Tough call made easier for Pistons by having their homework on Udrih done in advance

The Pistons had confidence they knew what they were getting in Beno Udrih thanks to the work logged by their scouting staff.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

TORONTO – When the opportunity arises to upgrade their rosters, NBA teams better already know 99 percent of what they must about the players being discussed.

Under the Stan Van Gundy-Jeff Bower administration, the Pistons have proven their preparation time and again. It’s been the biggest underlying reason for their transformation from the 29-win team Van Gundy inherited to one that began the season viewed by most as a strong threat to finish with a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.

Their ability to strike quickly on players they felt had more to offer than their resume revealed was proven in trade-deadline deals for Reggie Jackson in 2015 and Tobias Harris in 2016 and, perhaps most dramatically, in their July 1, 2015 deal for Marcus Morris within hours of seeing their top targets in free agency head elsewhere.

And it’s why Pistons fans should feel confident they made the right move in claiming Beno Udrih off of waivers Monday to step immediately into their rotation as backup point guard for tonight’s season opener here.

Perhaps the most innovative element of Van Gundy’s vision for organizational structure was his idea to hire four full-time scouts to watch virtually every NBA and D-League game and file weekly reports on all players. There is a narrative section to those reports but also a numeric ratings system across several categories that allow Bower and his inner circle to gauge trends big and small.

As last weekend’s waiver deadline drew near, Bower’s conversations with peers around the league gave him an idea which point guards would be available. That Udrih was came as a mild surprise to them, but he was on their list of those they’d have interest in signing if it were to happen.

With Miami’s roster in mind, the Pistons dispatched player personnel director Adam Glessner to Miami for the Heat’s Oct. 19 preseason to take a look at Udrih. When Udrih was, indeed, waived on Saturday, Bower’s inner circle – including associate GM Pat Garrity, assistant GM Jeff Nix and international scouting director J.R. Holden – all looked at more recent videotape of Udrih.

Late Monday afternoon, after the Pistons practiced, Van Gundy and Bower assembled that team – plus associate head coach Bob Beyer and assistant coach Tim Hardaway, who work most closely with point guards – to discuss the situation once more, to be sure keeping Udrih and waiving the younger Ray McCallum Jr. was the right move.

“Everybody saw him. And we certainly saw him last year,” Van Gundy said. “Everybody thinks he’s ready to go and can really help us, particularly at the offensive end of the floor.”

The Pistons drew on other intelligence, too. Van Gundy wouldn’t give up all company secrets, but part of the evaluation was in the institutional knowledge the Pistons under Van Gundy and Bower take pains to cultivate. At all levels of the organization, employees who glean knowledge from their peers across the league are encouraged to contribute to the database.

That, of course, includes players. One of Glessner’s particular skills, Van Gundy said, is to tap everyone new to the organization for what he can provide in intelligence. So the two players with whom Udrih has played at previous NBA stops – Jon Leuer in both Milwaukee and Memphis, Tobias Harris in both Milwaukee and Orlando – had already provided their perspectives on the newest Piston.

“Adam has talked to all of our players, basically, about guys they’ve played with in the past. We have their comments in our database,” Van Gundy said. “Adam does a great job of that. Anytime somebody comes in, you’re going to get grilled about everybody you’ve ever played with – probably everybody you’ve ever met.”

The breadth of their background research into Udrih, compiled over each of Van Gundy’s 29 months on the job, gave the Pistons full confidence they were making the best move for the team’s 2016-17 prospects.. Van Gundy called it the most difficult personnel call of his NBA career to waive McCallum, whom he’s known since McCallum was in diapers. But for as difficult as it was, having their homework done well in advance of needing to lean on it for direction made it as easy as it could have been for the Pistons.