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Kevin Pritchard and the Toronto Raptors Part II

How good of a fit would Kevin Pritchard be with Bryan Colangelo, and how passionate is Pritchard about advanced stats?  Ben Golliver gives us the inside scoop on these and other subjects in the second part of our chat.

Yesterday we began a look at Kevin Pritchard, one of the four executives reported to be finalists for a front-office position with the Toronto Raptors.


Assistant GM?

Assistant to the Traveling Secretary ala George Costanza?

It's anyone's guess at this point, but that isn't stopping us from getting as much information as possible on each potential candidate, and today we conclude our talk with Ben Golliver on Mr. Pritchard and his potential fit with the Raps...


Ben Golliver (continued from Part I):  So the question for the Raptors I think is, "what are Bryan Colangelo's strengths?", or "what does he perceive are his strengths?"  If there's too much overlap with Kevin then it might not be the most complementary hiring.

Now I don't know what Bryan Colangelo's self-perception is, but it's just something to keep in mind when you look at that potential fit.

RaptorsHQ:  That's really interesting because it's something that's played over and over in my mind; how would these two fit, could they indeed co-exist?  Because the way Pritchard has been described in the media at times, there's a lot of similar traits that both he and Colangelo may indeed possess.  As well, Pritchard would still be reporting to Bryan, so along these same lines, if Bryan Colangelo indeed stays as president, and still wants a final say in decisions, could Pritchard operate in an environment like that?

BG:  There's not a more dysfunctional front-office set-up then what the Blazers constructed towards the latter years of Pritchard's tenure in Portland.  I mean, there may be a more demanding owner than Paul Allen, but if you're just looking at the people he's decided to fire for pretty much no reason, or just churned through, guys like Rich Cho who were picked up within what, two weeks of being fired and is now running his own team in Charlotte?  I don't think you can get a more demanding owner or a more challenging situation to work in, then what was facing the Blazers towards the end of Pritchard's time in Portland, so I don't see Toronto being an issue.  I don't think it was always that bad under Allen, in fact I think things were pretty rosy, especially as the team was on the upswing.  I mean if you look at the win totals for the Blazers, they made very gradual and steady progress from being a 30 win team, to a 41 win team, to a 50 plus win team.  Things were going pretty good there, people were pretty happy, including Paul Allen.  He was back in the building, watching more games and being very excited. 

So in terms of inter-office dynamics, is Kevin going to have a problem answering to someone, I don't think so.  Like I said, I think he just wants to get into a GM position again, just like anyone would.  You know, if you lost your job you'd be happy to get back in.  If you can get hired by a competitor in the same position, at about the same salary range, you'd jump at it!  From that perspective, I don't anticipate that being a huge problem.

Here's another thing about Kevin, he always talked about consensus.  He wanted to leave a meeting having reached some sort of agreement, even if people had different opinions about the same topic; whether that was say, in that one draft year, Jerryd Bayless versus Russell Westbrook, or the other draft, Greg Oden versus Kevin Durant, or even Nic Batum versus another prospect, whoever it might be.  He always wanted to leave those discussions with a consensus that everybody could get on board with, as opposed to leaving some people upset about the decision the group made.  So he's all about team building and bringing people together, and I think ultimately if you have that kind of mentality, you're not going to chafe if your boss says the opposite.  You're going to offer your input, you're going to make your best case, and if it doesn't go your way, you're going to get over it and move onto the next decision.  I think in the NBA there's a cycle of decisions that happen and if you get bogged down in any one of them, you're going to end up not making progress and not doing what's best for the organization.

So again, I don't look at that being a problem, the bigger issue to me is do they share too many skills, are they too similar, do they cover all the bases, and I don't know all of the dynamics of the Raptors' front office to know that, but I think that would be the one question I would have in regards to those two guys. 

But there's certainly some commonalities, especially in terms of European scouting.  You look at the number of draft picks Pritchard has used on overseas players whether it's Freeland, Fernandez, Batum, the list goes on and on and on, and that was clearly a focus for him.  Same thing with Colangelo, he clearly sees that as a potential area with which to improve the Raptors, or he has in the past, and even with this year's draft pick I guess. 

RHQ:  One area I think that Pritchard could really help the Raptors out in, is in terms of use of statistical analysis.  You touched on the topic earlier and I'd like to return to it as it's an area that Bryan has sort of shied away from to date, and that the team really hasn't had a lot of focus on.  Can you extrapolate on the analytics piece; maybe how Pritchard uses stats and how in depth he gets involved in the subject, say, is it to the level of a Darryl Morey etc?

BG:  Absolutely.  The funniest vignette I can describe is the one year where the Blazers were having to use their injury exemptions because so many guys were going down.  Greg Oden went down, then Joel Przybilla went down, and they basically had to apply for multiple hardship exceptions so they could get enough players to even fill out a roster.  That same year at the Sloan analytics conference, the Blazers actually sent more employees to that conference in Boston then they had healthy roster players at the time!  They had about nine employees attend!

And this ranged from scouting directors to guys who were number crunchers for them, and Kevin and Tom Penn would go as well.  Kevin even gave a speech one year at the conference.

So, there was a clear commitment to the analytical side of things and while maybe they weren't the pioneers like a Darryl Morey, they were certainly in that very early wave of trying to use numbers to enhance their overall ability to scout a player. 

And what they called it, and it was pretty simple, was "Eyes, Ears and Numbers."  So when they're looking at a player, say it was a prospect in the Big 12 where Kevin obviously played, and some of their other scouts had really travelled that circuit well, what they were always looking at was doing an in-person evaluation multiple times.  That would be the "eyes" component.

They wanted to talk to his coaches, his college trainers, maybe teammates, local media guys that covered the team he played on.  All in order to build a composite profile of what that person was about character wise, and that would be the ears component.

And then the numbers component would not only be their normal statistics, but also their advanced statistics, how they thought those statistics would translate to the pros, was there anything they thought that would stick out in terms of efficiencies, etc, etc.  There was a lot of emphasis on basic efficiency levels.

Some of their guys who were doing their numbers either had experience on Basketball Reference, or writing about numbers on the New York Times' blog, so these were guys who were very well known within the stats community.  They also had a stats projection system so at that they were able to kind of compare their system and where it said they (Portland) would finish in the Western Conference, versus what some of the other projection systems that were out there said.  So they could say "yeah, we're pretty confident that we're going to be a top six team," or "top seven," or "our projections says this," etc, etc.

So it's like any of those things you read in Basketball Prospectus or any other well known statistical analytics publications out there.  These guys were all over that, and they had some of their own proprietary formulas in terms of ranking college players too, so hopefully that gives you some idea of Kevin's level of commitment.  It was not just lip service at all.  And actually right before he was let go by the Blazers, Pritchard became a board member of a technology firm, I believe it's located in Washington State, which is our neighbour to the north here in Oregon, so he was a consultant for that firm and clearly takes that idea of forward thinking analytics and all that stuff very seriously.

RHQ:  Really an amazing debrief on the analytics piece because I personally had no idea it was that in depth in terms of Pritchard's involvement.  As a fan of the subject, pretty encouraging to hear.

RHQ:  I think that's all I've got so a big thanks Ben for all the insight.

BG:  No problem, it will be interesting to see which way the Raptors go as I believe Portland and Toronto are the last two teams making GM decisions.

RHQ:  I believe so too.  Hopefully there's a season and we'll get to compare notes in a few months.

BG:  Indeed.