Publish date:

Cyber Scouting Computerized reports, like the one at right and on succeeding pages that the Jazz had on the Bulls for the 1997 Finals, have fast become a prerequisite of postseason planning

If the Utah Jazz should meet the Chicago Bulls in the NBA
Finals, the Jazz won't have to look far to get a read on the
Bulls' tendencies. Since Chicago's key players haven't changed
since last year's championship series, all the Jazz needs to do
is pull its scouting reports from the 1996-97 archives. There
the Jazz staff will find individual breakdowns of Bulls players
that reveal that forward Scottie Pippen's favorite move on the
left block is a righthanded hook to the middle; that when guard
Ron Harper penetrates the lane, he shoots the ball 83% of the
time; that reserve point guard Randy Brown likes to crossover
dribble from right to left to shake his defender; and that 17%
of Michael Jordan's offense comes on isolation plays, during
which he tends to take two or three dribbles before pulling up
for a jumper.

"For the postseason, this kind of statistical analysis is
paramount," says Orlando Magic assistant coach Tom Sterner, who
helped IBM develop Advance Scout, a so-called data-mining
system, for the NBA. "You are playing the same team five, six or
seven times in a row, which means tendencies become evident. And
the more information you have, the more valuable your
information becomes."

Pro teams are relying more and more on computer and video
scouting, which can tell them which five players constitute
their best rebounding unit, which way a player prefers to turn
in the low post, what an opponent is likely to do with the shot
clock ticking down in the first half and which big man will kick
it out of the double team--and which won't. Boston Celtics coach
Rick Pitino is so enamored of the technology behind this
scouting that he recently ordered nearly $400,000 worth of video
equipment from Avid Sports, which provides a digital video
program to 17 NBA clubs that enables them to instantly call up
the image of any play they have videotape of. The Houston
Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich and the Indiana Pacers' Larry Bird are
among the coaches who can't get enough of this stuff. Budding
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant finds the information so
valuable that he requests new statistical analyses--on himself
and the players he will be guarding--almost daily.

Brendan Brown, who handles computer analysis for the New Jersey
Nets, is convinced that this scouting technology has helped to
decrease field goal percentages and overall scoring throughout
the league. "We've gotten to the point where we've charted
everything so extensively that it's rare we see something from
another team that surprises us," Brown says.

The Jazz is hoping its analysis of the individual Bulls and of
Chicago's legendary triangle offense will give them a slight
edge if the two teams meet again for the title. (These analyses
figure to be very similar to the ones by Jordan Cohn scouting
service accompanying this article, which were used by the Jazz
during last year's Finals and obtained by SI from a team
insider.) Knowing, for instance, that Jordan prefers to run the
pick-and-roll on the left wing and will foot-fake to the middle
and drive baseline when coming off the pick might help Utah
neutralize that play. The Jazz staff also can put together a
tape showing all the times Jordan has executed that sequence.
With the visual and statistical evidence before them, Utah
players can understand the importance of forcing Jordan into the
screen, away from the baseline and toward the middle of the
floor, where, 66% of the time, he passes off. You don't need a
computer to explain why forcing Jordan to pass off is good for
your team.

A dramatic example of the value of computer scouting came in the
first round of the playoffs last season, when Orlando found
itself down 2-0 to the Miami Heat, having lost those games by an
average of 26 points. When the Magic got home after the second
loss, Sterner spent three hours in his office plugging questions
into the Advance Scout program.

Shortly after 3 a.m. he unearthed a nugget: With reserve point
guard Darrell Armstrong on the floor, Orlando had outscored the
Heat by 15 points during the two games. In addition, the Magic
had shot 64% with Armstrong on the floor and 37% without him,
while Miami had shot 57% while Armstrong was out of the game and
45% when he was harassing point guard Tim Hardaway and his Heat
teammates. Sterner called up corresponding video footage, which
showed how effectively Armstrong had pushed the ball up the
floor in transition and created scoring opportunities, and how,
on defense, he had forced Miami turnovers and caused the Heat to
resort to tough shots.

Armstrong had played only 23 minutes in the two games. In Game 3
Orlando coach Richie Adubato played Armstrong 38 minutes. He had
21 points, eight assists and one turnover, and the Magic won
88-75. Rejuvenated Orlando also won Game 4, with Armstrong
contributing 12 points, nine rebounds and one assist. Although
Orlando dropped the deciding fifth game in Miami, the Magic had
been transformed from a floundering club into a team infused
with new life--not to mention nearly $3 million more from ticket
sales, concessions and television revenues.

Few revelations from computer scouting are as dramatic as the
one involving Armstrong. More often, such analysis reaffirms
concerns that a team already has about its players. The Lakers
didn't need a computer to tell them that 7'1" Shaquille O'Neal
and 7-foot Elden Campbell didn't mesh on the court. The question
was why. Using data mining, Lakers video coordinator-scout Chris
Bodaken discovered that opposing teams' field goal percentages
were much higher with the two big men on the floor. When Bodaken
matched that to video, he discovered numerous instances in which
both Campbell and O'Neal were too slow in getting back on
defense, giving the opponent three-on-two or four-on-three
opportunities. "It's one thing to harp on what guys need to do,"
Bodaken says. "It's another to put it on a tape and show them
over and over again."

Different teams want different things from computer analysis.
Miami coach Pat Riley isn't as concerned with what opposing
teams run as with how opponents defend against what he runs.
Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl knew he liked having
veteran guard-forward Nate McMillan on the floor, even though
McMillan's statistics often were pedestrian. An analysis showed
that McMillan's plus-minus rating (how many points an opposing
team gained or lost with him on the court) was tops on the
Sonics last season.

Sometimes the numbers lie. A couple of lucky bounces can convert
two turnovers into baskets and cloud the data on the point guard
you are evaluating. The use of video--as well as common
sense--can help a team check the statistics.

There are circumstances--usually involving Jordan--in which all
the information in cyberspace doesn't matter. After the Nets
drew the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs this season,
Brown prepared a 19-minute digital video on the tendencies of
the Bulls, with intricate details on the nuances of the triangle
offense. Yet the comprehensive report could not compensate for
the fact that Chicago was simply a better team.

SI asked a group of computer and video scouts for a few ways to
diminish Jordan's productivity. Their suggestions:

--Intermittently have a single player face-guard Jordan and let
that player forgo the help he would usually provide to his
teammates when Jordan is without the ball. (The Pacers have used
this tactic with limited success in the Eastern Conference
Finals.) However, warns one scout, don't do this more than 30%
of the time, or Jordan's teammates will catch on and counter by
passing elsewhere, at which time Jordan will spin backdoor and
set himself up for a layup.

--Run an extra defender at Jordan when he has the ball and the
shot clock is ticking down. Don't do it with a full clock,
because Jordan will hit Toni Kukoc or Steve Kerr for the open

--Try to prevent Jordan from running the "double out, step out,"
a play that calls for him to run down to a screen set around the
block, step out to the corner and shoot. Scouts say this is
Jordan's favorite place from which to stroke the jumper.

"Yet Jordan operates from so many different spots, you'd almost
have to come up with a separate defense for every place on the
court," says Sterner. "He's so intelligent offensively that he's
already solved every conceivable scheme opposing coaches have
come up with to slow him down.

"There's still really only one way to stop him. You have to
break his ankle."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY MATT MAHURIN [Montage of Michael Jordan's silhouette on computer circuit board]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Dale Davis and Scottie Pippen in game]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Ron Harper in game]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Steve Kerr in game]

Utah report on MICHAEL JORDAN
(6'6", 198 lbs.) (R)

1. Playing a lot of point guard, 80% of the Bulls' offense goes
through him. Will shoot both the catch-and-shoot jumper and off
the dribble. Can create his own jumper at any time. Excellent
ball-fake jumper stepping in. Mixes up his offensive game very
well. Will take whatever the defense will give him. Eighty-three
percent of his shots are jumpers. In this [sampling] he took 212
jumpers compared to 41 drives. Fifty-four percent of his shots
are taken from the right side of the floor.

2. Likes to take the stationary jumper, faking the defender with
a jab step to get space (like Mitch Richmond), usually from the
corner/wing extended. Will make the jumper when the shot clock
is winding down. Seventeen percent of his offense is isolation
moves. When he isolates he likes to take two or three dribbles
in either direction into a pull-up jumper.

3. Good three-point shooter (111 for 297) 37.4% accuracy for the
'96-97 season. Will shoot the pull-up three in early offense
(like John Stockton).

4. At the end of the game, the Bulls like to inbound the ball
from the sideline and throw a lob pass to him against smaller

5. Righthanded player, drives are 16% of his offense. Will drive
equally in both directions. Will elevate to the top of the
basket quickly on his dribble penetration.

6. Likes to post up smaller defenders. Ninety-two percent of his
postups start with his back to the basket.


When turning middle: #1 [preference] turnaround jumper off his
left shoulder.

If forced baseline: #1 turnaround his right


When turning middle: #1 turnaround jumper off his right shoulder.

If forced baseline: #1 turnaround jumper off his left shoulder.
He often will start out on perimeter and make a cut into a quick
running postup, sealing the defender on his back.

Utah report on SCOTTIE PIPPEN
(6'7", 225 lbs.) (R)

1. More effective driver than consistent jump shooter--will take
the catch-and-shoot jumper and...jumper going right off the
dribble. Has a good perimeter-shot fake to set up his drive.
Seventy percent of shots taken are jumpers. In this [sampling]
he took 94 jumpers compared to 28 drives.

2. Often gets jumper off a handoff in triangle offense. Likes
also to shoot the jumper off the pick-and-roll on left side.

3. Good and improved three-point shooter (156 for 424); 36.8%
accuracy for the '96-97 season.

4. Righthanded player, drives are 21% of his offense. Will drive
equally well in both directions. On both wings likes to drive
baseline and can get to the top of the basket quickly!

5. Will post up smaller defenders. Eighty percent of his postups
start with his back to the basket.


When turning middle: #1 righthanded jump hook.

If forced baseline: #1 turnaround jumper off his right shoulder.


When turning middle: #1 turnaround jumper off his right shoulder.

If forced baseline: #1 drop step power layup. He will frequently
start out on the perimeter, and then will make a cut into a
quick running postup, sealing the defender on his back.

6. Excellent open-floor player, will often in early offense pull
up for the three-point jumper. He is very active moving without
the ball, dangerous offensive rebounder.

Utah report on RON HARPER
(6'6", 198 lbs.) (R)

1. Streak perimeter shooter, will take four jumpers for every
one drive. Likes to take his catch/shoot jumper out of their
triangle offense on the "guard split." More effective driver
than perimeter jump shooter. Eighty-four percent of shots taken
are jumpers. In this [sampling] he took 38 jumpers compared to
six drives. Sixty percent of shots taken both outside and inside
are from the right side.

2. Will create his own jumper going one/one, likes to take
pull-up jumper going to his right.

3. Will post up smaller defenders. Eighty-five percent of
postups start with his back to the basket.


When turning middle: #1 turnaround jumper off his left shoulder.

If forced baseline: #1 turnaround jumper off his right shoulder.


When turning middle: #1 turnaround jumper off his right shoulder.

If forced baseline: #1 fading turnaround jumper off his left

4. Good three-point shooter (68 for 188) 36.2 accuracy for
'96-97 season.

5. Righthanded player, drives are 22% of his offense. Likes to
drive right 70% of the time. Will get to the top of the basket
very quickly from perimeter. When he penetrates he will shoot
83% of the time in the lane.

6. Excellent runner--will leave early after contesting a
perimeter jump shot.

Utah report on STEVE KERR
(6'2", 180 lbs.) (R)

1. Terrific open perimeter shooter. Ninety-eight percent of
shots taken outside and inside are jumpers. In this [sampling]
he took 57 jumpers compared to one drive.

2. Mostly will shoot the catch-and-shoot jumper but recently is
creating more for himself off the dribble, especially going to
his right.

3. Excellent three-point shooter (110 for 237) 46.4% accuracy
for '96-97 season.

4. Righthanded player, drives are 1% of his offense. Likes to
drive right 70% of the time.

5. Often gets his jumper off the pick-and-roll, handoffs out of
set offense, transition, post kickout pass or teammates'

6. Excellent at taking the pull-up elbow and wing jumper out of