iPad is NBA’s New Best Friend
NBA teams use the tablets to improve scouting, player development.
The Timberwolves are another team that has given each player an iPad, no matter whether the player previously had one. Johansen said the motivation for an upgrade was due in large part to cost. Rather than issue a player a $2,000-plus Macbook laptop, they purchased the $500 16-gigabyte iPads and found it provided at least the same value to the player, if not more due to its lighter weight. And he said that every player uses it, to varying degrees. As with the Rockets and Wizards, scouting reports are prioritized.
“Most of these players all have very specified tendencies,” Johansen said. “They do certain things going to their right or left, certain guys use shot fakes, others use step-backs, certain guards can post, others can’t, certain bigs face up, others are offensive rebounders. All these guys have themes to them. It’s our job to let our players know, in an efficient way, what their tendencies are.”
Johansen cited Yugoslavian center Nikola Pekovic as an example. Pekovic is a rookie despite being a 2008 first-round draft pick of the ‘Wolves, and the 25-year-old has needed help familiarizing himself with the NBA crowd since the beginning of the season. “He’s new to this [league],” Johansen said. “Unless it’s a big-time player, he doesn’t have an idea who some of the role players are.” His yearning to catch up on the talent assembled on each team has made him one of the most dedicated members of the team at viewing reports on his iPad, according to Johansen. “If he has an edit on there for him, he’ll watch it.”
New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul always has his iPad to review game reports, according to Dennis Rogers, the Hornets’ Director of Basketball Communications. Rogers said 20-30 iPads are issued by the team for the basketball operations staff, some of which make it down to the players. Their video coordination department readies each night’s game on iPads after its conclusion, before players leave the locker room.
“As an organization, we try to use what’s best out there,” Rogers said. “We look at costs, but we’re trying to improve and make things more efficient.”
NBA teams have felt liberated to use iPads for scouting and player development to the degree that they incorporate it during games – on the bench. NBA spokesman Tim Frank explained in an email message that a memo sent to teams in January informed them it is permissible to use laptops and tablets on the first two rows of the bench “for the purpose of accessing, using or presenting statistical and scouting information to players or coaches during games,” as Frank wrote. Scouting information may include video or photographs of previous games but not the game in progress. Laptops and tablets, among other electronic devices, also cannot be used for team personnel to communicate with each other.
Hawks set up college rating system
With all the value teams have found in using iPads to scout other teams and players in the League, another squad has discovered how efficiently it can evaluate future NBAers.
The Atlanta Hawks set up a player rating system on their iPads for collegiate players, pre-ranking them and updating the lists consistently throughout the past college season and heading into pre-Draft workouts. “That’s one of the features that’s helped me most,” said Hawks Director of Basketball Operations Mike McNeive, of how the tablet has made his job more efficient. The seven front office personnel who have been issued iPads – McNeive, general manager Rick Sund, assistant general manager T. Scott Wilkinson, two American-based scouts and two European-based scouts – can communicate easier to discuss the rating system.
By this summer, McNeive said the Hawks will develop an application in which the collegiate rating system will be imported along with NBA player information for full scouting reports, including video, on every NBA player and every relevant collegiate player. “This iPad is going to be perfect for that,” he said.
McNeive, who said the Hawks have made a $3,000-$4,000 commitment to iPads and related expenses, gave an example of how the tablets have made scouting college players a far more efficient process.
A scout on the West Coast was tracking a player in January and early February who had been rising up the draft charts to a solid second-round, and possible first-round, pick. The scout returned to his hotel room from one of the player’s games in order to file a report that McNeive said he received much quicker than through the Dell laptops and Blackberries the Hawks’ front office staff had previously used.
“He was in a hotel room someplace in the middle of nowhere, and ended up pulling up the video [of the college player],” McNeive said. “We liked him a lot. I’m not gonna say we were the first guys to lay a pair of eyes on him, but you never used to be able to do that. It was always a situation where you had to wait four or five days until you got back to the office and had the video guy send you some DVDs of the time. And you hoped you were able to find a game or two where it’s on TV. This way, I just literally sat down, pulled him up and watched a 20-minute clip on him. It’s so much easier to think outside the box and prepare notes and stay motivated in terms of getting and sharing ideas.”
McNeive pointed out the rule that permits NBA teams to use laptops and tablets on the bench has shifted the device from being player-friendly toward one that coaches can utilize. He stated a desire to use them for the Playoffs and the Draft in late June, but explained teams need a full offseason to evaluate what value they can extract from iPads.
“I think over the summer, when people have time to sit down and write applications, can customize it for their needs, I think next year the majority of teams will use it in some form,” McNeive said.
Of the 25 other teams contacted about iPad use – the Wizards, Timberwolves, Hawks, Hornets and Rockets represent the remaining five – five confirmed they use iPads for scouting and player development purposes. Six other teams said they would consider using the devices for next season and one club said it wouldn’t consider using iPads next season. (The latter team sarcastically responded, “Laptops work, too.”) Five more teams declined to make a choice of whether they would likely use, consider using or not consider using an iPad for scouting and player development purposes beginning next season.