Pelton mailbag: Where would Jahlil Okafor fit best?

Welcome to another edition of my weekly NBA mailbag.

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

"What's your assessment of the Golden State Warriors' center personnel? Do you think Zaza Pachulia is proving to be a good fit? Is JaVale McGee showing true starter potential or is he still too prone to defensive mistakes?" -- Alan Reder

After his slow start, it seems like Pachulia has been about what we expected: an efficient scorer who can benefit from the talent around him, an excellent playmaker from the high post and a solid defensive rebounder. There might be some playoff matchups that are problematic, but for the most part he's a solid starter.

As for McGee, I do think he's made strides in terms of his defensive discipline. I'm skeptical of him as more than a fill-in starter, but I think the Warriors can reasonably enter the playoffs with him as the backup. If McGee struggles, coach Steve Kerr has the luxury of going smaller and sliding David West over to the middle, and naturally I'd expect more minutes from Draymond Green in the middle come the postseason. So I think Golden State is in fine shape at center.

what would be the best situation or team for Okafor ? #peltonmailbag

- anieb1 (@anieb1) February 16, 2017
I think we're looking for two things:

1. A stretch-4 who can help Jahlil Okafor with rim protection and on the defensive glass.

2. A willingness to build an offense around Okafor's skills.

Atlanta (Paul Millsap), Milwaukee (consider Giannis Antetokounmpo a 4 for these purposes), Minnesota (same with Karl-Anthony Towns), New Orleans (Anthony Davis) and Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) score well in the first category. Of course, not all of those teams need a center. And the trick is that while playing with those elite power forwards might maximize Okafor's skills, it's probably not the best complement for the existing star. The Kings aren't likely to kick Cousins out of the post for Okafor, for example.

In the event that the Philadelphia 76ers were to hold on to Okafor through the trade deadline, I think the Bucks would be a good fit if Greg Monroe opts out of his contract and signs elsewhere this summer. Okafor could slide into that role.

For now, I think the Pelicans are probably the best fit. Given they're 27th in offensive rating, they have less to lose by rebuilding their offense around Okafor than most teams. So it's understandable to me that New Orleans has been linked to an Okafor trade.

Jazz slumping or do they just struggle with beating good teams? #peltonquestions

- Joseph Horner (@JosephHorner) February 16, 2017
There does seem to be some evidence Utah is less effective against top opposition. Splitting their game difficulty (based on opponent point differential, adjusted for home/road but not rest or travel), the Jazz's margin of victory is 2.2 points better than expected in the top third of their games by difficulty, plus-5.4 in the middle third and plus-4.2 in the bottom third.

At the same time, the standard deviations of those estimates are between two and three points per game, so there's a pretty good chance this effect is nothing more than randomness. More generally, this is why I'm skeptical of record against playoff teams or other similar measures. What they gain in representativeness is outweighed by their loss in reliability. To the extent teams truly have unique abilities against different types of opponents, I don't think they play enough of those games to truly detect it in most cases.

Back to Utah: Because those games were at home, none of the team's three recent losses (to the Boston Celtics and LA Clippers, as well as the Dallas Mavericks) actually ranked in the top third in difficulty. And they were bookended by two dominant road wins and a blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers at home Wednesday.

Here's a graph of the Jazz's game scores -- again, margin of victory adjusted for location and opponent point differential -- over the course of the season, along with a five-game average.

There are certainly real changes in ability in there in terms of injuries, but they're hard to detect from the chart, which looks a lot like a random walk. In other words: Streaks happen.

"I've seen on previous chats you discuss ways of discouraging tanking, but have never seen you discuss this solution: Rather than have teams play for their own draft pick, they play for another team.

"For example, the last-place team this year would choose which team will play for their pick the following year, and then according to where that team finishes, they will receive the appropriate pick. The second-to-last-place team gets the second pick of which team will play for their pick next year, etc.

"No tanking because teams will not be playing for their own pick, so they would only be benefiting another team by losing. And this solution still allows the worst teams to generally get the better picks. And finally, there would be intrigue as to what teams are picked by which teams -- heck, I'm sure the NBA could figure out a way to generate money on the day the picks occur to replace the revenue lost on lottery night. Thoughts?" -- Jason Uslaner

This is the kind of solution I like because it doesn't create a bigger problem in terms of taking away hope from fans of losing teams. Of course, there is still incentive to lose games here to improve your pick in such a draft -- and drafting teams is the most difficult part of this scenario to imagine taking place in reality -- but it's now delayed a year, disconnected from the excitement of the upcoming draft and randomized because the first pick in such a draft wouldn't necessarily be the worst team the following season.

I think the simpler solution is to keep the system as is but delay picks a year -- that is, record in the 2015-16 season determines order for the 2017 lottery -- but I like this line of thinking.

For more on this draft idea, check out a similar proposal via FiveThirtyEight with a response from NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

#peltonmailbag how many players in history have increased their ppg for 7 straight seasons the way Gordon Hayward might accomplish this yr?

- Sean Seastrand (@seasublime) February 10, 2017
I'd call it six consecutive seasons, since his rookie season isn't really an increase. In that case, Hayward isn't in particularly exclusive company: Thirty-eight players since the ABA-NBA merger have increased their scoring average five seasons in a row.

If Hayward indeed makes it to six -- and that looks pretty likely as he's averaging 22.2 points per game, up from 19.7 last season -- he'll join a group of 13 players. Arron Afflalo, Elden Campbell, Alex English, Derek Harper, Avery Johnson, DeAndre Jordan, Shawn Kemp, Kevin McHale, Michael Redd, Malik Rose and Earl Watson did it over their first seven seasons, like Hayward, while J.J. Redick did it starting in his third season and Maurice Cheeks his fourth.

Improving your scoring average seven seasons in a row is even more difficult. Just three players have done that since the merger: Harper, Jordan and Redick. Jordan's streak is still active, though since he scored 12.7 points per game last season, he's going to have to improve his current 12.0 average to become the first player in modern NBA history to up his per-game scoring eight seasons in a row.
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