Eric Musselman Gets Creative to Prepare for NBA D-League Draft
New Reno Bighorns head coach Eric Musselman, who has previously held the same position in the NBA with both the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, has taken an innovative approach in his attempt at building a winner in the D-League, just as he was able to in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association as head coach of the Rapid City Thrillers in the early 90's.
"(Regional scout) Adam Engroff from the Miami Dolphins came in to help give us ideas on different ways the NFL would rank guys -- different color coding systems, evaluation processes," Musselman explained. "It was neat to learn from another sport and he gave us some of his ideas that were really useful for us."
"We never had a 'Moneyball'-type guy, either, so we also hired a statistical analysis guys and have combined his statistical rankings with some of the stuff that the Dolphins have done with stats," Musselman said. "It also helps just with the general formatting of ranking everyone because unlike the NBA Draft where there are so few rounds, this is more of an MLB or NFL-type draft with a mass number of names, so rather than just stick with ideas and formats that we were familiar with and had seen in the NBA, we wanted to get with somebody who's had success with a mass number of picks."
Musselman's Bighorns have the first pick in the draft, which FanHouse has learned will be used on former University of Nevada Reno standout Nick Fazekas, but won't make a second selection until the 32nd pick because of the serpentine-style draft format employed by the D-League. Since it's difficult to be an expert on all 196 draft-eligible players as well as the needs of 15 other D-League teams, teams need to be as familiar as possible with everyone in the pool because teams don't have a lot of time to decide which player to choose once their time on the clock begins. This is where the help of "Moneyball-type" statistics come in as Musselman and his staff will have tangible evidence when comparing similar players.
"For the most part, we've leaned more heavily on college numbers because in Europe, there are just too many different levels. We don't look at a guy who put up stats in Holland and compare him to a guy who had stats in Italy because that'd be like comparing a Division III player to a Division I player." Musselman explained.
"Instead, we'll compare an ACC player's statistics to an SEC player and then after that you have to take small bits and bodies of work -- whether its shooting percentage or three-point percentage, free-throw percentage -- because with scoring average and field goals attempted, you have to be careful since there's such a vast range of competition players have played against in college."
If this seems like quite a bit of work, it is, but Musselman takes it all in stride.
"It's a difficult process, yes," Musselman said, but added with a laugh, "but that's really why we have a lot of people working on it."
Musselman's staff, which includes former Rio Grande Valley Vipers head coach Clay Moser, will probably know every one of the 196 players in the draft like the back of their hands by the time the draft begins.
"We have a pretty large staff and they've all done a great job of coming in early and staying late," Musselman said. "When you have that many names, there's a certain amount of guess work involved because it's not like an NBA Draft where you're talking about maybe just three guys for an entire month, so we've put in a lot of work with our research."
Musselman and his staff won't be alone when their picks come up on the clock, though, as they've also been able to secure a solid relationship with their NBA affiliates throughout the draft process.
"I really felt like Golden State and Sacramento were about as good to us as we could've ever imagined," Musselman said. "There's been great communication and (Warriors director of player personnel) Travis Schlenk is actually flying in (Monday) morning and he'll be in our draft room helping us throughout the night."
With Musselman's innovative ideas and input from both of the Bighorns' NBA affiliates, it will be interesting to see if Reno makes any surprise selections when they're on the clock Monday night.