours. I think we're often much too hard on TV broadcasters for this reason.
Of course, even when they have time to think things out, they do often repeat the same cliches, yes. I'm going to go slightly off the board and answer the stat they keep trotting out about the Celtics being 17-3 in Game 7s at home. How is it relevant that Boston beat St. Louis in Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals? Bill Russell isn't walking through that door!
BK (Boston): What is the best case scenario for catch and shoot scorers with limited skillsets (Eddie House, JJ Redick, Steve Novak, etc)? Specifically, what team or system could JJ Redick best flourish in? He seems like an awkward fit for Stan Van Gundy's system (but you can set me straight on that).
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think it's a pretty decent fit because he's around a post player who will draw double teams and part of a defense that can help hide his flaws (and he's looked very good on defense in this series). To the extent that Orlando is not the place for Redick, it's because he's had a hard time winning Stan Van Gundy's trust.
He has, of course, picked an extraordinarily bad time from his perspective and the Magic's to go through an extended shooting slump.
Justin Singer (Miami, FL): Do you think Cleveland would prefer to play Boston or Orlando in eastern conference finals. Who do they match up better with, and who do they want to play.
RIP Wayman Tisdale.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say Boston. The Cavaliers lost the season series to Orlando, including the huge blowout on the road in April, and as I've mentioned before, that's a better indicator than you might think. The Magic doesn't necessarily have the ideal stopper to put on LeBron James, but they averaged 11 threes in those head-to-head matchups and really spread Cleveland out defensively.
Tom (Hialeah, FL): Along the lines of Paul's comment above on the Lakers, I'd argue that their championship window is a lot smaller than people think. Their 3 best players are all 30 or nearing 30, and their young talent, outside Ariza, (maybe a little unfair in Bynum's case because of his injuries) hasn't developed quite the way we anticipated. Am I being too short-sighted, especially just because they are struggling with Houston, or is this reasonable?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't think that's unreasonable. Add in the fact that Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom are both free agents at season's end, and the Lakers might have some tough decisions to make depending on how willing Jerry Buss is to keep this team together. That changes if the Lakers do end up losing to Houston, I suspect.
Bynum is the big question mark. If he steps up to form a dominant frontline with Gasol, the Lakers can overcome Bryant and Gasol beginning to age a couple years down the road. Point guard is the other question mark, since Jordan Farmar was assumed to be Derek Fisher's eventual replacement going into this season, and that's now been put into question.
Fred (Houston): Rick Adelman and his staff deserve the recognition they are now receiving. He has been the steady hand at the controls all season through the T-Mac soap opera, the Ron Artest project, and the point guard transition. I also can't remember him getting a single technical foul this season, yet he seems to command respect at all times.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): If there was a Coach of the Playoffs, it would be Adelman over George Karl so far. He's been terrific.
Andrew R (Brooklyn, NY): If you're the Bulls do you try to keep Ben Gordon? Clearly he's the best scorer on the team but he's more of a Jason Terry type 6th man than a pillar on a championship team. With Deng already a long term commitment and Rose soon-to-be do the Bulls have to take a step back (and let go of Gordon) to try and find a true star if they want to have Championship hopes in the medium to long term future?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): A handful of similar questions about the Bulls, who are always popular in these chats (is it because of BP's ties to Chicago?). I think the ideal scenario would be to get Gordon on a short-term contract that limits the risk from the perspective of both sides, because I still think I want to see this Chicago group play together for another year or two before I decide what the future really holds. If Derrick Rose develops into a superstar at the point--and there's no reason to believe that won't happen--then there may be enough there. I'm also intrigued how Deng fits in if he's able to get healthy. So for now, I'd generally stand pat.
Norsktroll (Blazerland): The Magic's best lineup to beat the Celtics is Lee, Pietrus, Turkoglu, Lewis, Howard. Agree?
P.S.: Are the Nike spots with LeBron and Kobe puppets living together a too obvious sign which finals we are going to see no matter what the other team do :)
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think they are a sign that people refuse to accept that LeBron James' play this year has definitively ended the LeBron-Kobe "debate." If it was a fight, the referee would stop it.
I'd like to see more of that big Orlando lineup, but I would still finish with Alston at the point because it's useful to have that additional ballhandler, especially if Turkoglu is struggling as he was last night.
Mike (Lowell, MA): Do you feels the Magic might be better off with only 3 guys on the perimeter with Lewis joing Howard down low? He's an excellent shooter but no PF that the Celtics can throw out there right now has a chance of stopping him off the dribble or in the post.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm glad to see Lewis getting recognized for the versatility of his game, which he really worked hard to develop in Seattle. He was coming into his own creating in a variety of ways his last season with the Sonics before being asked to hang out on the perimeter for the benefit of the Orlando offense.
That all said, I think Celtics fans are a little more frightened of Lewis than they ought to be. Over the course of the series, he's shooting 46.9 percent from the field with a 56.0 percent True Shooting Percentage. This matchup feels worse for Boston than it actually is.
wileecoyote121 (Larchmont, NY): Please talk me down about the Stephen Curry to the Knicks rumours. Is the 8th pick too high to think about picking him?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): There have been times this year I was convinced Curry was wildly overrated, and others where I mused he would be a great pick for Oklahoma City (which would be much higher than 8). So I'm still not sure, pending more research into college stats ahead of the draft.
Cole (Portland): You are starting an NBA team, do you take Pritchard or Daryl Morley as your GM?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Depends which one is more likely to be reading this chat. I'm going to guess Morey.
seanpotter (LA): How do you see the Knicks dealing with their Nate Robinson and David Lee question marks? Do they cut them loose? And all the talk about Steph Curry and the Knicks, would he be a good fit for them? He seems like really like Mike's style of play but I wonder if he'll be a productive NBA player.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Without any research, I think they likely keep one of the two, with Lee as the slight favorite. It all depends upon how the market shakes out, however.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): Where does Pierce stand in the pantheon of Celtics greats? Seriously, how well does he hold up from a statistical, a historical, and/or a style perspective?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not a great question for me, since the historical aspect of the game is arguably my weakest point. The Celtics have so much history that is not really captured well in terms of statistics (that is, most of their best players played long before we could start calculating WARP or anything like that) that I'd struggle to answer that one.
Fred (Houston): If the Rockets hit their threes and keep the turnovers down, they have a real chance, right?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, they do. As I wrote in this morning's Playoff Prospectus, the fourth quarter last night was not about a lack of focus from the Lakers. Houston simply beat them. That will be more difficult to do at the STAPLES Center, but nowhere near impossible. Either way, I'm hoping it's a close game. The odds are much better on a good finish -- well, a competitive finish -- from Boston and Orlando, so it should be a great day of Game 7s followed by my frantically working to complete previews for the conference finals.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks as always for the great questions. Keep reading Basketball Prospectus and I'll see you back here for another round of chatting sooner rather than later.