With the NBA Finals winding down, you'll want to ask Kevin Pelton of BasketballProspectus.com what takeaways we should find from this series and this season.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): What a thrilling Game 4 of the NBA Finals last night between the L.A. Lakers and Orlando, our second overtime thriller in four games of this series. Unfortunately, the Lakers' win means we're potentially down to just one game left in the 2008-09 season if the Magic is unable to bounce back and win Game 5 on Sunday. I'm ready to chat about the game, a draft that is less than two weeks away and all the happenings around the association.
krissbeth (watertown, ma): What's the deal with JJ Redick? Why was his transition to the pros so rough? Coaching? Lack of drive? An inability to create his own shot? Especially vulnerable to performance decay off the bench? The latter is the only reason that remotely connects to his difficulties hitting shots in the pros, unless a coach messed with his shot mechanics. So what's the deal?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think the biggest reason Redick has struggled at times to make shots in the NBA, besides the quality of the defenders, is the fact that his minutes have been inconsistent. The rest of his game besides shooting was so underdeveloped when he entered the league that he couldn't stay on the floor enough to get into a shooting rhythm on a regular basis. He's clearly improved in this regard, and has emerged in the playoffs as a very solid defender when he puts complete focus on that end of the floor. The Magic is too deep at shooting guard, but if Redick gets moved somewhere else I see him being a solid contributor off the bench. The Lakers could actually really use him right now with The Machine coming up with a glitch in the postseason that has rendered him totally ineffective.
uoduckfan33 (Portland): I asked a question a few weeks ago about the value of an assist, and you responded that with players being able to create their own shots, the value of the assist is marginal. On that note, how can we value players? Do you think that the +/- category, if adjusted for the unit a player plays with, could be the only catch-all method?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): At the team level, the value of the assist is marginal. It's still very valuable at the player level.
As for valuing players, how long do you have to address that question? One thing we've seen a lot more work with lately has been statistical plus-minus, which uses adjusted plus-minus as a something of a tool to calibrate how we value individual stats. I think to the extent that there is going to be one catch-all method--and I don't think any one stat is ever going to be complex enough to capture the diversity of the NBA game and the importance of fit--it would be a combination of adjusted and statistical plus-minus that balances the former's noisiness and the latter's inability to capture the entirety of a player's contributions on the floor.
Right now, there's progress being made. The discussion has moved past arguing about which linear-weights formula is best, which is an excellent sign.
JJ (NYC): Kevin, can you remember a game where the two biggest shots were hit by the worst player on the court?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): *thinking*
John Paxson hit a bunch of huge shots in the deciding Game 5 against the Lakers in '91 and I suppose he may have been the worst player on the floor at that point (the Lakers would probably have been playing something like Johnson/Scott/Worthy/Perkins/Divac, I assume). I guess it's not that rare because good defenses will force opponents' worst players to beat them. What makes it really odd is that Fisher has been shooting the ball exceptionally poorly in the postseason (not true of a Paxson or a Kerr for the Bulls) and that the first shot wasn't created by a double-team.
Jivas (Oak Park, IL): If Dwight Howard makes one of those two free throws, the Magic win the game and the Series is tied at 2. In my opinion, the media focus is disproportionately on the two Derek Fisher shots and not nearly enough on the circumstances that allowed them to happen - Howard's misses, and the awful defense to allow Fisher the look on the regulation three-pointer. Do you agree?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Without having read anything this morning, I think there's been plenty of discussion of the way Orlando defended that final possession of regulation. The Howard free throws have slipped a little bit under the radar, but it's hard to criticize the guy too much when there's no way the Magic is even remotely in position to win without the lockdown defense Howard played throughout the game.
Rob (Houston): Should the Kobe elbow to the face of Nelson have been called a foul?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think that would have been a pretty dubious call. Nelson hadn't really established position and ran into Bryant's elbow as much as Bryant swung his elbow into Nelson. Let me put it this way--if that had been called a foul and Orlando won, there would be a ton of moaning about the call this morning.
Jon (NY): When I saw Phil decide to take the ball out in the backcourt I couldn't believe it because it was an easy foul situation for the Magic. That defense was unbelievable that possession. Besides fouling Kobe right when the ball was inbounded, they didn't even really have an opportunity to foul.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, I watched the replay in full for the first time a moment ago and after Orlando doubles to get the ball out of Bryant's hands on the inbounds, it really becomes a scramble situation. Nelson got caught between helping on Ariza and defending Fisher and never fully committed to either. If he had done that, there may have been an opportunity to foul with some time running off the clock. Nelson is angry as he comes off the floor (yelling with Van Gundy) and I think he must have felt like he got sold out by having to defend both of those guys. He still had the opportunity to pick Fisher up about a step beyond the three-point line, which would have totally changed the complexion of that play even without a foul.
Blazers Edge Ben (Portland): i say 40% chance bayless starts to begin the 09-10 season for the blazers. what you think?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say 10 percent to 20 percent. Nate McMillan was willing to take a chance on starting Luke Ridnour in his second year in Seattle because he believed in what Ridnour could bring to the table despite his inexperience. In general, however, Nate believes in a fairly linear progression for young players, and going from out of the rotation to starting would be an enormous leap. The next step in the progression would be regular minutes behind Blake off the bench with Sergio Rodriguez somewhere else and a steady veteran third PG.
Jon (SF): Curry, Jennings, Holiday, Flynn or Evans?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Without yet having given more than a cursory look at the numbers, Jennings. M. Haubs from The Painted Area has sold me on how well he handled the European experience and the kind of benefit he will derive from it. Holiday is sure to be a solid player, but I'm not sold on his upside and wasn't particularly impressed with his season at UCLA. I'm not sure Curry belongs in this group since he's really more of a 1/2 than a full-time 1 in the NBA in my book.
BK (Boston): In this Finals, Stan Van Gundy has treated his collection of guards (Alston-Nelson-Lee-Redick) as a fluid entity from which he can mix and match lineups depending on what works best at the time. Hedo plays point forward in some PG-less lineups, and Pietrus' role is more fixed as the primary Kobe-defender as long as he stays out of foul trouble.
Do you approve of this type of variability in the usage of guards from game to game, or do you think it messes with the heads of players like Alston or Lee? And do you have an opinion on the exile of Anthony Johnson?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I don't have a problem with leaving Johnson out of the rotation. He's had his moments in this postseason, but it was less than five months ago people were arguing that he was holding the Magic back as Jameer Nelson's backup.
I don't think the mix-and-match guard rotation is ideal in terms of managing players, but Van Gundy has made it work. Coaches talk all the time to their players about "staying ready," but for whatever reason he's able to get that message through much better than almost anyone else. It's impossible to say how his players would play if they were in a more consistent rotation, but there's nothing I can point to as an example of where it has hurt them.
Chris (Davis): Do you think there's any merit to Stan Van Gundy's argument that there was too much time on the clock to foul up three?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think it's somewhat legitimate. If you foul right away off the inbounds, you're probably going to be in the same situation with just a couple seconds off the clock. The upside is limited. By the time the Lakers had dribbled the ball upcourt, assuming the referees aren't foolish enough to call a phantom shooting foul, you do derive the benefit of fouling. Part of the reason coaches are so reluctant to foul is the difficulty of communicating that message to players who are running on adrenaline at that point of the game. It's a little different from the situations that popped up in the Boston-Chicago series, so I'm not going to crucify Stan, but fouling Fisher before he got up a shot would have been the ideal outcome.
Bill (DC): Kevin, if you were the Wizards, who would you look to get for the 5th pick?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think the ideal spot to fill is a two guard who can shoot the ball, help Gilbert Arenas with ballhandling duties and defend top wings. Finding all three of those things in the same package is a challenge. Kirk Hinrich seems a little modest for the fifth pick, and you'd need to have Chicago take back an ugly contract to make it work in terms of value, but he'd be a nice fit. Mike Miller doesn't bring defense, but he's in that mold of player.
Andy (Portland): James, Wade, Roy, Anthony, Ming, Durant, Bosh, Howard and Paul.
When they're all out of the league, who on that list doesn't have a ring?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Well, Wade already has a ring, so I'm safe counting him in. I would say in order of likelihood of getting a ring: James > Howard > Roy > Paul > Bosh (as a #2 option, most likely) > Durant > Anthony > Yao
Earl Clark's Mom (Confusion Island): Wait a minute... shouldn't my son be a lottery pick?
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Not without a reliable jumper, no.
Sam Presti (OKC): Kevin -- I just read your answer saying soft Chris Bosh is more likely to get a ring than Kevin Durant. Consider this a public rebuke.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Thanks for reading, Sam! I'm sure you've got nothing better to do leading up to the draft, so no surprise you're here.
I consider Bosh and Pau Gasol very similar players in terms of their stature in the league, and Gasol is a game away from a championship ring as a #2 player (or #1A). If Bosh is able to sign on with another of the 2010 star players, James or Wade, he stands an excellent chance of doing something similar.
Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright, that's all the time I have this morning. Hard to believe Sunday could be the last day of the NBA season. Even if so, the season never ends at Basketball Prospectus, as we cover the upcoming draft and all the action as teams reload for the 2009-10 season. Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone for their questions.