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Chat: Kevin Pelton (Basketball)

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday January 29, 2010 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Pelton (Basketball).

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For pro hoops coverage and questions answered, you'll want to pop in and query Kevin Pelton of BasketballProspectus.com today!

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Hey everybody, thanks for joining me to discuss the NBA here on Baseball Prospectus. We've just passed the midpoint of the season, the All-Star Game is within sight and the trade deadline looms after that, so no shortage of potential topics. What's on your mind today? Let's get it started.

Duff Soviet Union (Melbourne, Australia): Have you or anyone else looked at whether there is any year to year correlation in "unforced" turnovers on defense (turnovers forced - steals - 24 second violations), or whether this number varies as a result of luck?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): This is actually part of the SCHOENE team projection. I don't have the complete study I did handy, but the projection for the following season uses about half of what the team's non-steal TO rate from the previous year (I don't isolate 24-second violations, since the key for my purposes is turnovers that aren't credited individually), about a third regression to the mean and the rest is predicted by the team's steal rate, which is interesting. There is definitely a tendency for players/teams that force steals to also create turnovers that aren't steals.

Albert (Evanston, IL): In the six years since APBRmetrician Dean Oliver was hired as the first full-time statistical analyst in the NBA, how receptive have NBA teams been of basketball analytics, pre-2004 versus present day? Compared to the rise of sabermetrics in baseball, where do you see the role of APBRmetrics in the NBA (not necessarily the media) headed towards?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Quite receptive. I'd say at this point at least about half of teams either have someone they are using for statistical analysis or someone in their front office who is familiar with the research. Of those, about 8-10 are really serious about it, which is an amazing increase in a five-year span. As in baseball, part of the issue is generational, so as younger GMs keep replacing veterans, that number will increase. I don't think having an analyst will ever be a must in basketball because of the importance of scouting, but teams without them will likely be in the minority at some point.

PWHjort (Atlanta, GA): Leaving the criminal all-star snub aside, why has Josh Smith played so well this season, normal aging curve?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): He was a guy I definitely thought was going to have a better season than expected for a few reasons, including his age and the fact that last year was so much worse than his previous track record. I didn't expect him to play this well, however, and I think a lot of credit has to go to Mike Woodson for finally getting Smith to take the three out of his game. Also he's passing a lot better this season. Not sure to what we can attribute that.

Matt (SLC): The Jazz have been playing very well of late, particularly on defense for the first time in several years. Do they have any chance of upending the Lakers and/or Nuggets for Western Conference supremacy?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, the defense is the aspect of the Jazz's play that hasn't gotten much attention. I'm familiar with it because Utah's radio guy David Locke is a good friend and he's made a point of noting it since early in the month. It's a bit surprising to me, given the personnel and the fact that Jerry Sloan's teams have traditionally been better on offense than defense.

I think Denver is definitely within Utah's sights. The difference between the two teams over the course of the season isn't enormous. The Lakers would be more difficult. They've caused a lot of problems in that matchup over the years with the ability to play either big (Bynum/Gasol) or small (Odom/Gasol) against the Jazz frontline. Also, Utah doesn't have a great matchup for Kobe Bryant. So I would certainly think the Lakers would be a heavy favorite if the two teams met for the third straight postseason.

BK (Boston, MA): When I do stats-based snapshot evaluations of players, I eyeball the aggregates and then jump right to "advanced" metrics (assist rate, turnover rate, etc) in comparing players. However, I noticed some analysts/bloggers cite a lot of per 36 or per 40 numbers, and I was told by someone that per possession numbers for stats like turnovers are unfair to, for example, big men who don't shoot much but otherwise contribute positively. Your thoughts?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yes and no. The big issue in my view is that those type of big men are getting a lot of turnovers on illegal screens, which are counted in the numerator of turnover rate but not in the denominator. That is, when a scorer turns it over going to the basket, they're doing something that could lead to a non-turnover action (a shot attempt) whereas a screen is never going to create a statistic for a big man. But the same could be said of assists the way I calculate turnover rate, which is simply as a percentage of possessions finished. I think it's just something you make note of when doing that casual glance and not a big deal.

dangor (New York): Who have been the darkhorse teams in college hoops that have impressed you the most and can make noise in the tournament?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): In my purview as Basketball Prospectus' resident West Coast NCAA follower, I will note that Arizona State is much better than the media has made the Sun Devils out to be. Even after last night's loss to Pac-10-leading Cal, ASU is No. 29 in the Pomeroy Rankings, and when the Sun Devils are hitting their threes they are very difficult to beat. It drives me crazy when people say that Cal is the only team in the Pac-10 left that could get an at-large berth. You're telling me that if ASU (or Arizona or probably even UW) ran the table and won the next 10 conference games, plus two more in the Pac-10 Tournament and then lost in the championship game, they wouldn't be invited? Of course not.

Also worth noting: Harvard and Cornell play the first of their two epic Ivy matchups tonight. If you're a power team, you don't want to see the winner of those two teams on the other side in the first round.

Bryan (Chicago): The Bulls have now consistently been beating good teams, both home (Orlando) and on the road (San Antonio). Are they still just whetting the appetite for 2010, or is this a team that can get the 5-seed in the east and cause Atlanta/Orlando to sweat? What if they added Amare (I'm guessing this would cost Miller, Tyrus and Salmons ... or so).

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): If you look strictly at the month of January, the Bulls are seventh in the league in schedule-adjusted point differential, ahead of three of the four West powers (everyone but Cleveland). Given there's an easy explanation for why this period might be more legitimate than the first two months (Derrick Rose's health), I would say it is a definite possibility. One thing worth noting is Charlotte has still been better in the month, so we might have two teams vying for that spot of top contender to the big four teams.

With Amar'e Stoudemire added to an offense that still ranks 28th in the league? All bets are off at that point, I would say.

twayda (Chicago): Who do you think the Bulls should be going after this summer? Seems like they could be possibilities for all of these free agents.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): The funny thing is that while Chicago has been linked to Dwyane Wade for obvious reasons, he's not really a great fit. I mean obviously you would still sign him, but a Wade-Rose backcourt has a lot of duplication and is short on perimeter shooting. So I think focusing on upgrading the post on offense would probably be the primary goal. That makes Chris Bosh target No. 1, with Stoudemire as the consolation prize. I do think it's wise for a lot of teams in the Bulls' position to try to get the job done now by trading for Stoudemire if the long-term cost is low.

Ron (Vancouver): Is the 6 foul limit per player good or bad for the NBA?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm on the record as being against the foulout in general. I think it's an archaic concept that puts far too much power in the hands of officials when it comes to determining the outcome of a game. That's primarily true at the NCAA level, however, because the college game features more fouls (especially among young big men) and it's easier to fluke into five fouls in 40 minutes than six in 48 despite the fact that it's the same ratio per minute.

My preferred solution is to treat the fifth/sixth foul and any beyond that as a technical. A one-point penalty per foul is pretty significant, so I don't think you would see marginal players continue to play in those situations, but the elite would get a chance to stay on the court, which I think everyone favors.

Evan (SoCal): Can Memphis keep Rudy Gay this offseason?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): If they ante up, it's certainly possible. I think the question is going to be how much they see him as a key part of their future. I would let the market determine his value to some extent, since restricted free agents always have a hard time getting the kind of money they want.

krissbeth (watertown, ma): What gimmick offense would you like to see get a full and fair shot at the pro level? How do you think it would do? Why hasn't it been given a shot?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say the Dribble-Drive Motion, since it's been successful for Calipari and elements of it certainly translate well to the NBA. However, I wouldn't call that a gimmick offense and I would also say NBA teams do some similar things already.

Matt (Denver): Am I insane or should Nene have garnered more support for an all star spot? He does pretty much everything and is 12th in the league in Win Shares.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): You might be a homer but you're definitely not insane. I think Nene was a much better candidate if you didn't want to pick Pau Gasol than Chris Kaman. Kaman's had a nice season but I'm not sure when everybody got together and decided he was an All-Star. I would have liked to be invited to that vote. Nene's biggest problem is probably that he's the third-best player on his team and lower than that in terms of exposure.

BK (Boston, MA): The Knicks run a lot of matchup zone/box and one/straight zone because of their personnel (with Jeffries roaming on help), to the point that they look like a college team some games. Which teams in the NBA make the most effective use of the zone?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I feel like I'm seeing more zone than ever this season, especially of the matchup variety. New York is a good fit for it as you mention with a bunch of long players on the wings. Flip Saunders is probably the single coach who does the best job--even his man defenses include some elements of zone--though obviously that hasn't been very successful for the Wizards this season. I would also include the Blazers, who mix it in well depending on matchups and their personnel. Lead assistant Dean Demopoulos got his start as an assistant to John Chaney at Temple, so obviously he knows a thing or two about zone D.

Adam (Pomona): Is Manu Ginobili done or not? Do you think he can assert himself in the next couple of games that Tony Parker misses, and would he be enough to help lead the Spurs among the Western Conference elite?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Ginobili's numbers are still pretty solid. On a per-minute basis, discounting the fact that his playing time has been cut so heavily to protect him, he's played at an All-Star level. The only real drop in the numbers is his two-point percentage. We'll see if Popovich rides him during this stretch or continues to look ahead toward the playoffs.

Adam (Dayton): Is it over for the Duncan dynasty?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): As for the team in general, they're still right in the second tier of West contenders by point differential. I think people expected them to take off in January, but that run might not be in San Antonio at this point. The question is whether it can be there in the postseason. It's tough to say from the outside whether this is all Duncan/Ginobili are capable of playing at this point or their minutes can be ramped up over a couple of months. Tony Parker is bound to start playing better at some point, banged up or not. But beating the Lakers and then the winner of the East in seven-game series? Tough to see that at this point.

kdstevens89 (Ohio): Though his stats fairly resemble last year's, LeBron James seems to have taken his game to another level? How so?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say he's picking his spots a little bit more this year, but generally he seems like the same LeBron to me. I don't know that there's anywhere to take his game beyond this--as in I'm not sure any player has done that.

paulbellows (Calgary): What are your thoughts on Mike Miller? He seems to have the ability to put up good point, rebound and assist numbers but always seems to be either passing up shots or injured.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Yeah, Miller's decline is one of the strangers stories on record. A quality shooter/scorer in his prime suddenly deciding he wanted to be a playmaker doesn't happen very often. The hope is once he gets in a better situation than the Timberwolves or a Wizards team that quickly fell apart he can return to what he once was, but at his age the health problems are more likely here to stay.

NBAfan (Chicago): What's your take of the Timberwolves and more specifically, Rambis' job performance so far? I can't help but question him on a variety of fronts, i.e., the triangle offense with his personnel, erratic use of Flynn and Sessions and his use of Love from time to time off the bench. Just seems to me that he's failed from the get go in not adjusting his system to his personnel. But am I being unfair? Or would any coach look horrible with that team?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No, I think that's completely fair. There's a fundamental disconnect between the players the Timberwolves have brought in since David Kahn took over and the players needed to win in the triangle. Now, since Minnesota wasn't going anywhere this season, that may not be a big deal. (Sessions obviously was brought in to flip, though the fact that he's played so little and so ineffectively has destroyed his trade value.) But I think you're hurting Flynn's development by asking him to play a role so differently from what he'll do later in his career.

Adam (Dayton): But KP, until LeBron becomes teh best clozr in basketball he'll never be Kobe!!!1

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): But, but, the Nike puppets told me otherwise!

Patrick J (Cambridge, MA): If you're David Kahn, what do you do with Jefferson/Love and Flynn/Rubio? What kind of player or asset could Jefferson bring back?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I think you wait until the summer to complete the makeover. First off, what happens in the lottery this year is going to have a huge effect on the ultimate decisions. What if the Timberwolves end up with Wall? I'm not convinced you're ever going to be able to get value for Rubio while he's in Spain and I also think Jefferson's value will go up with a little more healthy play from him.

Mike B. (Portland, OR): Are the Blazers letting Monty Williams run the show on the floor while McMillan recovers, so he get get a head coaching job? I would think the "Lead" assistant would get those duties. (I do like seeing Monty out there, though).

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I'm not sure they *want* him to get a head job, since it would mean losing a valuable assistant, but I suspect getting him this experience was probably a part of that decision.

Matt (Denver): If there is a Western Conference Finals rematch this year, is the result any different? The Nuggets are improved because minutes that used to go to Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter now go to Afflalo and Lawson. The Lakers are worse because their bench and point guard are worse (attributed to candy/complacency and father time, respectively). I say the Lakers win the series 70% of the time. What say you?

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): I would say the one factor you're leaving out is that Bynum is healthy, which gives L.A. a slightly different dimension. The thing that makes this tricky for me to consider is that Denver playoffs was so much better than regular-season Denver. This year's Nuggets team is somewhere in between those two extremes. So I would say the odds are pretty similar to last year but that Denver did have somewhere on the order of a 20-25% shot of pulling off the upset then.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): Alright, thanks everybody for stopping by. Look for another chat, probably right before the All-Star Game (we can pick the favorites in the skills competitions!). Between now and then, keep reading on BasketballProspectus.com.


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