"When you consider what he's accomplished through age 23, he's certainly got a shot, but Chamberlain is going to be pretty difficult to dislodge. The start of Howard's career is fairly similar to that of another all-time great center who just happened to start his career in a Magic uniform, of course."
-- Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
A new week. A new interview.
As mentioned last week at the end of my Q/A transcript with Orlando Sentinel's Kyle Hightower, I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Kevin Pelton from Basketball Prospectus on behalf of Third Quarter Collapse.
In case you may not recognize his name, Pelton is one of THE most renown APBRmetricians involved in the mainstream sports media today. Pelton is a sportswriter who currently writes for Basketball Prospectus (a site 3QC has linked to many times before) and has written for 82games.com, Hoopsworld.com, & SI.com. It's safe to state that Pelton's credentials as a stats guru are impeccable.
Pelton was gracious enough to share some background information about himself, as well as provide some excellent analysis pertaining specifically to the Orlando Magic.
So with the introductions squared away, here's the interview.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
[editor's note: These answers were given BEFORE the Lakers game this past Friday.]
How long have you been working at Basketball Prospectus?
This is our second season at Basketball Prospectus, and I've been with the site since the start. Last season, I wrote about a column per week during the season. This year, since I'm no longer working for/covering the Seattle SuperSonics (while continuing to cover the WNBA's Seattle Storm for storm.wnba.com), I've had more time to devote to NBA analysis. That's allowed me to write two or three columns a week as well as contribute to our new Unfiltered blog.
What was it like working at 82games.com & SI.com? Given that 82games.com is a very stat-driven website, was there a direct contrast of styles you had to face at SI.com as a result?
In both cases, I had a lot of freedom as a writer to pretty much address any topic I wanted, so there wasn't any difference imposed on me. That said, I was certainly conscious of the fact that I was writing for a different audience when my work appeared on SI.com, so I went into more detail explaining some of the more advanced statistics I utilized. I also tended to use SI.com for the bigger stories (especially during the postseason) while saving some of the more esoteric columns for 82games.com. (Now, because BP and SI.com have a content agreement, they're picking some of my columns and those of our other NBA writers to appear on both sites.)
How long have you been moderating the APBRmetrics forum? What type of visitors do you get (I've noticed John Hollinger posts there, among others)? How often do you post?
The APBRmetrics forum is an offshoot of a Yahoo! group that started in 2001. I found it the next year and started posting, which was how I "met" (online) the leaders in the field like Hollinger, Dean Oliver and Dan Rosenbaum who I now consider friends. At some point, it became clear that Yahoo! did not offer enough functionality, so I put together a true message board on my Web site in late December 2004 and invited everyone to move over.
The great thing about APBRmetrics is the diversity of voices, from the aforementioned pioneers working for teams or writing about the league to fans who are just starting to learn about statistical analysis. You have some people who are experts in math and statistics, and then others with more of a coaching/playing background. There's a little something for everything. I tend to post less often than I did a few years ago, partially because a lot of my thought is directed toward my columns now, but a few times a week at least.
Are the Orlando Magic, as currently constructed, capable of winning an NBA Title this season? If yes, why? If no, why not?
I would say yes. To win a title, generally a team needs to either be very good at both ends of the floor or elite at one end and at least adequate on the other. Third in the league in Defensive Rating (as part of a trio of teams, along with Boston and Cleveland, that has separated themselves from everyone else in the league) and in the league's top 10 in Offensive Rating, the Magic qualifies under the latter criterion. Orlando is outscoring opponents by 8.4 points per game, which is basically as good as any champion team since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls (the best since then was the 1999-00 Lakers, at +8.5). I don't see any reason to say this team could not win a championship.
To follow up on the previous question, do you believe Orlando will win a championship in the next five years?
I'm going to say no, not necessarily as any indictment of the Magic but more because I don't think I would answer yes for anyone in the league save the Lakers, Cleveland and Boston. Odds are one of those teams will win multiple championships, so there's not going to be a lot to go around for the rest of the league. The more interesting angle might be which team you would put fourth in terms of chances of winning a championship in the next five years after the top three. That would basically mean picking amongst Houston, New Orleans, New York (the 2010 factor), Orlando, Portland and Utah, and I'd probably put the Magic tops in that group. The caveat is that in the future Orlando will need to get improvement from Dwight Howard or to upgrade the core to offset the aging of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu (assuming Turkoglu is re-signed in the offseason).
It's been no secret that Anthony Johnson has been a weak link in the chain so far this season for the Magic. So has Keith Bogans, but the team has been able to mask his play with their depth at two-guard. Is Johnson's poor numbers strictly due to his age? Or are there other factors involved?
If by other factors you mean he wasn't all that good in the first place. … No, Johnson had a very nice run as a backup point guard in Indiana, but guys like that don't tend to age very well, and Johnson is no exception to that trend.
To follow up on the previous question, who do you feel would be an appropriate back-up PG for Orlando? Do the Magic have the resources to trade for this player?
It's a tough fit, because you've only got about 15 minutes a night available behind Nelson and the depth at shooting guard makes it unlikely you'll see a lot of two-point lineups. Earl Watson would be a guy who would be an upgrade, but he would be unhappy with that role and makes too much money to put in such a limited role. Kyle Lowry would make more sense if he could somehow be pried away from the Grizzlies (maybe they'd have better luck luring Fran Vazquez to the U.S. with Marc Gasol on the roster and would be interested in his rights? No? OK). C.J. Watson, as discussed lately, makes sense. One wild-card option would be Ronnie Price of Utah, who has put up solid numbers in limited minutes over the course of his career and is out of the rotation when the Jazz is healthy (which is never, this season).
Given your recent article on Basketball Prospectus discussing the merits of who is the best point guard in the East and the fact that you ranked Jameer Nelson third behind Devin Harris & Rajon Rando, I'd like to know where you would rank Nelson overall among the floor generals in the NBA?
Naturally, part of the reason that column is interesting is that the best point guards in the league are generally in the West. I don't envy coaches who have to decide who's going to make the All-Star team at the point out West. You have a few tiers of point guards:
Steve Nash (I know, this feels like blasphemy, but …)
Out of that last tier, I would probably have Nelson at the top right now, so that would put him eighth in the league. The point worth noting is that we are in a golden age of NBA point guards right now. I just named 11 point guards amongst the league's best and did not even get to Mike Bibby, Andre Miller, Derrick Rose, Rodney Stuckey or Mo Williams.
With the uncertainty surrounding Hedo Turkoglu's future with Orlando after this season, what players out there could the Magic pursue that could equate Turkoglu's production without sacrificing the team's excellent chemistry?
At a quick glance, I'm not seeing a ton of guys that would make sense. The best fit might be a player Magic fans are certainly familiar with - Mike Miller. In terms of guys who can score and handle the ball, he's a pretty close match for Turkoglu. Alas, for some reason Miller has decided to stop shooting the ball this year, which has hurt his value. Travis Outlaw is going to be a free agent and offers athleticism and wing shooting with the ability to play some power forward. He doesn't handle it well, though you could give more ballhandling duties to Nelson. As far as the trade route, John Salmons would be a decent fit if the Kings decided Donte Greene was ready for a larger role. Overall, it's going to be hard to replace Turkoglu next summer, so unless the Magic is really convinced he's out the door and moves him now, re-signing him looks like the best option.
Does Dwight Howard have the potential to go down as the greatest center of all-time? Or will that title stick with (presumably) Wilt Chamberlain?
When you consider what he's accomplished through age 23, he's certainly got a shot, but Chamberlain is going to be pretty difficult to dislodge. The start of Howard's career is fairly similar to that of another all-time great center who just happened to start his career in a Magic uniform, of course.
Many Magic fans expect the team to have two All-Stars represented this year in Phoenix. Apart from Dwight, both Jameer Nelson & Rashard Lewis have popped up as possible sidekicks to accompany Superman to the desert. It's becoming increasingly clear that Nelson (the more deserving player) may get snubbed due to the fact he has to compete with a number of guards for a reserve spot. Since Lewis doesn't have that problem as a forward, it's looking like he may be the more realistic choice to be a reserve. With all that said, is he deserving of the honor?
Yes. I actually have Lewis and Nelson nearly identical in terms of overall value when you account for the fact that Lewis has played 350 (and change) more minutes this season. If I was picking my roster today, I don't think I would have either player, but they're both certainly very much in the range of deserving candidates -- probably next in line in the frontcourt and the backcourt in my mind. In real life, Ray Allen will probably be ahead of Nelson, which is why Lewis has the easier path to the All-Star Game.
Again, I like to thank Kevin for allowing me to pick his brain a bit and gather his thoughts on a variety of topics. This definitely won't be the last time 3QC speaks with him.
On the dock for next week (if everything goes to plan) will be an interview with another Basketball Prospectus writer & stats expert, Bradford Doolittle. Be on the lookout for that Q/A, soon to come.