Report: Lakers and Analytics Director Part Ways

Darius Soriano —  May 5, 2017

Resignations seem to be a theme of late for the Lakers. Before the end of the season, Assistant GM Glenn Carraro stepped down. Then, earlier this week Strength and Conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco followed suit by resigning his post. Now, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes is reporting Director of Basketball Analytics Yuju Lee has also resigned:

Sources tell ESPN that the Los Angeles Lakers tried to demote Yuju Lee, their director of basketball analytics, but he instead decided to leave the organization altogether.

We know very little about Lee beyond what information was divulged in a press release from 2015 (when the Lakers also announced promotions for Jesse Buss and Ryan West). At that time, I wrote that I found it interesting Mitch Kupchak had decided to pull back the curtain on who was on the analytics staff, citing their credentials and background in a manner which was not consistent with the secretive manner the team operated with around this department to that point.

It was ultimately revealed that, considering the losing period the team was going through and the perception the Lakers were behind the times and an organization which did not fully embrace analytics’ value to the sport, Kupchak felt it necessary to be more transparent and forthcoming in an effort to help appease fans’ concerns in this area.

Now, though, Lee is moving on after the Lakers tried to demote him. So, does that mean the team is now taking a step backwards? My guess is the answer to that question is “no” and that has nothing to do with what I think of Lee or the job he was doing with the team. After all, I know very little about Lee and while I can rattle off the information provided about him and his credentials, those are only bullet points on press release.

No, I think this change is just another example of what happens when there is organizational change at the top and when those new decision makers have their own ideas of who they might want to be in these positions or the direction the organization wants to go in. In fact, I would argue the team was probably happy with Lee individually, as they would have preferred he stay on the staff — just in a reduced role. I could see how that might ruffle Lee’s feathers (no one likes being demoted) and, thus, he departed instead.

Further, I would argue this new Lakers’ regime likely values analytics a great deal. Magic’s background with the Dodgers includes a revamp of the team’s analytics department and the placing of great value in how information gleaned from that side of house can positively influence on-field results. Back in 2016, Magic was also a major investor in the tech startup ShotTracker, a company which makes wearable technology for basketball players.

Pelinka, meanwhile, may not have those same types of direct ties that Magic does, but his background as an agent would lend me to reason that he’s also someone who greatly understands the value of how analytics can be used to increase player performance and, thus, value. It’s interesting to note, too, that some of Pelinka’s former clients can be seen as analytics darlings — specifically James Harden and Chris Bosh (one of the first PF’s who started to play C full time and shoot the 3 ball as a permanent fixture of his game). Pelinka also worked closely with the Rockets and analytics poster-boy GM Darryl Morey, not only because of Harden, but with former clients Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon.

None of this definitely means Pelinka or Magic will transform the Lakers’ analytics department, but I do believe this is an area where they will invest heavily. And, honestly, it’s about time this is the case.

Again, I’m not going to disparage Lee or even Kupchak and Jim Buss. The nature of this type of work and how the former regime worked meant that we’d never now how much or little the team was doing in this area. But, I will say, that the soundbites we’ve gotten from Magic and Pelinka are that they are about “excellence” and trying to leverage the Lakers’ brand and resources in every avenue they can. They want to build a top flight organization where players will want to come and that means beefing up every area or the franchise.

That’s already begun with the team’s construction of a new practice and training facility and, I believe, the changeover in staff will result in a similar investment. Which, again, is very much needed. As I’ve written before multiple times, the Lakers need to always push the envelope by investing in areas of the organization which are not governed by the collective bargaining agreement. Hire the best coaches, the best training staff, and, yes, the best analytics staff that money can buy. Put money and resources into the parts of the franchise which support the players and on-court product as much as possible in order to optimize performance and results.

In the end, doing that may mean good people move on. And, I would imagine, DiFrancesco and Lee fit into that description. But, in the long run, the Lakers can still turn this type of changeover into positives by bringing in replacements who also do good work and then supplementing those guys with an even deeper stable of team members to do even better work. At least that’s the hope. We’ll how it plays out.


Darius Soriano

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to Report: Lakers and Analytics Director Part Ways

  1. More house cleaning. Hope Magic and Youngblood know what they’re doing…

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  2. I’m not too knowledgeable in the analytics and Strength & Conditioning world but are there names out there the Lakers would go after?

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    • If they were trying to demote him, then they probably already have a replacement in mind – don’t forget: Pelinka would have a lot of contacts in both those roles as an agent.

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  3. Magic investing in ShotTracker gives me great hope that the Lakers will embrace new technologies to help with player and team performance.

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  4. I take these moves with a grain of salt. Tim DiFrancesco and Yuju Le were put in place by the previous FO. I’m sure some of the motivation for change is that the new FO simply wants their own guys in charge of these important aspects of team preparation.

    The other side of the coin is that we are making the assumption that Jim/Mitch made the right hires to begin with. Four years of futility on the floor would not only beg the question, ‘what are we doing wrong?’ but (and maybe even more importantly) ‘what, if anything, are we doing right?’

    It’s the Jeanie/Magic/Pelinka show now and there’s no place to hide going forward. If the house needs to be cleaned — now is the time to do it. The margin for organizational error is razor thin.

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    • Analytics would make it’s weight felt in the draft process, as well as free-agency. While the old front office had problems with free agents, they certainly did well in the area of drafting.

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      • Yes, the previous FO did a great job in the latter part of the 1st round and in the second round. The jury is still out on a few of those lottery picks (Randle and Russell). It would be interesting to know how analytics were used in the selection of Randle and Russell.

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        • Not to mention B Ingram …

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          • I am hopeful that BI is the real deal. Brandon started slowly in high school before becoming a top recruit. He struggled for half of his freshman year, at Duke, before rising high in the draft.

            I would prefer to think that Ingram needed a full season in the league to get his NBA sea legs. At least this is my train of thought versus analytics being able to tell us that BI had a low ceiling which was easily predictable.

            And yes, I know I’m adding a lot of emotion to the equation.

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            In my mind, when you look at the 2014 draft, clearly Randle was the best available player left on the board. An argument can be made for drafting:
            – Saric, but it was clear that he was staying overseas for one/two years
            – LaVine, only had half a good freshman year at UCLA
            – Capela, who knew he was this good?

            Getting any of the other guys would have meant trading down and one thing we have learned about Mitch is that he was risk averse and a draft day trade is more a Danny Ainge move than a Mitch one.

            No, the Lakers did fine drafting Randle. The issue with him is whether to cut bait before he needs to be resigned to a $100M contract or he loses too much trade value.

            Russell is the classic,’did we draft the wrong guy? question. DAR is not a bust but he may not have the upside of some drafted behind him (ie: Porzingis or Booker).

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            • Yes, DAR is the “wrong guy”. Young guy with no hops, not explosive to the rim, not a great shooter. Good, not great, passer. I can’t see a day when I feel comfortable with him at the helm.

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              • Disagree. Russell may not be “that guy”, but you can hardly call him the “wrong guy” in that draft class, which was pretty much KAT and everybody else.

                Yes, you could make an argument for Porzingis and/or Booker, but the difference between those three guys is small enough to be inconsequential in my opinion – they’re basically a wash.

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              • I’m still rather Bullish on DAR. I think a lot of the analytics suggest he has solid potential. He can be a starting guard in this league.

                What I think he is not is a born leader of men. Ideally I think that role would land on another players shoulders. What he is, right now, is still the most talented young player on the roster and I think one more year is just what we need to see if he’s going to take a step and progress into the player we need or if he’s going to tread water and get shipped out.

                If we really don’t think he has value as a great player then you’d have to assume you also wouldn’t be able to trade him for one. The fastest way to a playoff team for us is for DAR and BI to take a big step next year, get the 1st round pick, and try and win another 8-15 more games next year (tall order).

                Short of selling the farm to buy a garden, I don’t see a high probability of turning this team from a mid-twenty win team into a 45 win team in one summer. Just ten more wins and we’re in the zip code of the 8th seed. Waiting doesn’t cost as much as selling low and there is not a high likelihood that they get worse next season. They’ll get better, it’s simply a question of by how much.

                By this time next season we should have all the information we need to make the real big decision on the young guys: what do we do with Randle? I look forward to a years worth of podcasts where Darius does battle on Mount #30.

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      • “Analytics” as used today is a very broad term, and based on what I have read, for many teams, such as Houston and Dallas, it directly affects game-planning, player health and nutritional programs, and international scouting, as well as free agency. One of the many things for which Byron Scott was mocked was his public attitude about data coming coming to him from Lakers’ analytics people.

        Video analysis and statistical data is used more now in the draft than ever based on what I have read, but since the draft revolves almost entirely around projecting the career arcs of 19-20 year-olds, I expect that it it is still very much an art as well as a science and a people business.

        So, I think the proposition that the draft reflects well on the Lakers’ analytics program is questionable.

        I would also say that based on what I know, that I want Pelinka, rather than Magic, recruiting analytics people.

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        • I recommend the book “Chasing Perfection: …” by Andy Glockner, for anybody looking for a fine basic overview of the discipline of Analytics. Darius mentioned the book here about a year ago, and I found it most informative. As RR reports, “Analytics” does indeed cover a lot of territory.
          And as Darius has mentioned from time to time, this is an area the Lakers can, if they so chose, excel in without limits imposed by the CBA.

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          • Rick in Seattle May 6, 2017 at 11:24 am

            With the CBA increasingly taking away the former (mostly financial) advantages of the large market teams like the Lakers, I would agree with R that this may be an opportunity outside the CBA for teams like the Lakers to recapture at least some advantage.

            Regarding the analytics questions raised by Concerned (above), it would be really useful to see whether the Randle, DAR, & Ingram drafts would have changed if modern analytics had been fully utilized & in place in those drafts.

            Would it have made a difference, particularly between DAR & Porzingas?

            If analytics is a proven technology that the Lakers (even at this late stage) can fully adopt, what is the harm? But it would be nice to see some conclusive data!

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            • Porzingas points to an even more important area in which the Lakers should spend – International Scouting. Similar to Baseball, big market teams like the Lakers can and should use their money to mine the depths of a talent pool that is out of reach for smaller market teams.

              The availability of reliable data on these players will likely lag behind the NCAA/NBA and “eyes on” scouting can make for a big advantage in the late 1st and 2nd round picks coming from outside the US.

              Porzingas lasted so long in the draft largely not because he didn’t look like an amazing prospect, but because the sample size of his amazing was too small for the Top 3 gamble.

              I suspect the days of the unknown euro are rapidly declining. This is an area we can actually get ahead of the curve.

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              • Porzingis slipped through the Lakers hands because Mitch tried him out down low, as a center, and had Mark Madsen push him around in his pre-draft work out. Mitch made the decision that he wasn’t tough enough.

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    • The KBros, as they often do, put it succinctly: the Jeanie Buss Era starts now.

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  5. why do they even need a analytics person when everyone has a calculator on their phone now

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  6. Hulk Hogan and Paul Bearer on speed dial?

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  7. I would imagine, if they are looking to increase the role of the Analytics department, that they would also need someone in charge that can manage a large operation. Perhaps the issue was no so much with Mr. Lee’s mathematical acumen as it was with his ability to manage the people.

    There is a big difference between working with four people and managing, planning, and evaluating the work of 4 (or more) people. It sounds like they were positive about his abilities but we were looking for someone else to provide direction.

    In terms of Tim I suspect it was more to do with philosophical approach. If Magic is really looking to install a Riley-esque training program, I could see Tim disagreeing with the new program. It sounds like these kids better get ready to run – they may have a before & after season photo shoot in their future.

    I’m at a point in my life where I’ve dealt with enough career triumphs and setbacks that I never cheer for someone losing their job. I’m sorry to see long standing members of the staff go, but I take solace in the idea that Mag-inka is focusing on increasing corporate investment and accountability. I have worked for both family-style operations and corporate operations and I would say there is a clear reason sports franchises don’t normally graph their corporate ladder onto a family tree.

    I would expect that we would start hearing of hires next week. I pray that we start hearing of important hires next week.

    I’m a sarcastic optimist and I remain hopeful that this year and summer is the last I have to pay attention to: Draft Lottery Simulators, Summer League Roster Construction, and Off Season Workout Instagram Updates.

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  8. TheNumberOfFlopsIsTooDamnHigh May 6, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Keep in mind, Jeannie Buss negotiated an unprecedented 20 year contract with Time Warner before the 2012-13 season, netting an unprecedented windfall in revenue. Correct me if I’m wrong, but despite the last 4 terrible seasons I believe the Lakers are still the second most profitable franchise in the NBA.

    Before the CBA the most profitable teams could outspend other teams on their roster. Now big market teams do not have that advantage.

    But we can still outspend most other teams on analytics/training/coaching/nutritionists etc. staff because it does not count towards cap space.
    So maybe this is a new strategy to gain strategic advantage over other teams: Hire new, more expensive and more cutting edge experts than we had before.

    I just wish we had done so in regards to our coaching hires also. (until we hired Luke, that is…)

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  9. This is one of those areas where it’s really unclear as to how valuable and how much influence these individuals had on the Lakers organization. Here’s hoping these changes impact the Lakers in a positive way.

    Given there are many different statistical categories out there (PER, win shares, predictive models, etc.), I find it interesting to think about what type of stats the front office most values. What weight is placed on the eye test vs. stats?

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  10. It’s simple, if we’re at the bottom of the league for four years running, we have to be open to change.

    Now, are they logical or gut decisions? Is there a bigger plan coming together?

    From everything I’m seeing, it looks like Magic and Pelinka have taken the time to strategize, see clear areas of weakness, and now are beginning to bring their ideas and take action.

    If players have been deemed out of shape, then there is a need to improve methods and instill accountability measures.

    If analytics have been deemed lacking, then let’s look at best case practices and begin to have a cohesive team.

    The speculation is that the previous two regimes were siloed, which is no fault of their own. Likely the way they were managed. However, the vision is to make these two departments interconnected and instead of tasking new responsibilities and roles, it became necessary to get subject matter experts in these fields and train them together from the ground up.

    Excited for the changes. Remember insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

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  11. Is Clay Moser still in the picture. From what I can see – he is. He is the guy who is supposed to take the analytics and apply them to strategy which is more important than the actual number crunchers. Perhaps they were going to ask the whole analytics dept to report to Clay. I would favor this. Of course the fact that we are even talking about analytics means we have made some progress : )

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  12. Exchanging emails with Robert, we noted that D’Antoni is co-COY as per the NBCA, and that given the condition of Steve Kerr’s back, Mike Brown may be hoisting the O’Brien Trophy in a few weeks, although Kerr will of course be the coach of record. And, if Houston can figure out a way to beat SA two more times, Brown may be coaching against D’Antoni in the WCF.

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  13. A Horse With No Name May 8, 2017 at 10:37 am

    But the coach we should have given the opportunity to when we had him, is Quin Snyder. Great player development guy, great x and o guy. The only thing I don’t like is the pace he has the Jazz playing at. I realize it’s in large part due to his roster, but I still hate it.

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    • I was not advocating for either D’Antoni or Brown. I just think it is an interesting factoid.

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  14. A Horse With No Name May 8, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    I know you weren’t. I just that it worth mentioning that ironically, there were some very capable coaches in the stable–Ettore Messina as well.

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