Is scouting basketball an art or a science?
Assessing player performance and basketball IQ is only part of the job. A basketball explorer must analyze who the player is – and predict who that player will be. But what distinguishes a good scout from a great scout is the ability to anticipate how and when the game will develop. And while there is no set formula that can predict how and at what time the game will change, there are principles that cultivate a culture with equal parts tradition and progress, one that honors the history of the game and also enables visionaries to make it happen. straight ahead. Members of the Lakers’ Boy Scouts division have experimented with this formula for over half a century and have produced some of the most beautiful basketball in the game as a result. So, perhaps Scouting is a science in the service of art.
While the purple-and-gold-dotted land has attracted some of the league’s most notable players, Los Angeles has equally welcomed freshmen into their squad who have become valuable assets wherever they turn.
Discussing these accomplishments with the survey department became conversations of praise… for each other. The department, which has a reputation for excellence and accuracy, is made up of employees who demonstrate humility. Basketball is about making each other better on the ground, and the same goes for those off the court. Rob Pelinka, general manager of the Lakers and vice president of basketball operations, knows this. The general manager should consider all things general and make them specific – he leads a department that does just that.
Jesse Boss, Assistant General Manager/Director of Scouts, noted the equal nature of management, “I think we all learn from each other,” “I absolutely encourage every one of my staff members to disagree as much as possible because I don’t think it is doing any favors to the Lakers if Everyone agreed with me to give my turn.”
He and Bill Burtka, the Lakers special assistant GM/basketball consultant and longest-serving employee on the Lakers, have had some legendary arguments over the past 10 years, “He yelled at me a few times, but I enjoyed it,” Boss laughed.
As the Boss, Jesse’s love for the game grew out of the quality time he spent watching college basketball with his father, the Lakers’ longtime patriarch, Dr. Jerry Boss, considered one of the greatest owners in the history of professional sports.
Jesse’s scouting abilities and courage in turning the Lakers into a franchise that used the draft as a tool actually resulted in part from a challenge from Dr. Boss. “He felt it was very difficult for players from the draft to come in and contribute immediately to the winning team,” Jesse explained.
But Boss touched on the bittersweet sweetness of the division’s success, “This would be my 10th draft as division leader, and he couldn’t really see any of this.” While Dr. Boss passed away nearly 10 years ago, what Jesse and his team have accomplished during that time is his contribution to his father’s lasting legacy. “He told me things to look at and I would try to see what he was seeing,” said Moses Zapata, Director of Scouting Operations and Strategy. “And then I just started clicking.”
An important part of the team’s distinctive distinction is this focus on the evolution of tradition. To start from a place to innovate and then have the means to reinforce those practices again and again, to make the past always fit into the present, this is the mindset of the Lakers. One might not understand this better than 94-year-old Bill Burtka.
When Coach Burtka was asked to outline some of the biggest ways that Scouting has changed over the years, he starts to chuckle. “Well, don’t be afraid of my bit,” he said.
He started with the Lakers during the 1968 season. The coach was Butch van Breda Kolf, and the general manager was Fred Scheus. Fred approached Burtka and asked him to do some scouting for the team when he had the time, and Burtka complied. He covered all college championships during his vacation and vacations. He said, “I was probably the first scout hired in the NBA at the time, because all the exploration that was done was done by the general manager and the coach. In fact, they didn’t send anyone on the road, they used to send out a survey to colleges.”
This was the first that many followed to Bertka.
Soon, during the 1972-73 season, coach Bertka became the first addition to the bench. Prior to that time, he was only the head coach, general manager, and coach who sat on the bench for teams in the NBA. “That’s when it all started for me,” said Burtka, “… Suddenly, every team decided to get scouts. And now you had it on the benches, and you had one head coach, one coach and one assistant.” But it was Bertka who was the first A scout/assistant coach sits behind the team bench – and he sat there for several tournaments after that.
While today’s technology has made tremendous progress in exploration, Bertka noted that in the 1970s, scouts dipped their toes into technological waters.
Lakers coach Bill Sharman requested that since Burtka had experience with 16mm film, he makes movie episodes for exploration purposes. Everyone was filming the games at the time, but players couldn’t appreciate having to sit for long periods to watch the game movie.
Sharman had Burtka make three or four episodes of their opponents’ best plays. Episodes will take about five minutes for players to watch and absorb. “This has become the beginning of people’s engagement with video, videos have been used for exploration and talent assessment,” Bertka announced.
“Now we have a full video department,” he said.
Come back to the 1981-82 season, when Pat Riley was head coach for the Lakers, he and Bell developed a plus-minus system. The system was the start of the analyzes and it evaluated all the positive things the player did on the ground minus the negative components of the game.
Burtka further explained, “Positive things would be assists, rebounds, steals, dead ends, shots made. The negatives were spins, missed shots, etc. For illustrative purposes, the star’s score at the time, let’s say Magic Johnson, Karim Abdul-Jabbar, or Larry Bird, would be categorized as a 500 player, an average player, for the purposes of illustration, it was about 250.”
This grading system was really straightforward and useful for a variety of reasons: Teams started preparing for their matches early on by taking stock of the 500 players (or otherwise) their opponents had. Scouts and coaches began giving potential customers a score, determining where several potential customers were on that scale, and so forth.
“All of these things that I just explained were the bare roots of the major changes in the game today,” Bertka declared.
Roots that have grown and thrived here in Los Angeles for over 50 years.
The plus-minus system, described above, reported the Predictive Draft Model framework and is a set of analyzes that describes who a player bases on what they’ve done, and then predicts – hopefully – who they’ll be in the league. “Each player has their own separate output,” explained Philip Chang, Director of Basketball Analytics and Research, “Each player has a percentage chance of becoming a certain type of player—starter, role player, bench player.”
When asked which analytics could be considered more indicative of future success, Zhang replied that it was “a group.” He explained that when all the analyzes agree it’s great, but it’s also extremely rare, so having a ‘recipe’ in mind is helpful when distinguishing which traits a team has that they don’t want to give up this season.
Measuring the outcome is intrinsically difficult. Zhang noted, “Judging a potential client’s success is an important part of our job, but part of our job is to measure what success means and how many players have achieved it.”
As success criteria shift, (or drift, “the technical word for what you measure as it changes over time,” as Chang noted) Buss believes it’s “important for scouts to have a good memory, understand trends, understand why the NBA is progressing in a certain way, and what kind of players are.” The winners are at the highest level – especially in the playoffs and finals.” This belief appears to be held by the entire department. Could this be why the Lakers have been so historically accurate in their draft picks? Excellence has always been their top priority, the pursuit of that excellence always drifts away, but they are good at keeping tabs on that.
“Without a doubt,” Bertka replied, without missing a moment when asked if the Lakers’ scouting division had been successful all these years, “All through the league. We made a mistake here and there like everyone else does.”
Whether exploring basketball is science in the service of art or art in the service of science is still somewhat declining. This is what draft is all about, what is exploration, and what are the numbers, to increase your chances of success.
Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant; These guys all came from the draft, they all had the group, and they all changed the game. These guys were all Lakers. A once in a million chance has happened here four different times. So, the thing about the Lakers is…when it comes to chance, they really beat the odds.