Last week after the Warriors game and last night before the Detroit loss, Jonah Ballow invited a few local blog posters to talk to Wolves folks in the administrative offices at Target Center. The first week we met J.B. Bickerstaff, and last night Fred Hoiberg talked to us.
J.B. Bickerstaff, the most junior assistant coach, talked about his player development responsibilities after we watched Stephen Curry put up huge numbers against Jonny Flynn and the rest of the home roster. He described the range of stuff the Wolves try in order to help players with their games -- psychologists, sleep cycle experts, Darrick Martin working on individual skills -- and then took questions.
I don't want to mischaracterize other people's questions and the answers they got. The only real question of substance I asked Bickerstaff was about the D-league and whether the Wolves intended to move in that direction, or could use it more for player development right now. Would they intend to move to a 1:1 arrangement with their franchise, for example, like San Antonio and the Lakers?
J.B. was quite aware of which teams had that full ownership of a dedicated D-league franchise, and of the potential advantages of going that way. He answered basically in terms of how things were today: He was wary of turning over a player's development to a situation where the Wolves couldn't dictate the systems being run, and so on. I got the sense that it wouldn't be J.B.'s responsibility to shape the direction of the franchise in a larger sense anyway. I'd mentioned the CBA restrictions on moving players there, but he didn't touch that for example. He was perfectly familiar with the pros and cons of D-league relationships, not surprisingly.
More recently David Kahn, in his KSTP interview the other day, went out of his way to mention the minor league model in baseball and how it might have helped Darko develop, said his ownership of teams down there made him aware of how the D-league might work out, and touched on the fact that Hasheem Thabeet (also a #2 pick, like Milicic) had done a couple of games in Bismarck.
Last night before the Detroit "we refuse to play Kevin Love as we lose a lead in the 4th quarter" celebration to end the year, Hoiberg joined us. He talked briefly both about the year and how certain players have been going, laid out the familiar details about why the Wolves have a chance to make big changes this offseason, and then took questions.
I immediately asked Fred who, in the front office, was responsible to [I]advocate[/I] for "advanced" stats (I mentioned Daryl Morey and used the words "dark arts") when the Wolves were making decisions.
That answer right now is: Dean Cooper. The Wolves do dedicate a staff position to stats, and that's who's doing it right now. Probably others will remember that Cooper was the Houston front office guy who came up to be an assistant coach last year or the year before. Hoiberg described this as a Houston connection, actually, probably because I'd mentioned Morey. He described Cooper poring over his monitor, watching numbers. Then he mentioned the previous guy the Wolves had in that capacity, someone from Holland (I believe?) who was a real stats-first-and-almost-only guy. Fred wondered how often he had even seen basketball games.
It's interesting to speculate on just how seriously this point of view is taken by the Wolves. Obviously they at least are doing more than subscribing to a stats service and assuming that informs their decision makers. They've got someone whose responsibility is to bring that point of view up, which means that voice is in theory at the table. (Poor Tim Allen. How will he take the news? He can console himself with knowing something about Detroit, Michigan during the trivia contest at last night's game, I guess.) On the other hand, Cooper could be seen as a lame duck who's filling a role that isn't seen as terribly important.
Someone else followed up about the whole 'database of existing players' thing. I'll let the questioner spell that out if they want. Hoiberg touched on the Wolves' new(-ish?) database of league players: stats and thorough background on anyone, as you'd basically expect.
My second question was a little more generic -- I asked how the front office process and roles had changed since last year. Partly we were pressed for time, but partly I wanted to give him a chance to say that the changes under Kahn had been inconsequential or massive, without me leading him one way or the other. Hoiberg described new roles for the regional scouts, different travel schedules.... I wouldn't say he immediately jumped up to say everything was different and better. That made me a little nervous. Both J.B. and Hoiberg had chances to say something like that, and honestly I'm mostly still getting a "We're working harder" vibe.) On the other hand, the way roles have been moved around just to keep the people with contracts working away, we all know there's been substantial change.
At the end of our talk with Hoiberg, Jonah Ballow said a few words about how these meetings were meant to test the waters with blog posters. He mentioned the blogs-folks form recently posted on the Wolves site (and linked to on Canis); we'd seen that the previous week. The Wolves, he said, would like to open things up and allow the world of online fans a little more access to the team, in a variety of senses.
Both meetings were fun to attend, and came with free tickets. If you're asked to something like this, don't be shy. You'll get a chance to sit on the Wolves' leather couches while strange mascots head out into the arena crowds.