Building An NBA Franchise

Arturo Galletti over at Aturo’s Silly Stats has an interesting series running on how to build an NBA winner. Up to revision 2, the concept covers what players to grab, what contracts to sign and a bunch of other things.

I agree with almost all of the ideas, but they mostly they relate to player selection. I have a few additional ideas to add, and in this post I’ll add some non-player ideas.

Basic Premise

An NBA team is an organisation whose goal is to put together and nurture a roster of players to a level where they can win an NBA championship. In order to do this, everyone has to be on the same page, and everyone needs a defined role where they can add value and make a difference.


Non-playing staff are vital to building an NBA winner. But how do you find the best, what are we looking for, and what sort of people do we want? That’s the big picture here.


  • Every coach on the team will have a role and very defined responsibilities. When the Phoenix Suns lost to the Spurs after Horry hip checked Nash and Diaw and Amar’e were suspended, an assistant coach should have been fired, because stopping players getting on the court should be the responsibility of a specific assistant.
  • Every coach will have player specific KPIs and incentives – for example assistant A might be tasked with improving the FT percentage of every player by X%. Assistant B the 3p% of specific players by Y% etc
  • Specific coaches will be employed, and may not be on the bench, e.g.
    • Free Throw Shooting coach
    • Shooting coach in general
    • Defensive co-ordinator.
    • An ex coach/player as an HR person – active coaches have a specific goal, that is to improve the teams chances of winning. Having an ex coach who is separate from the staff, and there specifically to advise players on how to improve their own career prospects, is something I think would really help.
  • Coaches around the league will be rated – and these ratings constantly reviewed. We will hire the best, and look for new ideas all the time, but we want that to come from a base of knowledge.


Scouting is, hands down, the most important part of building an NBA winner. Choosing correctly (Dwyane Wade) and not messing up (Darko) is what separates the winners from the losers longer-term althugn in that case, counter to my argument, didn’t hurt in the short term).

Without knowing the scouting process most NBA teams use, I’d:

  • Create an organisation wide prospect lingua franca. There aren’t 5 positions in basketball any more than there are 5 positions in soccer or American football. And yet the language of basketball continues to call the position Channing Frye plays the same thing as Nene. Rather than the standard 5 player positions, an internal language will be used that distinguishes Rodman from Karl Malone, and Stockton from Tony Parker. Debates internally should be about whether Derrick Williams will be a Shawn Marion or a Blake Griffin, not whether he can play the three or the four.
    • As part of this we will classify types of players we will NOT chase – The triangle works well because it frees a team from needing a Nash / Stockton point guard. Similarly, Channing Frye is the sort of player (below average rebounder and defender at the 4/5 who can shoot threes) that a team might consciously avoid or, conversely, value. Decide on what our system is and scout accordingly.
  • Rate individual scouts – I remember the last NBA yearly magazine I bought (Lindy’s?), had a secton on draft picks. One comment, from a scout about Adam Morriso, stood out. Paraphrasing“He is as close to a can’t miss prospect as I have seen”I’d want that scout sacked, and never to be hired again. Unless…
  • Track everything – if you don’t track it, you can’t measure it. When you do track it, you can justify mistakes, and learn from them. Maybe, based on internal metrics, Adam Morrison WAS a can’t miss prospect. If that is case, we need to decipher where the process went wrong.
    • Expect scouts to make measurable predictions – a star rating for movies allows reviewers to be tracked and measured. Create scouting reports that have measurable metrics is vital.
    • Adjust for common scouting mistakes (Final four, height for position etc).
    • Insure that every scouting report has a development strategy – who will coach them? What skills do they need to be taught? What will make them productive NBA players?
  • Have scouts in more places – Europe, Africa, Asia – wherever there are basketball leagues, we want to know about the players. Most NBA teams do this, but I would make it a real priority, to the point that I would find a way to break the NBA restriction on scouting high school players.

Non Coaches

Some non-traditional hires first:

  • A Sports Psychologist – understanding what personality types are required to make a team work is something that is important. A psychologist will:
    • Work out what makes a great coach in terms of personality traits. This is an absolute priority. Is it a father figure? A disciplinarian? I’d first want to understand that before making any other decisions.
    • Have a role in all hires and interviews.
    • Identify how best to reach individual players – every player is different, and finding a way to work with each player so that the organisation maximises the players potential is a must.
    • Set Phsychological KPIs for coaches – players are a massive investment for teams, and coaches will be given strict instructions on dealing with each player that they’ll be expected to adhere to. If a player responds to shouting, shout. If the don’t, don’t. Or you will be fired.
    • Advise players to help overcome issues – whatever they are.
  • Movements coach – Can we improve a players running style? Is there something, bio-mechanically, we can fix? This would be something to stay on top of, and be an important part of scouting not just draft prospects, but free agents as well. If we can “fix” Oden, we can make a much more reasoned offer.
  • The Suns entire medical staff – I don’t know what they do or how they do it, but I want the ability to turn a 33 year old, injury prone PG into MVP Nash.
  • Whatever non-NBA personal basketball coaches (David Thorpe, Joe Abunassar, Tim Grover etc) a player wants and/or needs. In addition, we will review and measure these coaches over time, and steer players towards specific coaches that have a proven track record.

Ideas Team

As a stats geek, obviously I see that value in statistics. But beyond just statistics, with the complexity of each iteration of NBA CBA increasing, the team needs an ideas department. This department would have the following tasks:

  • Create unique value ideas – The swap-first-round-picks Knicks and Bulls Curry trade is one example. The Dampier contract rule, the Nick Collison signing bonus etc etc. These are all ideas the organisation will have fleshed out and have ready to utilize as needed.
  • Statistical analysis – obviously
  • Interviews – Every time an NBA employee, be they a coach, assistant coach, scout or support staff is fired, the ideas unit will pay them to come in and interview with us. We want to know everything there is to now about every other operation, and every player. What were the internal issues? How hard did players really work? Which coaches/scouts/players would the person recommend / diss?
  • A Private Investigator(s) – we want to know what potential players and hires are like, and hiring a private investigator to manage this is something I’d seriously look into.
  • Investigate new research – be that Bio-mechanical, medical, psychological or organisational. We want to be employing the best strategies and techniques, both in game and in the teaching environment of practice.

More coming.


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