Pelton mailbag: What are the odds Warriors sweep the field? – ESPN

This week’s mailbag features your questions on whether the Golden State Warriors can sweep the playoff field, bizarre Hall of Fame cases and an ingenious new playoff seeding idea.

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


Well, that depends on which numbers and what assumptions you make. The Warriors could face many different teams in the Western Conference finals and NBA Finals, should they make it that far, and their odds would vary depending on the opposition.

To simplify, let’s say that Golden State faces the highest-seeded team throughout the West playoffs and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. (Sorry, Boston Celtics fans.) In that case, applying the model I use to predict series based on regular-season point differential and head-to-head results (not counting the Finals, where head-to-head is no longer meaningful) offers the following chances:

  • First round (Portland): 63.4 percent

  • Conference semifinals (LA Clippers): 46.2 percent

  • Conference finals (San Antonio): 10.1 percent

  • NBA Finals (Cleveland): 29.0 percent

Collectively, that’s just a 0.9 percent chance of an unprecedented playoff run for the Warriors. While the sweep probability against San Antonio is probably underestimated because of Golden State resting stars in one of the three head-to-head meetings, the chances of sweeping Cleveland and Portland (if Jusuf Nurkic plays) are probably overestimated. So I’d say 100:1 against are reasonable odds.


“I love the NBA, but wish the NBA Finals would pair the two best teams more often than it does. On the other hand, I do understand that a benefit of the current conference setup is that teams are more likely to have repeat playoff matchups vs. an opponent, which engenders rivalries. So, here’s my idea. I would keep the current conference playoff format through the first two rounds, but reseed at the point that four teams remained. What do you think?” – Al

That’s a pretty ingenious idea, all things considered. Ahead of building rivalries, the strongest argument against a single-league playoff format is travel. In a presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, NBA senior VP of basketball strategy and analytics Evan Wasch showed that removing conferences would create matchups in which teams traveled across three time zones (not possible until the NBA Finals now) some 18 percent of the time, while matchups occurring within the same time zone would decrease from 55 percent to 30 percent.

Time zones present many problems for 16-team playoffs. If three of the four home teams during the conference semifinals were in the Eastern time zone, for example, it would force one of them to start games at 9:30 p.m. local time at earliest to make the national TV doubleheader work.

Your suggestion manages to solve both of those problems. While it would likely increase travel, at most we’re talking about going from one cross-country series (in the NBA Finals) to three, and often the difference wouldn’t be that great because teams from the same conference would play each other. And waiting until the semifinals means the doubleheader issue no longer exists. So you might have sold me on this one.


“Can you please explain the inclusion of Klay Thompson in All-Star and all NBA discussions? Klay has had a surprisingly mediocre season, but people only seem to notice his occasional scoring outburst. His PER is close to average at 17.57, and for all the talk of his defense, he rates as a minus defender per DRPM, even while on a top defensive team. Throw in his below-average assist and rebounding rates at the SG position, and it’s hard to argue that he’s been more than a really good one-dimensional player. He’s a phenomenal shooter, don’t get me wrong. But for all the focus on advanced metrics these days, everyone seems to ignore them when evaluating Thompson’s performance this year.” – Jason Bowlsby

I don’t know that there’s a particularly strong All-NBA case for Thompson this year unless you want to give him extra credit for playing shooting guard. All six players who made my All-NBA team at guard play the point, if you count James Harden that way.

However, I do think you’re undervaluing Thompson’s production. Although in general players with blocks and steals rates similar to his are poor defenders, I do think it’s possible to be a good defender without those box-score contributions. And 2016-17 RAPM (the version of adjusted plus-minus from RPM co-creator Jerry Engelmann that doesn’t include box-score stats and looks only at team performance with a player on and off the court) has Thompson in the neighborhood of elite wing defenders Jimmy Butler, Danny Green and Andre Roberson.

Add in the spacing Thompson’s shooting and movement without the basketball provide and I would consider him one of the 20 to 25 best players in the NBA, though probably not one of the best 15.


Well, bizarre is probably a subjective thing, but Joe Johnson‘s is certainly an interesting case. I noted during the summer of 2015 that Johnson was headed for the 20,000-point mark that has almost always historically resulted in Hall of Fame induction (with one exception). So it was exciting to be in the building last Saturday as Johnson reached the milestone against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Johnson’s seven All-Star appearances also bode well for his Hall of Fame chances. Jack Sikma is the only contemporary player who made at least seven All-Star Games who is not in the Hall of Fame. (Larry Foust, a 1950s center who made eight All-Star appearances in an era where there were twice as many All-Stars as teams, is the other player with more than seven who’s not in the Hall of Fame.)

At the same time, the reason Johnson’s Hall of Fame case is unusual is his value metrics don’t suggest he belongs. Johnson ranks outside the top 250 all time in my championships added metric and his 70 career wins above replacement player (WARP) would be among the lowest totals for a Hall of Famer without notable college or international experience as part of his case.

Additionally, Johnson made just one All-NBA appearance, as part of the third team in 2009-10. The lack of All-NBA credit has been a sticking point for Sikma, who had the misfortune of peaking during a period when there were just two All-NBA teams and those nods almost always went to fellow centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone. So it will be interesting to see how the Hall deals with Johnson when he eventually calls it a career.


Speaking of bizarre Hall of Fame cases, Andre Iguodala could join Bill Walton as the second player in NBA history to win both Finals MVP and the Sixth Man Award. There’s certainly a case for Iguodala, whose ability to help his teams win has generally exceeded his box-score statistics. If I had to choose one of them to play on my team for their entire career I’d take Iguodala over Johnson. But I doubt the Hall of Fame committee will be able to look past Iguodala’s single All-Star appearance without an All-NBA nod.

Pelton mailbag: What are the odds Warriors sweep the field? – ESPN