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Neil Olshey with Kevin Arnovitz on TrueHoop Conversations

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Neil Olshey discusses the mentality of being an NBA General Manager (in his case, President of Basketball Operations) in-depth with ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz.

NBA: Miami Heat at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz hosted Portland Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey for the debut episode of TrueHoop Conversations, published on Wednesday, November 16. The full podcast can be found here, on ESPN radio. Arnovitz and Olshey covered a variety of topics, ranging from team culture to Chris Kaman to NBA draft mentality. To easily find the parts of their conversation that interest you most, check out the time stamps below.

1:02 - Scouting and being in college gyms

1:56 - Lillard and franchise caliber players

4:48 - How does a GM handle high-maintenance super stars?

7:50 - Chris Kaman’s importance to the infrastructure

9:50 - Absorption of personalities; team culture

12:50 - Why draft mid-major players?

15:46 - What has changed about the job (GM)?

17:35 - The essence of the job (GM)

20:37 - How do you aggregate information?

23:18 - What is going to happen with owners in small markets?

26:20 - Any draft picks Olshey regrets?

29:40 - Preparing for the draft when you don’t have a pick

32:19 - Restaurants

Perhaps the most interesting portion came toward the end, when Olshey admitted to missing on Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert in 2013, compared smart drafting to playing poker, and affirmed his belief in Trail Blazers rookie Jake Layman.

There are a lot of guys that you looked at and you said, ‘Wow! I think we missed evaluating him.’ I think we missed evaluating Rudy Gobert that one year. We were over there, we were in France, we spent a week with him, we had seen him multiple times over multiple years, and I didn’t see the transition happening to the NBA game as quickly as it did. We definitely missed there.

We do a lot of self-analysis once things calm down after year one. Before we enter next year’s draft, we’ll reevaluate this year’s draft. Even though we didn’t have a first round pick this year, which gave us the luxury to kind of look at it more in a vacuum, and what we’ll do is go, ‘Okay, before we start talking about this group, let’s go back over all of our reports, all of our analysis, all of our conversations. Did we have last year’s draft right, and where did we go wrong, and what were the criteria we were using and the data points to take us in the wrong direction?’

I think if you do that every year, it’s just like playing a bad hand at poker, right? If you keep playing Jack-seven off-suit, at some point you’re going to figure out you don’t play Jack-seven off-suit. But if you review the hands that you play and you have more favorable outcomes because they have a positive expectation, you’re going to decrease your margin for error. I think that’s what we try to do and you’ve got to be self-aware enough to understand that you’ve got to take your ego out of it and get in the room and admit, ‘Hey, there were 30 guys that went in the first round and we were right on X number of them, but we missed on these guys. Why?’

We wanted to be in this draft. We really liked last year’s draft. We were lucky we were able to—again, the resources of Paul Allen—we were able to buy in at 47 and draft Jake Layman, who we think is a rotation player, and he’ll help balance our cap.

If you can carve out a half-hour in your day, give the entire podcast a listen and let us know what you think of what Olshey had to say.