Chat with Kevin Pelton
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, NBA Insider Kevin Pelton stops by to chat about the latest news from the hardcourt.
Pelton is a co-author of the Pro Basketball Prospectus series and a former consultant for the Indiana Pacers. He developed the WARP rating and SCHOENE projection system.
Send your questions now and join Pelton Friday at 1 p.m. ET!
Kevin Pelton (1:01 PM)
Hey everyone, thanks for joining me a little early today to chat about the NBA. What's on your mind?
Noah (Brunswick, ME)
Can you give an example of a replacement-level player?
Kevin Pelton (1:02 PM)
The way I define it, any player who makes the team on a minimum-salary contract signed as a free agent is replacement level. So this year that would be someone like Thomas Robinson.
Samuel (Sydney) [via mobile]
538 prefers the Rockets over the Clippers in both projected record & championship odds. Do other projections believe the Rockets are better, and what do you think of it?
Kevin Pelton (1:06 PM)
BPI still has the Clippers three games ahead of the Rockets in terms of projected final record: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/page/BPI-Playoff-Odds/espn-nba-basketball-power-index-playoff-odds
Kevin Pelton (1:08 PM)
At this point, I'd still favor the Clippers over the Rockets because of my skepticism that Houston can continue to play so well with James Harden on the bench and the probability of Eric Gordon, Patrick Beverley and/or Ryan Anderson missing time due to injury at some point. But I think I was too dismissive of the question last week about whether the Rockets could emerge as the second-best team in the West. That certainly passes the "any chance?" rule.
At what point does Towns' DRPM become a concern? Last among centers by a healthy margin.
Kevin Pelton (1:14 PM)
At this point, the fundamental comparison by which RPM is going by is that the Timberwolves have been so much better with just Gorgui Dieng on the court (93.4 defensive rating) than just Towns (119.5). But those samples are tiny: 101 minutes for Dieng alone, 194 for Towns, which illustrates the difficulty of using adjusted plus-minus over small samples. RPM improves on this by using box-score stats but is still noisy early in the season.
What do you think about this #whosaysno trade idea: Utah sends Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors to Portland for CJ McCollum Blazers big man of their choice (Davis, Leonard, or Ezeli's contract). Am I crazy to think it actually makes sense for both teams? Utah gets no. 1 scoring option while Portland significantly improves defense.
Kevin Pelton (1:18 PM)
Hmm. If I'm the Blazers, I'm going to need a lot of information about the condition of Favors' back and knees given his difficulty staying on the court this season. And I'm not sure McCollum is really much of an upgrade on Hayward as a No. 1 scoring option. That's intriguing but I don't think it moves the needle clearly enough for either team to pull the trigger, which is the fundamental difficulty with making trades.
Is Davis Bertans good?
Kevin Pelton (1:19 PM)
He's a useful role player. His non-rebounding would be an issue in a bigger role and consider me skeptical that he'll continue to shoot nearly 60 percent on 2-point attempts, but he's been a nice value for the Spurs.
Mike H (UTSC)
My boy George Hill is putting up 20 points a game, but will he finally get the recognition he deserves? Will Hill get his deserved All-Star bid over Lillard, Klay and Cousins? Also, should the Jazz get an extension done sooner rather than later?
Kevin Pelton (1:22 PM)
If there was any path to the All-Star Game in the West for Hill -- and there probably wasn't -- it certainly required him to stay healthy. As well as he's played while on the court, I don't see any argument that Hill merits an All-Star spot. As for an extension, in a vacuum I'd choose Hill over Favors for some of the reasons Zach Lowe elucidated in his piece on the Jazz this week (http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18273165/zach-lowe-utah-jazz-gordon-hayward-rudy-gobert-nba). However, Utah isn't negotiating in a vacuum, so it's impossible to answer this question without knowing what Hill wants in an extension.
Rohan (Toronto) [via mobile]
How was watching the Seattle Sounders win the MLS Cup over Toronto FC without any shots on goal, from the other side?
Kevin Pelton (1:24 PM)
Nerve-wracking. I'm obviously not going to defend the quality of the Sounders' attack in that game, but I do think talking about how poorly they played is unfair to Stefan Frei, who stood on his head in goal to keep the scoreless.
Ryan (Denver, CO)
The Nuggets just changed their starting lineup and put Nikola Jokic at center surrounded by four perimeter players. I honestly believe he will put up 14 points, 8 rebounds, and over 5 assists with this group, especially if he keeps dishing highlight passes. What are your thoughts on his long-term potential if used this way?
Kevin Pelton (1:25 PM)
I don't know or really care about his per-game stats but this certainly seems to be the grouping that maximizes his skills, and given Jokic is Denver's best young player, that should probably be the Nuggets' focus.
Jon (Philly) [via mobile]
Small sample size caveat, what do you think about the Embiid/Okafor combination so far?
Kevin Pelton (1:26 PM)
Like everyone else, I think it's looked pretty good so far -- certainly much better than I expected. What remains to be seen is whether those two can stay on the court when opponents go small in response like the Raptors did with Patrick Patterson in the third quarter on Wednesday night. So much of the time we think about how to match up with a combination like Embiid and Okafor so as to minimize their strengths. Sometimes the more successful strategy is to maximize their weaknesses.
Does an injury have a greater negative impact on a team early in the season than an injury of equal magnitude later in the season?
Kevin Pelton (1:27 PM)
I really don't have any idea except to say that there's less chance of it being a season-ending injury.
Great work with your chat here. Your friends Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux had a podcast about their top 10 prospects lately (under 23 years old). What's your list?
Kevin Pelton (1:29 PM)
We'll surely do our Insider top 25 under 25 at some point, which as Nate noted is similar to the list he does if slightly more inclusive. So I'll wait for the opportunity to put more thought into that answer than the chat allows. My big takeaway from their list was I think Nate and Danny focused a little more on upside than I would. When I project young players going forward, I do so on the basis of the median outcome.
Thoughts on Toronto going out and getting a beefy wing defender? Maybe a P.J. Tucker type, especially if he comes along with Tyson Chandler?
Kevin Pelton (1:31 PM)
Even though defending combo forwards isn't his ideal use, I'm not sure at this point I'd want to take minutes away from Norman Powell. I don't know if the versatility is worth the fact that such players are probably less effective overall.
How surprised are you by Jaylen Brown's 11.5 PER and 37% 3 point percentage?
Kevin Pelton (1:35 PM)
The 3-point shooting is on 32 attempts, so the difference between what he's done and what my stats translations projected is less than two 3-pointers. The bigger place I would say Brown has exceeded expectations is his 2-point percentage. He's shooting better on 2s in the NBA so far (50 percent) than in college (48 percent), which needless to say is not typical.
I know there are a bunch of different ways to look at this and measure this, but is it possible to say that Kawhi Leonard has exceeded his pre-NBA expectations more than any player in NBA history? I mean, several low (say later than 10) draft picks are elite players (say, top 10 or 15), but I can't really think of someone who was both drafted as low as Kawhi and filled as many holes in his game to become a superelite player (top 3-5).
Kevin Pelton (1:36 PM)
If you do this by straight WARP over expectation for the pick, I'd imagine the answer is going to be someone like Isaiah Thomas in the modern era or some player drafted after the second round in the olden days who turned out to be All-Star. In terms of something like my championships added metric that gives heavier weight to superelite performance, it might be Kawhi.
Dylan (Seattle, WA)
So to follow-up on Noah's question/your answer, in your opinion "replacement-level" isn't strictly based off of player performance relative to the rest of the league?
Kevin Pelton (1:39 PM)
Ah, yeah, maybe that wasn't a good answer. We use the performance of players like Thomas Robinson who are freely available for the minimum salary to define what replacement-level performance is, and that can be applied to players who were acquired in different ways. And that's how, for example, Luol Deng ends up at replacement level in terms of performance.
Mark (Portland) [via mobile]
I read that the new CBA is expanding what sources of revenue are considered BRI. If that is correct, do you have an idea of how much the new revenue may affect the salary cap? Just a few million, or another big jump like when the new TV rights started?
Kevin Pelton (1:40 PM)
Good question. It certainly won't be a huge jump. The preliminary projections we've seen sourced in the media don't seem to suggest the league has changed its 2017-18 cap projection at all, though those have tended to be conservative in the past.
Parker Brown (Utah)
Are you with Zach Lowe on the Rockets bandwagon? If so do they beat Utah in a 4-5 playoff matchup?
Kevin Pelton (1:41 PM)
I mean there's four months until the playoffs start. I'm not going to start predicting hypothetical series now!
Matt (Indy) [via mobile]
Of all the Cousins trade destinations shouldn't the Pacers be maybe the biggest one? A package centered around Myles Turner/Ellis/pick gets Kings back a young unicorn star, and Cousins lines up with the Pacers other pieces primes. Wouldn't PG, Cousins, Teague, Thad, Robinson compete for the 2nd spot in the East for years?
Kevin Pelton (1:42 PM)
Given what I know about the Pacers front office, I don't see them as likely to take the gamble on Cousins' personality in the locker room. And I think they are far from alone in that regard.
With Giannis' emergence & Jabari's improvement, if Middleton comes back 100%, do they have the REALISTIC potential to form the core of a championship contender a few years down the road?
Kevin Pelton (1:44 PM)
If Giannis can truly be a top-10 or even top-5 player in the league, that changes Milwaukee's upside. I'm still not sure I see a second All-Star on the roster long-term, and I think that's necessary for championship contention.
Pelkey - SAN Francisco [via mobile]
How much of Grizzlies success is due to their inability to move the needle for fans or players? Seems like a tough team to get excited about playing.
Kevin Pelton (1:46 PM)
Maybe with Mike Conley out it was possible to take the Grizzlies lightly, but in general I don't think that has anything to do with that -- particularly given Memphis' success has more to do with winning close games down the stretch than jumping on teams early and blowing them out. The Warriors game was an exception rather than the rule.
Sixers defensive on/off splits with Joel Embiid are drastic yet he ranks as just the 26th best NBA center by DRPM. Is there an additional adjustment factor for projections/youth at this stage?
Kevin Pelton (1:48 PM)
Not that I know of, no. I'm not sure what the explanation would be there except general noise.
Jayson (Glendale, CA) [via mobile]
Kevin, when translating Euroleague stats for players coming over to play in the NBA, which aspects get more/less emphasis in SCHOENE?
Kevin Pelton (1:50 PM)
I'm not sure there really is an answer for this. When I translate players' European statistics to their NBA equivalents, there are some that take larger hits than others -- 2-point percentage typically being at the top of that list -- but I wouldn't say that necessarily makes them more or less important. My assumption is skills basically translate to overall value the same everywhere, and SCHOENE treats international players the same as NBA players with identical translated stats.
Nikola Mirotic hasn't been shooting well and got the first DNP of his career last night. Do you see a trade coming?
Kevin Pelton (1:51 PM)
I don't know what the Chicago front office is thinking but if I were running another team, I'd be looking to buy low.
What year do you usually wait to consider a player a bust/ is there any statistical evidence that a majority of players fall into? Is it dependent on playing time or is the fact that the player can't crack a rotation a sign that they are a bust?
Kevin Pelton (1:55 PM)
I don't know about bust, which is a nebulous term I'd prefer not to use. A player can fall short of expectations for his draft slot and still have value in the league like, say, Wesley Johnson. That kind of development sometimes doesn't take place until years down the road. What I will say is I think there's an information asymmetry where the team that drafts a player usually knows more about him -- whether it's ability or work ethic or whatever -- than the rest of us. So it's turned out that most of the time teams have sold early on high draft picks, they haven't ended up regretting it. I wrote about that a couple of years ago: http://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/12202120/nba-miles-plumlee-players-bounce-back-new-team
Wait, you don't see Jabari Parker as a potential All Star? Really? Kid is in basically his 2nd year and averaging nearly 20 points a game... he is very likely to still get better.
Kevin Pelton (1:58 PM)
By advanced all-in-one stats that aren't PER, Parker has been basically a league-average player this season. That puts his median outcome for the future below All-Star level, though it's certainly possible that the emphasis on points per game could mean he actually becomes a regular All-Star without dramatic improvement.
JMS (NJ) [via mobile]
My only problem with the Sixers two big lineups is, even if they -can- work, they absolutely don't mesh well with a non-shooting point forward like Ben Simmons. Is there any value in these lineups besides showcasing Jah/Noel for trades?
Kevin Pelton (1:59 PM)
I don't really believe in the concept of showcasing players, but I do think there's value to keeping them happy and there's obviously not enough playing time for Embiid, Okafor and Noel if they're all strictly centers. Even when Simmons does return, he surely won't be playing heavy minutes.
Celtics aren't keeping Thomas, Bradley, and Smart long term and they can't play together now. Does a Smart for Chandler trade move the needle enough to give Boston a legit chance to beat Toronto? Smart for a SF seems like a good roster tweak.
Kevin Pelton (2:02 PM)
Wait, why are we certain they can't play together now? Such lineups haven't been particularly good this season but they were plus-5.4 per 100 last year.
Dylan (Seattle, WA)
What advice would you give someone considering starting their own podcast?
Kevin Pelton (2:03 PM)
Make sure you can bring a unique voice to what's already become a crowded market.
Jon (Philly) [via mobile]
Do you think more teams will tank now that you can potentially keep your drafted star longer in the new CBA?
Kevin Pelton (2:04 PM)
Probably not. The rule only appears to affect a handful of superstars, and we're talking about seeing benefits a decade down the road. The reason the Hinkie Sixers were novel is that most teams have a tough time taking that long a view whether because of job security or simply impatience.
In your opinion, what does Toronto need to add to get past Cleveland?
Kevin Pelton (2:05 PM)
LeBron James to have been born somewhere else?
Kevin Pelton (2:06 PM)
To answer that question in a non-snarky fashion, there are scenarios where the Raptors could beat the Cavaliers in a playoff series now. But I think what you're really asking is what trade do they need, and I don't think there are many that would move the needle in that regard. Maybe if Paul Millsap or Serge Ibaka come available.
Dawson ( Miami) [via mobile]
What makes DeAndre Jordan a better player than Whiteside?
Kevin Pelton (2:08 PM)
NBA experience and stability are certainly factors, but a lot of it seems to come down to the fact that he doesn't think he's better than a role primarily catching lobs. (Whiteside should do more than that, certainly, as he's more skilled, but he wants to do more than he should.)
Did Jae Crowder reach peak value over the summer? If the Celtics have to part with current "core" players to upgrade talent and roster balance, I'd ship Crowder over Brown and Smart over Bradley.
Kevin Pelton (2:08 PM)
I'm obviously not the world's biggest Jaylen Brown fan, but I still think it's worse than 50-50 that he ever gets as good as Jae Crowder is now.
Sam ( Tempe) [via mobile]
Still don't think Eric Bledsoe is an All-Star-caliber player? Obviously he won't make it with the Suns record and the depth of guards, but he looks like a top 10 point guard.
Kevin Pelton (2:10 PM)
That might be fair, but there aren't enough spots in the All-Star Game for 10 point guards.
With the new CBA, and the amount of money that can be offered to Cousins now, do you think that would more "pressure" on a team like the Celtics (if they even wanted him) to trade for him now? Since it might be harder to get studs to reject that type of money?
Kevin Pelton (2:11 PM)
I guess I'm not sure what you mean by more pressure. Should note here that until we know what the qualifications are, it's not clear Cousins will qualify.
What is the most you would give up for Cousins if you were the Celtics?
Kevin Pelton (2:12 PM)
I probably wouldn't risk my team chemistry no matter how small the return. As I've said before, I think Cousins makes sense for teams that are desperate for a solution. The Celtics shouldn't fall into that category.
Dave ( Hoodriver) [via mobile]
Why does everyone want to replace Mason Plumlee from his starting spot? Is he not good enough? Numbers are actually better than Steven Adams almost across the board in six fewer minutes.
Kevin Pelton (2:17 PM)
I don't know that Adams is a great comparison given he's probably a superior defender -- which won't necessarily be reflected in most "numbers" -- but I do think Plumlee has been somewhat unfairly scapegoated. Until actually looking at the numbers for the piece I wrote about how the Blazers defended Russell Westbrook (http://insider.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/18278432/how-stop-russell-westbrook-oklahoma-city-thunder-nba), I just assumed the Blazers were struggling to defend the rim given their overall poor defense. In fact, they're second in the league in this regard. Now, I think this is somewhat more about their defensive scheme than Plumlee individually, but at minimum it suggests he is capable of playing his role in that scheme. I don't see the urgency to bring in, say, Nerlens Noel.
Do you buy into the driving the car off the lot theory that Nate has expressed wrt to draft picks? In other words the value of say "The Brooklyn picks" is higher in the eye of the acquirer than Jaylen Brown + whoever is picked say 5th this year. Obviously some of this has to do with the acquiring team wanting to make the choice, but some has to do with the perception that that "Brooklyn pick" could be anyone - any star and two actual players will most likely not be stars. I wonder if this, combined with the aging and pending UFA of some of the Boston guards could hasten a potential trade.
Kevin Pelton (2:19 PM)
I absolutely agree with that. I do think it only applies after the pick is physically made, so the Celtics can trade it right up to the draft.
If you're the Pelicans, what's your plan for Holiday and Evans, both FAs after this year?
Kevin Pelton (2:21 PM)
I can't see Evans coming back unless he looks a lot more comfortable in Alvin Gentry's offense than he did last season. Even then, his knee injuries make it tough to guarantee him much money. Holiday's health presents his own issues but the Pelicans have been so much better with him on the court that I would probably pay whatever it takes to re-sign him. I don't see how New Orleans does better with that money.
Kevin, Question about Carmelo and his legacy. When people discuss his inability to win big in the playoffs or advance far, has Melo actually ever played with another truly elite player? Even a late-career Chauncey Billups was enough to get to the WCFs that year. A late-career Iverson? Tyson Chandler? The shadow of Amare? a young Nene or an old Marcus Camby? All I'm wondering is how much of his lack of success is actually his fault. He was drafted into a tough Western Conference while LeBron came to the East as the Pistons were falling off with no clear other superior team. If Carmelo was drafted in Cleveland and LeBron in Denver would this conversation be very different today? THANKS for the input always.
Kevin Pelton (2:23 PM)
No, I wouldn't say he's ever played with a truly elite player, though LeBron never did in his first stint with Cleveland. (Jury's still kinda out on the current Cavaliers, though Kyrie certainly reached that level during last year's NBA Finals and that's a big reason why Cleveland won.) Ultimately, Anthony's individual statistics don't suggest he's anywhere close to LeBron's level. It's just a bad comparison for him.
Jon (Philly) [via mobile]
Ignoring quality of draft (correct me if I'm wrong to do that), if you were the Sixers would you rather have the Lakers pick this year or have it unprotected next year?
Kevin Pelton (2:24 PM)
At this point I would rather have it in 2017. I would expect the Lakers' young talent grows enough by 2017-18 to make it unlikely that their pick is as bad in 2018 as 2017. The apparent strength of the 2017 draft class is just a bonus here.
What do you think of Mike Conley returning ahead of schedule from his back injury?
Kevin Pelton (2:32 PM)
I'm feeding myself a question because I wanted to talk about this. I think out of caution the Grizzlies did themselves a disservice by initially setting such a conservative timeline for Conley. You can think of injury estimates as Type I (false positive) and Type II (false negative) errors. Typically, with injury timetables, we see Type II errors: overly optimistic timelines for players to come back from knee surgery that set unrealistic expectations. But by trying to minimize the chance of a Type II error, you automatically increase the chance of a Type I error: making an injury out to be worse than it is. And then you run the risk of making it appear like the player is being rushed back ahead of schedule. The fact that the Grizzlies have played so well in Conley's absence minimizes that to some extent -- they're obviously not *desperate* to have him back on the court -- but Conley's return seems to fit what we've seen from players with similar injuries better than the original timetable.
Kevin Pelton (2:33 PM)
Alright, on that note, I'll wrap things up. Thanks for your questions and talk to you next Friday.