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Pelton mailbag: Who was the most surprising top-100 player this year?

Kevin Pelton answers your questions in his weekly NBA mailbag. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

This week's mailbag features your questions on this season's biggest surprise players, LaMarcus Aldridge's defense, lottery teams copying Utah's free-agent strategy and more.

You can tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to peltonmailbag@gmail.com.


I'm not sure a team can count on finding someone as effective as Joe Johnson has been against the LA Clippers, particularly in the clutch. He's shooting 8-of-10 in the last five minutes of games within five points, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Still, the signing of Johnson and trade for Boris Diaw does provide an interesting template for lottery teams looking to make the same leap the Jazz did all the way to the fifth seed.

In particular, I'm thinking of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were the league's youngest team this season in terms of effective age (weighted by minutes played). Who might fit the bill of a playoff-hardened veteran who could play limited minutes during the regular season and take a larger role in the playoffs?

Vince Carter, the league's oldest player at age 40, comes immediately to mind as the kind of wing contributor who could fill an important need for the Timberwolves without getting overworked during the regular season. If he doesn't re-sign with the tax-weary Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyle Korver could be another interesting option for Minnesota. And for a team with a need in the frontcourt, Nene Hilario has been able to ramp up his minutes for the Houston Rockets in the playoffs after being deployed sparingly during the regular season.


Mika offers a couple of good options, though Johnson wasn't surprising from a salary perspective. A few other contenders, depending on how you rank your top 100:

Some of this depends how we're defining surprising: Is it a surprise to me or to the world at large? I was relatively high on Dedmon and Johnson, and low on Brogdon and Speights. Ingles is in a slightly different category since one element of the surprise is simply that he got enough minutes to rank in the top 100.

Ultimately, I think there's one contender who satisfies all the possible criteria: David Lee. Lee was signed for the veteran's minimum and had long been a target of the analytics community for box-score stats that exceeded his value by advanced measures that better evaluate defense. That wasn't the case this season, when Lee posted a plus-1.1 RPM, and he's even starting now in the playoffs. I think he was the most surprising top-100 player.


No, I don't think so. At worst, LaMarcus Aldridge is probably about average for a power forward and RPM suggests he's better than that. The average defensive RPM for a 4 is about plus-0.7, and Aldridge's multi-year defensive RPM has never been worse than plus-1.3.

Aldridge's box-score defensive stats aren't as impressive. Though he blocks shots decently, his defensive rebounding declined dramatically this season and was poor for a power forward. His defensive rating in box plus-minus was generally about average for a power forward before he joined San Antonio and got a boost from the Spurs' team defense.

When asked to play center, Aldridge has struggled as a rim protector. I think that's where a lot of his middling defensive reputation originates. Still, watching him closely for years with the Portland Trail Blazers, I was impressed with Aldridge's pick-and-roll defense and his ability to switch out on guards. Now that Aldridge is in his 30s, his mobility isn't quite at that level, but he still brings a good combination of athleticism, size and length.


"NBA playoff schedules are always (and obviously) based around the TV schedule. If there was no need to schedule around TV, what would be the most optimal schedule for the highest quality of play? E.g. Two days of rest between each game and games consistently starting at 7:30 local time?" - Mike Beight

Not sure about start time. As I discussed on the Bill Barnwell Show earlier this week, I haven't seen any research on game start time outside of Sunday matinees.

The superior days of rest are interesting in the context of the discussion about what an ideal NBA schedule would look like from a rest standpoint. A couple of good studies on the APBRmetrics forum came to slightly different conclusions on this topic. Daniel Myers analyzed data from 2007-08 through 2009-10 and found that teams performed slightly better with two days rest than one day. Subsequently, RPM co-creator Jerry Engelmann looked at games from 2001-02 through 2013-14 and showed over that period teams were about the same with one and two days rest and slightly better with one day.

Now, both of these were looking at the regular season. And they were only looking at the effect on the next game at the team level, not necessarily the cumulative effect for individual fatigue. But taken together, I think they suggest that the NBA's playoff format -- at most two days between games, but typically one -- is actually pretty good aside from the breaks between series. (Both studies found that team performance declined with more than two days rest, although that's another case in which the regular season might be different than the playoffs given that studies haven't found much evidence of "rust" after long playoff layoffs.)


Before becoming a coach, Kerr was the GM of the Phoenix Suns from 2007 -- taking over right after a tough conference semifinals loss to the San Antonio Spurs -- through 2010. Looking back on his tenure, I think a steep learning curve is evident. Kerr's first year was his roughest.

Kerr desired to give the Suns more balance than they'd had under Mike D'Antoni, which manifested itself most notably in the Shaquille O'Neal trade (though our Amin Elhassan will tell you that was also predicated on Shawn Marion's unhappiness with his contract), but also in hiring Terry Porter as D'Antoni's replacement when he was allowed to leave for the New York Knicks.

While the O'Neal trade actually yielded dividends the following season, 2008-09, Porter flopped and lasted only to the All-Star break before being replaced by longtime D'Antoni assistant Alvin Gentry. After that, Kerr seemed to embrace the Suns' identity and was much more successful in rebuilding the roster around Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, which culminated in a return to the conference finals in 2010. The role players around those stars (Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Robin Lopez and Jason Richardson, among others) were mostly acquired by Kerr via the draft, free agency and a strong trade with the Charlotte Hornets.

Were Kerr to return to a front-office role in the future, I'd assess him as an above-average GM.