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Pistons hire former Sixers, Rockets exec to head up analytics


Detroit Pistons Introduce Dwane Casey Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons announced Sachin Gupta as the team’s assistant general manager with a focus on the organization’s analytics department, the team announced today.

Gupta’s credentials couldn’t be better, especially for the frothing masses of NBA Twitter. He invented ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, which means he quite literally has provided NBA fans hundreds of years of entertainment and sources for arguments free of charge.

His actual basketball credentials, if you care about those, are even better.

He spent several years in the Philadelphia 76ers organization during The Process and eventually served as Sam Hinkie’s “top lieutenant” according to the release.

“We are pleased to welcome Sachin Gupta to the Detroit Pistons organization,” said Ed Stefanski. “Sachin is a creative thinker, extremely intelligent, and has a great handle on the analytical side of basketball operations systems. His analytics and salary cap background will be a tremendous resource while serving a leadership role for our basketball operations team.”

Gupta spent last season as a special advisor to Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, going back to the organization where he started his career in NBA front offices in 2006. There he was a data analyst and helped the team manage the salary cap.

The MIT grad also was one of the leaders in instilling advanced analytics into the DNA of ESPN along with John Hollinger prior to joining an NBA front office (Hollinger moved on as well, to Memphis), and, asI said, he INVENTED THE NBA TRADE MACHINE.

For those interested, here is a big profile Derek Brodner did on Gupta last year.

Here is morsel that stuck out to me:

But more important than Gupta’s ability to design a database or tweak a formula, more important than Bayes’ theorem or the verdict of a Brier score, was the mindset he brought with him, an application of the scientific process to a field that is still too often controlled by gut instinct. The transition, Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman might say, from thinking fast to thinking slow.

The life of a basketball executive is a rather unique field, one in which decisions are, by and large, made upwards of three times per year. In some fields, especially ones which require split-second decision making, a mostly correct decision made on time is more valuable than a correct decision made late, and we develop mental shortcuts in order to make these decisions in the blink of an eye. These shortcuts can lead to biases, biases which can then lead to mistakes, a phenomenon Gupta is keenly aware of. Gupta kept a poster of 20 common biases at his desk, a constant reminder of pitfalls to watch out for. He played the role of social scientist in addition to that of statistician and salary cap expert.

This seems like an absolute home-run of a decision for Stefanski Gores and the Pistons organization. Stefanski had many doubters, to put it mildly, when he was hired by Gores as a senior advisor. That skepticism only grew when it became clear he was a president and GM in all but title, but he has knocked just about every decision out of the park.

He hired Dwane Casey (your mileage may vary there, I suppose).

He hired up-and-comer Malik Rose.

He hired analytics guru Sammy Gelfand away from the Golden State Warriors.

He brought in Tim Grgurich, a god in coaching circles, as a special assistant/development coach.

He even brought back Arnie Kander as an advisor to help with injury prevention.

He seemingly made two smart draft-day selections, including an aggressive trade, in Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas.

He had just about zero money to spend but targeted smartly and brought in Glenn Robinson III (possible starting SF), Zaza Pachulia (first big off the bench) and Jose Calderon (point guard depth and absolutely critical Reggie Jackson insurance).

In my mind, he is close to batting 1.000 on his first NBA offseason.