After whirlwind first 2 months, Stefanski has 1 key hire left in Pistons front office

In Dwane Casey, the Pistons have a coach who’ll lean heavily on the use of analytics in shaping his game plans and methods.
Ned Dishman (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – As someone who played college basketball under Chuck Daly – before he was dubbed “Daddy Rich” and led the Bad Boys to the first two NBA titles in Pistons history – Ed Stefanski might be thrown in the old-school basketball camp.

But as someone who spent the first few decades of his working life apart from basketball, Stefanski brought to the NBA an appreciation for data you’d expect of a mortgage banker.

In fact, the guy in charge of basketball operations for the Pistons was a pioneer of the NBA’s embrace of analytics.

It was Stefanski who hired Ken Catanella, fresh out of Duke’s business school where he became the numbers guru as a grad assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff, in 2006 to head up the New Jersey Nets neophyte analytics department. Catanella, now assistant general manager in Sacramento, spent five years with the Pistons after a stint at the NBA where he led an effort to upgrade its statistical database and contributed to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

“There were maybe five of us in the league that had an analytical guy,” Stefanski said Wednesday over a carry-out salad as he ate a late and hurried lunch at his desk. “I was right there with knowing analytics was a big part of the game – and I believe in it.”

That’s the last key hire left for Stefanski after a whirlwind first two months on the job that has seen him lead the search that led to hiring Dwane Casey, reigning NBA Coach of the Year; oversee a draft that resulted in landing Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, both considered first-round possibilities, with the 38th and 42nd picks; sign free agents Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia; and staff the front office.

Stefanski retained Pat Garrity and Andrew Loomis from Stan Van Gundy’s staff, Garrity joining new hire Malik Rose as assistant general managers. The person who’ll oversee analytics and salary-cap management might also be assigned an assistant GM title, Stefanski said, and also will help determine the rounding out of the department.

One key part of that extended staff is already in place: Sammy Gelfand. The Pistons hired him away from Golden State, where he spent the last the last five seasons and arrives in Detroit with three championship rings to his credit. Loomis, who previously worked for the Warriors, gave the Pistons their entrée to Gelfand, who’ll find a true believer in the utility of analytics in Casey.

Gelfand will work directly with Casey and the coaching staff, coordinating with the video staff during games and being central to scouting reports. Stefanski described part of his role as something of a liaison between the analytics department and the coaching staff.

“We’re excited because my whole thing was when we had analytics people they came up with some great stuff but they couldn’t put it on the level of the basketball coach,” he said. “A lot of the places I was at, I worked with the analytical people to try to explain it to the basketball people on their terms. Now we have a guy in Sammy that is very, very smart, analytically driven, but can put it in basketball terms for those guys. I think that’s a home run for us.”