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Transcript: Blazers GM Neil Olshey Interviewed On 1080 AM The Fan

Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey gives a lengthy interview about his organization's use of analytics, progress, decisions to make on free agents, and more.


Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey was interviewed on 1080 AM The Fan by Isaac Ropp on Wednesday afternoon. Here's a link to the audio.

Here's a partial transcript.

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference -- why so popular?

There are some examples of some people being very successful using an analytical approach. It's gotten from the point of being maybe a niche market where you could gain a competitive advantage over the other teams in your league, it's pretty much become a situation where if you don't have an analytics division you are falling behind.

How much of your evaluation is stat-based?

To be honest with you, we use a multi-tiered process with live scouting, film work, Ben Falk handles our analytics, we have psych, we have background, we have intel, we have the interview. So most of my evaluation initially comes from more of a visceral feel for players. I do a lot of college scouting, I'm on the road quite a bit. I watch a lot of games. I watch a lot of video on flights going to games. I leave that up to Ben. I want our analytics guys to come to me with their thoughts and then we have an open discussion based on how they view a player versus the lens of how I see a player.

We give them our feelings from a subjective standpoint in watching these guys play over the years. They give us a much more objective analysis in terms of the analytics. It all fits in together. It's one system. It's a big system of checks and balances. You hope on that pie chart they meet our standard of the vision you're looking at.

Does your opinion usually match the analytics?

I said this at at the conference on the panel, if you've got a really good front office, which we do, scouts that you trust with years of experience, and a good analytics division, at the end of the day, 95 percent of the time you're on the same guy. It's very rare there's an outlier one way or another, whether your scouts from a subjective standpoints or the quants from their analytical approach.

Is the quantative analysis shifting the NBA?

Every team values it differently based on the commitment they make to it. Most front office people want to guide their evaluation processes to their strengths. They want to be open-minded. I'm a guy who has been in gyms his whole life, coached the game, get out and see a lot of players and want to have a tactile relationship. But I appreciate the analytics approach, the checks and balances, it factors into our system, whereas Daryl Morey may start more with an analytical approach and want to reconcile what he sees analytically with what his scouts and what he sees from a tactile standpoint.

Do you use SportsVU tracking cameras?

We are not currently using SportsVU. It's something we'll look at towards the end of the year. At some point you've got to see what's overkill and what's really a value add. If it's something we think we can get enough of an advantage from and utilize consistently, it's something we would look at. One nice thing about working for Paul [Allen], there is no resource we can't have or acquire if we feel like it's going to give us a competitive advantage.

It's up to me to see if I can use those things judiciously and make sure we don't get into a situation with overkill. Sometimes you end up with paralysis from analysis. At some point there's still a visceral feel for players and that gut instinct is what you're paid to make decisions on.

What does SportsVU database show people?

That would be more of a question for Ben. It's not about what it shows, it's more about how you interpret it. Is it giving you anything unique that you don't already have with your pre- and post-game analysis? We attended a couple of the panels on it at Sloan and we're looking into it. If you guys want to circle back towards the draft, I might have a more educated view of it.

Big picture, has this Blazers team been about what you expected?

I think it's what I hoped it would be. From a public standpoint I think we've exceeded expectations. A lot of that is due to the job Terry [Stotts] and the coaching staff have done, they've been outstanding all year. We have guys having career years. Any time you have a kid from Weber State be the presumptive choice for Rookie of the Year, Nic Batum is having a career year, [LaMarcus Aldridge] was an All-Star again, Wes [Matthews] is having a big year.

You look at the development of some of our bench guys, Meyers Leonard is making an impact now that he's getting more of an opportunity and I think Victor Claver is improved as much as anybody on our roster. We've set a really good foundation. It's a process. It's not my job to react to things that happened prior to my arrival. It's my job to be proactive to build the organization from where I inherited it. Getting a strong coaching staff in, I think we nailed the draft with Damian and Meyers, we've gotten great development out of our core guys and we've got great cap flexibility going forward. I think we're in a great position.

Realistic timeline for you to move the team forward?

It's as fast as possible. Nobody wants to accelerate this thing more than Paul and I. What we don't want to do is make a race to the middle by making knee-jerk reactions that work for the next five minutes. I think we're a better team than we were at this point last year. We've got a lot of flexibility going forward.

We were active at the trade deadline with limited pieces that we were willing to move. We made a nice acquisition with Eric Maynor. Clearly, you look at Damian [Lillard's] efficiency alone, knowing how much better we've become knowing he doesn't have to play 39 minutes a night and handle all the ball-handling responsibilities. It's getting tougher for teams to tee off on him. You see over the last five or six games since Eric got here, Damian's efficiency has gone up.

Eric Maynor could stick?

That was not a deal done in a vacuum just to get us over the next 25 games. Eric is being evaluated just like everybody else on the roster. What was intriguing about Eric is that he was a restricted free agent and we do have the ability to keep him long-term. He's represented by an agent who we have a good relationship with, who also represents Jared Jeffries and J.J. Hickson and had Jamal Crawford. For me in Los Angeles, he represented Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups. We're going to work together with Andy [Miller] to make sure that this is the right spot for Eric and he works into our roster composition and our culture going forward.

Have you decided who is staying and who is going in the offseason?

We have for the most part. It's certainly nothing that we're going to make public. There are certain guys that the organization had made commitments to prior to our arrival, both Terry and myself, that we were going to give an opportunity to compete, see how they fit into Terry's system of coaching offensively and defensively. How they fit into our team and culture going forward. That's another positive that's come out of this season. Where there were many question marks on some guys who may or may not have gotten an opportunity to play, others have gotten opportunities to play, we've gotten a feel for who they are and how they would fit into our program going forward.

How does new Collective Bargaining Agreement affect you building this team?

I don't think it really has to be honest with you. Everybody wants to use that as a bail out, that the CBA has changed things, I haven't seen the results of that yet. If people are being more judicious in their free agent signings then that's a good thing for the league in general because we work off of comps. When you've got teams that are willing to solve problems or get themselves out of trouble by overspending on certain areas, it changes the comps around the league. The more we can make this about expertise and prudent free agent signings, solid trades, and placing a higher level of importance on the draft and player retention, I think it's a good thing for the league and our fans. The more consistent our rosters can be going forward, the easier it is for our fanbase to embrace them.

Do you have to go about your free agency business differently in Portland compared to Los Angeles?

To some extent you do. But I think if you really look at the models of some of the more successful teams in our league, you don't have to look any further than San Antonio. That team was built through the draft. The three guys that helped them win championships for the most part are three guys they drafted. One at No. 1, one at the end of the first round, one at the end of the second round. They've built a program and an organization around them to capitalize on doing an incredible job in the draft.

I don't think it's exclusive to -- you have to have sunshine and 80 degree weather and nightlife in order to attract players. If you build a first class basketball organization and you can be in a small market and not only attract players but retain your players. If anything came out of the new collective bargaining agreement, it's that player retention is going to be more paramount because it's going to be tougher to go outside your organization to sign other unrestricted free agents or to acquire a restricted free agent. We didn't get one this year [Roy Hibbert] and we retained one [Nicolas Batum]. You see how difficult that is. You've got to draft well, create a great culture basketball-wise where players don't want to leave to go to another market because basketball is their priority and you've created an elite program for them.

Top-12 protected pick

Part of being in a front office is that it's a fluid situation. You've got to change gears, you've got to have multi-tiered strategies. If we end up in a position where we retain our draft pick, then we'll go into the draft and see if we can get an impact player like we did last summer. If we don't... it allows us to start putting that pick in play into deals beginning on draft day, it increases our cap room from about 11.8 [million] to 13.1 [million]. It allows us to be more active in the free agent market and then going forward you just analyze whether you'd rather have one in this draft or have one unencumbered going forward. That's going to end up being a player.

The draft is a player acquisition vehicle. Everyone wants to talk picks and numbers, not all drafts are created equally and there is a cap hold on that first round pick, and that number can then be aggregated with the rest of your cap room to net back a player that accelerates this thing and helps us win more games next year.

How good is this draft class?

I don't want to talk specifics. Everybody at this point always wants to bemoan the talent pool in this draft. There always ends up being better players coming out of it than you would have thought. I think you're going to have to dig in and do your job and find the right guy because I don't think from a groupthink dynamic in this draft you can just rely on a general consensus and a projected order. You're going to have to dig in and do your homework and know who is going to fit into your culture and your system and be a part of your process going forward. I don't think the differential of players is going to be as big as most people would want.

How close to other deadline deals?

Not very. We didn't want to invade our cap room unless it was for a player who would impact our win total, not just for this year but going forward. To be quite honest, when you have a core group of players you're not interested in moving, it's kind of a deal where it's what do I give, what do I get? At some point you have to give action to get action.

There are so many players that were on our roster that were off the table as to whether we would enter a discussion about their availability. That we were able to acquire a player at a position of need, clearly, that we had coveted for awhile without giving up anything other than net cash flow this year, which clearly isn't an issue for Paul, because he always wants the best team on the floor regardless of price.

Olshey was also recently interviewed on TrueHoop TV. Transcript here

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter