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March 4, 12:00 PM ET
Chat with John Hollinger

John Hollinger
  (12:06 PM)

Greetings everyone. Got a big weekend ahead of us for the analytics community, as Geekapalooza - aka the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference -- happens Saturday in Beantown. Will talk about that or anything else that's on your mind (well, basketball-related things ....

Trint (Indy)

John,Which Suns are for real? The one's that started 14-3 and are 13-3 in their last 16 or the one's that couldn't play .500 ball in-between? Can they compete with the top teams in the League?

John Hollinger
  (12:08 PM)

Both and neither. You saw this team's floor and its ceiling in those stretches. I think their ability to win a round in the postseason depends largely on matchups and whether they can get home court in the opening round, but I certainly don't see them in the conference finals. Incidentally, Robin Lopez is the feature performer in today's PER Diem on players who have improved over the course of the season... should be up soon.

Steve (Centreville, VA)

Can the Bulls hold on to a playoff spot with Noah missing at least 3 more weeks?

John Hollinger
  (12:10 PM)

Steve -- for about two weeks now I've been projecting that the Charlotte-Chicago game on the last day of the season will determine the No. 8 spot in the East. Fittingly, both have injured defensive-minded centers with foot problems. I suspect Milwaukee will take No. 5, Miami's easy schedule will gift it No. 6, and Toronto will right its ship once Bosh comes back and grab No. 7.

David (NYC)

John I thought the trade by the mavs for Butler and Haywood gives them toughness they never had and will make them a tough out in the playoffs, Dirk is as good as he ever was, how do you like their chances to beat the nuggets? How about the Lakers?

John Hollinger
  (12:12 PM)

I'm still highly skeptical. Scoring margin is a better predictor of future success than win-loss record; Dallas is 8th of the 8 likely West playoff teams in that metric. The trade makes them better, but those numbers haven't improved significantly since the deal, and of course they're not the only team that got players at or near the deadline.

Sam (alabama)

No way Dallas is the 14th best team in the league, as according to your power rankings. No Way!

John Hollinger
  (12:13 PM)

A lot of Dallas fans up in arms about this -- they fell two more spots after a rather unimpressive home escape against Minnesota last night. Again, scoring margin generally tells us a lot more about a team than win-loss record; what it's telling us about Dallas isn't what Mavs fans want to hear.

Rob (NY)

Does OKC get past the 1st round? How much will lack of experience in the playoffs be for them?

John Hollinger
  (12:16 PM)

I don't think anybody is really excited to play them, I'll put it that way. I think experience is overrated in the postseason, but matchups are not, and Utah is only West elite team they've matched up well against so far.

Chris Bosh (Toronto)

Really John? Do you think i'll let us slip down to no.7? I think my squad stack up better than Milwaukee and Miami....so what gives/

John Hollinger
  (12:18 PM)

Milwaukee is playing really well right now -- check out their performance since the Salmons trade. But more importantly, both Miami and Milwaukee have a much forgiving schedule than the Raps the rest of the way.

T Cell (Whitehorse, Yukon)

It's been reported that MJ paid $175 million for the Bobcats, a team that paid an expansion fee of $300 million only seven years ago. Assuming the figures are accurate, how much money was Bob Johnson losing that he was willing to take that kind of loss? And what does it say about the financial health of the league?

John Hollinger
  (12:20 PM)

Supposedly they're losing $40 mil this year and next year, which is part of the reason the purchase price was so low. Charlotte was among the least healthy teams in the league financially, but you're correct that this isn't a particularly good omen.

Jim (San Antonio)

Why did Finley really leave the Spurs? What are the chances he actually gets "playing time" for a contender! He couldn't even crack the Spurs rotation.

John Hollinger
  (12:21 PM)

I'm dubious as well, but he wanted a shot and he wasn't going to get it in San Anto. A couple of teams are desperate enough for wing depth that they might roll the dice.

Tim Duncan (San Antonio)

Tell me I'm getting at least to the Western Finals.

John Hollinger
  (12:23 PM)

Not sure you're getting out of Round 1, actually. I'll say this tough -- the Spurs have looked better over the past few weeks. If they can get Tony back at full strength they can still be a tough out. Problem right now is that closing schedule is so difficult they may end up No. 8 and facing L.A.

Joe (C-bus)

What differences do you notice between teams that use more high-tech statistical analysis versus teams that don't rely so much on that when evaluating their team? Are teams like Houston really more likely to find diamonds in the rough through numbers rather than just relying on scouting?

John Hollinger
  (12:25 PM)

We don't know yet, basically, because we don't have a large enough sample. It does seem that the analytic teams (Houston and Dallas, for instance) have had a bit more success in this department, but when you're only looking at a couple transactions a year by a handful of teams, it becomes extremely difficult to prove empirically.

Brian (SF)

Is this going to be the easiest MVP vote in league history? Lebron has always been a stats outlier, but this year it's getting weird. +4 lead in PER...

John Hollinger
  (12:27 PM)

LeBron is having one of the greatest seasons of all time. The only question is whether he'll be a unanimous vote or if some pea-brained homer will vote for his/her local star instead.

Taj (Dallas)

Mavs post-trade point differential is +5.1, quite a bit better than their season average 2.3. If the Mavs continue this increased point differential advantage will you believe?

John Hollinger
  (12:31 PM)

You're right it's better since the trade ... and it needs to be. Even at +5.1, they're short of the Lakers/Magic/Cavs and basically even with the Hawks/Nuggets/Jazz/Celtics ... and that's looking at them in the best light we possibly can.

Jazzfan (Philly)

It's March and that means one thing: time for another late season collapse by the Jazz. Will the recent disappointing losses become a trend?

John Hollinger
  (12:34 PM)

Wow, this is unique. It's impressive that you've taken a Philly fan"s instinctive negativity and applied it to a team like the Jazz whose fans are usually among the most rah-rah out there. I wouldn't worry too much about the last couple losses and I wouldn't worry if they lose in Phoenix tonight; I would, however, be worried if they lost more than a handful of games the rest of this month, because their schedule is quite easy.

David (Dallas)

What do you think the Mavs can realistically do in the offseason with Dampiers contract and possibly Butlers (trades/sign-and-trades) that could significantly bolster their future ranking?

John Hollinger
  (12:36 PM)

They can do a LOT of things, it's going to be a huge weapon because they can get a team like New Orleans under the cap instaneously. I don't think the Hornets will do Damp for CP, or anything for CP for that matter, but David West might a different story. Dallas doesn't necessarily need West, but if they make it a 3-way trade and get an ace wing player, then we're getting somewhere. That's just one example among potentially 30 or 40; the biggest problem they'll have is sorting through all the options this gives them.

Mike (Akron)

What exactly goes on at Dorkapalooza? What do you guys talk about?

John Hollinger
  (12:38 PM)

The most interesting part to me is learning about what people are doing in the other sports and how I might be able to apply them back to basketball. But I learn stuff about hoops too -- such as a fascinating study on the "hot hand" theory presented a year ago.

Chris (Indy)

Why did the Pacers sign Earl Watson and Dahntay Jones?

John Hollinger
  (12:39 PM)

I wondered the same thing. Indy made matters worse by imagining Jones was some kind of emerging offensive force; I couldn't believe how many touches he was getting early in the season. Pacers' roster is a mess right now, and the clean-up may take a while.

Trey (Dallas)

Orlando looks like the deepest team in the league to me, and they are obviously a contender. Is there a correlation between team depth and playoff success since most teams shorten their rotation come playoff time?

John Hollinger
  (12:41 PM)

Actually, it's a slightly negative correlation -- in other words, having a strong bench is of more value in the regular season than it is in the playoffs, and it becomes progressively less valuable as the series goes deeper. This, of course, is because the starters play so many more minutes in the postseason.

Mark (Dallas)

I know you are a numbers guy and more often than not I agree with you. I think Dallas will be a prime example for years to come about the ability of your power ranking system to predict the future. Why? Because Dallas is 13-2 in games decided by 5 points or less, the have what is called veteran savy and probably the best assembly of clutch performers in the league and a "tough" team in general. The Mavs are what the Spurs were a couple years ago. Am I right with that assesment and can you understand why Mavs fans see their team in a more positive light than you do because of this?

John Hollinger
  (12:45 PM)

Actually they're 16-5 in those games, but let's proceed -- I have this debate every year with fans from a different team that happens to be fortunate in close games. They all think their players have magical clutch powers, but they don't. There is NO correlation -- none -- in that stat from year to year, even with teams that keep their personnel remarkably stable. I know Mavs fans are convinced Kidd is the greatest clutch player in history, for instance, but his Nets team in 2002-03 actually had the worst differential between their actual record and that expected by their scoring margin -- 49 wins with a 5.3 margin -- of any team in the last decade.

Steve (Cleveland)

How much of the Cavs ranking is hedging your bet about where Lebron signs? If he stays, where would they be? Also, why is their front office ranking so low? The Cavs have been able to get the upper hand in most of their transactions.

John Hollinger
  (12:46 PM)

The front office ranking is fair I think - a lot of their moves haven't worked out, but ownership has always been there to bail them out of tight spots by throwing money at their problems. Mike Brown is a better coach than people realize, and that was part of the grade too. If it was just front office they probably would have rated lower.

eggy (Portland)

The Trailblazers have the fewest remaining games out of any nba team. Does this positively or negatively affect the momentum they could gain going into the playoffs (if they make it that is!)

John Hollinger
  (12:48 PM)

They'll be more rested, which helps, but it's unfortunate too -- the Blazers would love to have a ton of games now since they finally have everybody healthy. By the way, Portland with the additions of Batum and Camby now looks sneaky-dangerous for playoffs.

Jackson (Twin Cities)

When looking at the futures rankings, shouldn't the Timberwolves be higher than stuck in the mud teams like Detroit? They have a lot of assets going forward between Rubio, Pekovic, 3 draft picks and salary cap space.

John Hollinger
  (12:49 PM)

Basically, we're not sure they know what they're doing yet. It's not as bad as the McHale era, where we were darn sure they DIDN'T know what they were doing, but we can't rate the organization very highly until we see some aspects of a plan starting to form. If they get Rubio and Pekovic in uniform their rating will move way up, but we've yet to get much reassuring information on that front.

Mike (Reno, NV)

Professor Hollinger. Where does the Dragon (Goran Dragic) fall in the most improved list? You were really down on him last year and now he at least is competent in your eyes yes?

John Hollinger
  (12:52 PM)

He is one of the most improved players in the league, without question. The change in his jump shot has been nothing short of amazing -- last year he had this weird line-drive flick off his shoulder that had no chance; now all of a sudden his lofting high-arcing 3s with great form. I have no idea who worked with him or what he/she did, but that's an impressive turnaround. My favorite moment -- the Suns-Spurs game I went to in early December; Spurs kept conceding 3s to him and then looking back at the coaches with puzzled expressions when he kept hitting them.

greg (SoPo, Maine)

With N.O have only a 2% chance of making the playoffs, according to your guide, why would they even consider bringing CP3 back for the end of the season?

John Hollinger
  (12:53 PM)

If he's healthy and good to go, why not? 2% isn't 0%, and those extra home playoff date$$$ would be huge for them.

Nathan (Madison, WI)

In your view in this upcoming offseason do you feel that Richard Hamilton or Tayshaun Price will yield much in trade value for the Pistons?

John Hollinger
  (12:54 PM)

Hamilton, maybe. Prince -- can't see it. Both make too much for their current production and I'm not sure what the Pistons can expect in return beyond an expiring deal.

Jackson (Twin Cities)

Mr. Hollinger, what kind of value does Nikola Pekovic have? What could the Wolves get for him in a trade? Thank you for answering my question.

John Hollinger
  (12:55 PM)

Arguably the best player in Europe -- a bit short for a 4 but a beast around the basket. Problem with any trade scenario is ability to sign him -- Professor Fordjovic knows the details but I believe he's signed for pretty big money for three or four years.

Ash (CA)

Why don't more teams tack on a final year of big money with a tiny buyout like with Damp's contract? Seems like the smart thing to do.

John Hollinger
  (12:57 PM)

It is, and teams have increasingly resorted to doing so. But it takes two to tango -- for instance, I'm sure Philly would have loved to do a Dampier-style final year on Elton Brand's deal, but if they'd tried to do so he wouldn't have signed. (Turns out that wouldn't have been such a bad thing, obviously, but they didn't know that at the time).

Dave (Orlando)

Is it just me, or is Orlando... especially Jameer... starting to play better recently?

John Hollinger
  (12:58 PM)

yes and yes. When I was down there for the Cleveland game after the break, it was the first time this year I felt like I was seeing the Orlando team that had made the Finals.

Daron (NYC)

Are the Jazz truly committed to winning a championship, or just being good every year while being financially conservative at the same time. With their signing of a D-leaguer for the 13th spot it kind of seems like they aren't truly committed and not willing to pay the $$$ for a true title contender. Your thoughts?

John Hollinger
  (1:00 PM)

Yes and no. They are paying luxury tax for this team and did step up to match the offer to Millsap, so you can't exactly accuse them of being skinflints. And for what it's worth, I like Othyus Jeffers and though he should have been in the league last year. That said, the Brewer/Maynor trades showed the limits of their enthusiasm financially .... put it this way: I expect Utah to be one of the teams lobbying hardest for a hard cap.

Tim (Boston)

John, what do you think about possible PEDs in the NBA?

John Hollinger
  (1:02 PM)

All we can do is speculate, and that's inappropriate to do in print. It does trouble a lot of people, including me, that the league seems unusually content to assume that everything's fine. If you'll recall, that used to be baseball's stance too.

Rob (Cleveland, OH)

But isn't Orlando still worse than last year? And aren't the Cavs better and more versatile than last year? I just don't see Orlando being able to knock them off two years in a row.

John Hollinger
  (1:03 PM)

I agree completely on the latter point. Not sure I'm with you on the first one though -- if Jameer and Vince keep playing like they did in Feb, that's a pretty big upgrade on Alston + Turkoglu.

Mike B (NJ)

John, in regards to your response about the deep bench being a negative in the post season I don't understand. As long as your deep bench is there to cover for bad starters which Orlando does not really have. Can you explain further? Thanks!

John Hollinger
  (1:05 PM)

It's not as big an advantage as it is in the regular season ... which means, other things being equal, a team with a strong bench will likely underperform its regular season performance in the playoffs. Orlando is at least somewhat unusual in this respect -- they have four very good starters, so the postseason minutes shift shouldn't hit them as hard as it would, say, Milwaukee.

Drew (Cleveland)

I just read your column for todays most improved over the course of the season. Im wondering how jj hickson did not make the list. it seems to me like he has been over looked all year but just keeps on putting up steady performances night after night

John Hollinger
  (1:07 PM)

Hickson was on my original list but didn't make the cut when I had to whittle it down to ten. You're right, he's made solid progress this year.

Daniel (St. Louis)

Can Andray Blatche keep up his torrid play? Do you think he's a potential #2 option on a real team?

John Hollinger
  (1:09 PM)

Can he? Absolutely -- nobody doubts his talent. Will he? There's the rub. His work ethic and dedication have been major issues his whole career. Perhaps he's matured at 23 and finally figured thins out, which would be a great story. It would also make him about the league's biggest bargain: he makes $3.2 and $3.5 million the next two years.

John Hollinger
  (1:11 PM)

Folks, that's all the time I have, but thanks again for all the great questions. We'll do this again at the same time next week.