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The Lakers Mentality: The Quest for a Legendary Franchise

Is basketball scouting an art or a science?

Evaluating a player’s performance and basketball IQ is only part of the job. A basketball scout must analyze who a player is and predict who he will become. But what separates 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 the game will change and at what time, there are principles that cultivate a culture where tradition and progress are equally cultivated, a culture that both honors the history of the game and empowers visionaries to bring it in. forward. Members of the Lakers’ scouting department have been experimenting with this equation for over half a century, and the result is one of the most beautiful basketballs in the game. So perhaps Scouting is a science in the service of an art.

While the purple-and-gold-strewn ground attracted some of the league’s most prominent players, Los Angeles also welcomed newcomers to their team, who would go on to become a valuable asset wherever they landed.

Discussing these accomplishments with the intelligence department turned into compliments… each other. A department with a reputation for excellence and precision is made up of employees who demonstrate humility. Basketball is all about making each other better on the floor, and the same goes for those off the court. Rob Pelinka, Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball operations, knows this. The GM has to look at things in general and make them specific – he heads up the department that does just that.

“I think we all learn from each other,” remarked Jesse Bass, Assistant General Manager/Director Scouting, of the department’s egalitarian nature. I think the Lakers would benefit if everyone agreed with me given my role.”

He and Bill Burtka, the Lakers’ special assistant general manager/basketball consultant and the Lakers’ longest-serving employee, even had some legendary arguments over the past ten years: “He yelled at me a few times, but I enjoyed it,” Bass said. with a laugh.

As a Buss, Jesse’s love for the game grew out of quality time spent watching college basketball with his father, longtime Lakers patriarch Dr. Jerry Buss, considered one of the greatest owners in professional sports history.

Jesse’s scouting ability and his courage to turn the Lakers into a franchise that used the draft as a tool was actually partly the result of a call from Dr. Bass. “He felt it was very difficult for draft players to come in and immediately contribute to a winning team,” Jesse explained, “he said, ‘Show me.’

But Bass touched on the department’s bittersweet success: “This will be my tenth project as department head and he hasn’t really seen any of this.” Although Dr. Bass passed away almost 10 years ago, Jesse and his team have made his contribution to the enduring legacy of his father during this time. And his own legacy: “Jesse — he showed me everything I know about scouting,” said Moses Zapata, manager of scouting operations and strategy. . Then he just started clicking.”

The most important part of the team’s legendary skill is the focus on the development of traditions. Starting from a place of innovation, and then having the tools to improve those methods over and over again, consistently fitting the past into the present, is the Lakers mentality. Perhaps someone understands this no better than 94-year-old Bill Burtka.

When Coach Bertka was asked to point out some of the biggest changes in scouting over the years, he began to chuckle. “Well, don’t be afraid to interrupt me,” he said.

He started with the Lakers in the 1968 season. The head coach was Butch van Breda Kolff and the general manager was Fred Schaus. Fred approached Bertka and asked him to scout for the team when he had time, and Bertka agreed. He covered all of the college’s tournaments during holidays and vacations. “Perhaps I was the first hired scout in the NBA at the time,” he said, “because all the scouts that were run by the general manager and coach. In fact, they never sent anyone on tour, they sent out questionnaires to colleges.

This was Bertka’s first experience, and many others followed.

Shortly thereafter, in the 1972/73 season, coach Bertka became the first player on the bench. Prior to this, only the head coach, general manager, and coach sat on the bench in the NBA. “That’s when it all started for me,” said Bertka, “… all of a sudden, each team decided to start a scout. And now you have a head coach, a coach and one assistant on the bench. But it was Bertka. the first the scout/assistant coach sat behind the team bench – and after that he sat there for many championships.

And although modern technology has greatly advanced scouting, Bertka noted that it was in the 70s that scouts first plunged into technological waters.

Lakers head coach Bill Sharman requested that, since Bertka had experience with 16mm film, he would make loops for reconnaissance filming. At that time, everyone was filming games, but players didn’t like to sit for a long time to watch a game movie.

Sharman had Bertka make three or four films about the best plays of his opponents. The loops would take about five minutes for the players to watch and digest. “This was the beginning of video work,” Bertka announced, “videos were used to find and evaluate talent.”

“Now we have a whole video department,” he said.

In the 1981-82 season, when Pat Riley was head coach of the Lakers, he and Bill developed the plus-minus system. The system became the beginning of analytics and evaluated all the positive actions of the player on the court minus the negative components of his game.

Bertka further explained, “The positives will be the pass, the rebound, the interception, the block, the shot. The negatives were a pass, a missed shot, and so on. For purposes of explanation, an estimate for a superstar at the time, say Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird, they were classified as 500 players, the average player, for purposes of explanation, was around 250.”

This scoring system was really simple and useful for several reasons: Teams started to prepare for their matches in advance by making a roster of 500 players (or otherwise) from their opponents. Scouts and trainers began to rate prospects and indicate where a few prospects fell on that scale, and so on.

“All the things I just explained were the bare roots of major changes to the game today,” Bertka said.

Roots that have grown and flourished here in Los Angeles for over 50 years.

The plus-minus system described above formed the basis of the draft predictive model, which is a set of analytics that describe who a player is based on what they have done, and then predict – hopefully – who they will become in the league. “Each player has a different score,” 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 what analytics could be considered the most indicative of future success, Chang replied that it was an “ensemble”. He explained that when all analysts agree, it’s great, but it’s also extremely rare, so having a “recipe” in mind is useful to determine what attributes a team has and does not want to give up this or that season.

Measuring the outcome is internally difficult. And Chang noted that “evaluating a prospect’s success is an important part of our job, but part of our job is to evaluate what success means and measure the number of players who achieve it.”

As the parameters of success change (or drift, “the technical definition of what you’re measuring as it changes over time,” as Chang pointed out), Bass believes that “it’s important for a Scout to have a good memory, to understand trends , to understand why the NBA is going the way it is and which players succeed at the highest levels, especially in the playoffs and finals.” And the whole department seems to be holding that belief. Could this be the reason the Lakers are so historically accurate in their draft picks? Perfection has always been their top priority, it’s the pursuit of that perfection that is always drifting but they keep a pretty good eye on it.

“Without a doubt,” Bertka replied, not missing a beat when asked if the Lakers’ scouting department has been successful all these years, “in the entire league. We made mistakes here and there, just like everyone else.”

Whether basketball scouting is science in the service of art or art in the service of science, it still depends on chance. Here’s what the draft is about, what scouting is, and what the numbers are for to increase your chances of success.

Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant; all these people came from the draft, they all had an ensemble, they all changed the game. And all those people were the Lakers. A one-in-a-million opportunity has happened here four times. So the thing is, the Lakers… when it comes to chance, they’ve already beaten the odds.

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