Pelton mail: Will Marvin Bagley III's decision boost the Celtics?


This week’s mailbag features your questions on Marvin Bagley III’s reclassification, the teammates of Chris Paul and LeBron James, and more.

You can tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to

“Why couldn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers simply replace Kyrie Irving‘s production with an increase in Kevin Love‘s? If you compare those two players’ most productive seasons, Love has shown the ability to be as efficient (measured in TS%) with nearly as high usage rates as Irving’s. Bring in someone like Eric Bledsoe to replace Love’s Cavs production — last year, Bledsoe was nearly as efficient with noticeably higher usage — and in terms of efficient production, you may even come out ahead.

“Obviously this question has lots of unknowns — Does that Love still exist? Can the Cavs create an offensive system that leverages his talents? Can Irving’s incredible iso abilities be replaced by anything? — but in terms of raw numbers, it seems plausible to me.”

– Eric Black

So, I think there are two major issues with this notion. The first is one that you address, the possibility that the Love who shouldered a usage rate near 30 percent with above-average efficiency in 2011-12 and 2013-14 simply no longer exists due to injuries and age-related decline.

Back then, Love got a higher percentage of his attempts within three feet than he has as his game has drifted to the perimeter, and he also made them at a higher rate: 66.9 percent accuracy in 2013-14, per, which was a career-high by a wide margin. The past two seasons, Love has made just 55.5 percent of those shots. Playing inside also translated into frequent free throw attempts for Love, which boosted his efficiency.

Intriguingly, according to, Love was quite efficient in the small sample of 142 minutes he played last season as Cleveland’s lone All-Star on the court, posting a .606 true shooting percentage while using more than 40 percent of the team’s plays.

Even if Love is up to the task, however, I think the bigger issue is thinking of NBA offense as additive in this sense. There are too many interaction effects between teammates, most notably in terms of the gravitational pull a good outside shooter like Irving exerts on a defense. The Cavaliers would still be replacing a 40.1 percent 3-point shooter in 2016-17 (38.3 percent career) with one who has made just 33.4 percent of his career 3-point attempts.

In playoff settings in particular, Bledsoe’s shooting would be a major downgrade from Irving even if Cleveland didn’t necessarily miss Irving’s shot creation. And I don’t think the upgrade defensively would make up for that sacrifice.

“I have always had issues with the idea of stars who make players better. LeBron James & Chris Paul have the reputations of making players better and get critical acclaim for doing so. In reality, players who play with LeBron James and Chris Paul appear to regress skillwise. It is certainly true LeBron and CP3 create easy shots and make the game easier for players they are on the floor with, but the players themselves struggle with simple basketball concepts when LeBron and CP3 aren’t on the floor. LeBron and CP3 have created so much dependence that the players are lost without them.”

— Joseph Brown

I’m not sure I get the argument with Paul given that Doc Rivers has famously resisted staggering the minutes of his stars. The Clippers have struggled with Paul on the bench largely because they’re running out lineups of five backups, and it’s hard for those players to become dependent on Paul when they rarely play with him.

It’s certainly true that James’ teams have tended to underperform what you’d expect with him on the bench given the star talent around him in Miami and during his current tenure in Cleveland, something I don’t totally understand. Former Cavaliers GM David Griffin’s comments on The Jump (mentioned in the question before I edited it for length) saw him take the blame for not doing a good enough job of communicating to players the opportunity for them when James sat out games to rest.

I do think there’s an element where teammates become accustomed to James carrying a heavy load and struggle with the adjustment when he’s off the court. I don’t buy that they “regress skillwise” since I don’t think there is a long-term impact like this when James leaves or his teammates change teams. I’m also not sure that the solution here — I guess James not doing as much? — is better than the problem.

“Curious if/how Marvin Bagley III’s reclassification changes how you view this summer’s Boston Celtics/Philadelphia 76ers trade.”

– Jonathan Dennis

Not much. Bagley was always going to be in one of the two drafts where the picks from that trade could fall. To refresh everyone’s memory, Boston gets the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 2018 first-round pick if it falls from 2 to 5. Otherwise, the Celtics get the better of first-round picks from Philadelphia and the Sacramento Kings in 2019 unless one of those picks lands No. 1, in which case Boston gets the other’s pick.

Adding Bagley to the 2018 mix makes the top of that draft even stronger, so if the Celtics do get the Lakers’ pick, then it’s likely to be better. At the same time, the Lakers adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez this offseason has reduced the chances their pick does fall in that narrow band — running simulations using our projections based on ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM) shows Boston getting the pick about a quarter of the time — so a stronger 2019 draft might have been better for the Celtics.

In terms of draft prospects specifically, I think Canadian wing R.J. Barrett reclassifying to the 2018 recruiting class — and thus potentially the 2019 draft — is a bigger deal for Boston than Bagley’s move.

Given that Cody Zeller‘s minutes have always been somewhat limited and Dwight Howard should probably play fewer so as to stay fresh at this stage of his career, I’m not sure there will be a huge difference in playing time between which center starts and which comes off the bench.

In the spirit of the question … I’m not sure. In terms of box score stats, Howard remains far more productive than Zeller. He’s a much better defensive rebounder — given Charlotte already had the league’s second-best defensive-rebound percentage, it’s possible nobody grabs an offensive board against the Hornets all season — and a superior rim protector. Yet Zeller has rated far better in terms of RPM impact, which reflects his edge in mobility and perhaps his willingness to accept a smaller role on offense.

From a fit standpoint, it’s likely that Zeller will be less effective in the pick-and-roll game playing without Kemba Walker. According to, Zeller shot 58.0 percent last season when playing with Walker and just 50.0 percent when the All-Star point guard was on the bench. However, Howard was even more effective than Zeller as a roll man (his 65.9 percent shooting ranked fourth among players with at least 50 attempts as a roll man, per Synergy Sports tracking on, as compared to 52.3 percent for Zeller) so I think that’s probably still an edge as long as Howard is willing to roll hard to the basket instead of trying to shoot 3s or post up.

Are the Sonics back in Seattle yet?

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