With a full staff, 2nd time around at draft, free agency a different task for SVG, Bower

Jeff Bower
Jeff Bower and Stan Van Gundy have relied on their assistant general managers Brian Wright and Jeff Nix to helping shape off-season decisions.
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

"Off-season" used to mean one thing. Today it means quite another.

If you'd have put in a call to an NBA team any time in July, August or September some 30 years ago, chances are you'd have gotten an answering-machine message telling you to call back in October.

Today "off-season" just means there aren't any games being played. Pistons general manager Jeff Bower is as busy in the months when that's the case as he is from November through April.

In fact, this is probably his most intense time of the year. The Pistons have a lottery pick to exercise on June 25 and upward of $20 million to take to the marketplace when free agency opens less than a week later. He's splitting his time with his college and pro scouting staffs as the process of prioritizing targets moves forward.

"We're trying to balance two different planes – draft preparation as well as free-agent preparation," he said. "We're splitting our time between both areas with both groups of scouts."

Two of the three assistant general managers Stan Van Gundy hired, Brian Wright and Jeff Nix, oversee the college and pro scouting staffs. The Pistons are blazing a new trail with their commitment to pro scouting, hiring four full-time scouts under Nix spread across the country responsible for weekly reports on the seven or eight teams on their watch.

They have a comparable college scouting staff at Wright's direction, each one responsible for regions and conferences but all of them with a national perspective so a lively cross-section of analyses results.

Three of the scouts are holdovers from the previous administration, Doug Ash, Durand "Speedy" Walker and Oronde Taliaferro, who helped the Pistons hit on lottery picks with Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope while also finding success in the second round with Jonas Jerebko, Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton. Bower brought on Maury Hanks and J.R. Holden, the latter to scout both Europe – where he had a highly successful playing career – and the United States. They also have an international scout, Daniele Baesi.

The mission remains the same – find the best players that fit – but the way the Pistons are asking their scouts to go about it has changed, Bower said.

"We've asked them to step out of their comfort zone and to write reports that were not only the narratives of what they saw, with descriptive language, but also to grade and evaluate some very, very specific things on a night-by-night basis," Bower said. "It's very tedious and very much on the outside of standard practices."

Even though this is now Bower's second draft and dip into free agency with the Pistons, the level of preparation for this one will be dramatically different. For one thing, Bower now has three assistant GMs to help shape the process – Wright, Nix and Ken Catanella, who oversees the analytics and salary-cap components, critical to the free agency process – and two other key contributors beyond them in Pat Garrity, director of strategic planning who played a big role in developing the processes that have been established, and Andrew Loomis, executive director of basketball operations.

Those reports that Wright's college scouts write are strikingly similar to the ones compiled by Nix's pro scouts. That's by design. Bower wants a common language to bind all of the team's scouting reports, which include detailed graphs that give him snap shots of trend lines, strengths and weaknesses as scouts rate a variety of areas on a detailed 1 to 10 scale.

"We have one grading system across the board and we've had to really, really work hard to get that established and to get that put into play so we're all on the same page as far as what we're evaluating and what we're comparing across all of our scouts," Bower said. "That encompasses college, minor leagues and NBA-level competitions."

So while Bower is busy, he's not scrambling. That's because all of the information he needs to make the critical decisions ahead of him and Van Gundy is at his fingertips. There will be hundreds of man hours spent, individually digesting the information and collectively debating it, in the weeks ahead. But there's no sense of being overwhelmed because of the thought that went into putting a structure in place and all the work logged by the people hired to carry out the job.

"It's been an incredible undertaking that Brian and Jeff, in particular, drove through our scouts," Bower said. "It now gives us an incredible amount of information to go back on and be able to look at each guy on various individual nights that created this composite picture. Whether it's a college player or a pro player, we're able to very quickly re-create his season from the trends and habits and patterns. That is a really powerful thing for us at this time of year."

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