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Join Date: May 2008
Location: YO MAMMA
Q & A with Jeff Weltman
Q & A: Raps' VP on analytics, new-look Gay - Sportsnet.ca
SN: What was the bigger draw for you in coming to Toronto, working with Masai again or the challenge of reworking the team and making it truly competitive?
JW: I think Toronto is regarded around the league as one of those teams where it’s: “Don’t let those guys become good because if they become good you’ve awoken a sleeping giant.” The resources at your disposal, the city, the ownership, it’s a place that NBA guys love. There’s so many things going for it, and the chance to reunite with Masai and have all of that other backing and support was a really special opportunity.
SN: You were hired about a week before the Bargnani trade. Was moving him already a priority for the team when you came in or did the front office seize an opportunity?
JW: Both. I think that Masai felt that—as good a player and as good a talent as Andrea is—it just wasn’t going to happen here. It’s a lot of pressure to have that No. 1 label on your back, and for whatever reason it just wasn’t going to click with Bargnani in Toronto. We were open to the idea of seeing what was out there for him and then the right deal came along at the right time.
SN: Does Steve Novak slot into the same role Andrea played last season?
JW: I know that they’re the same position and they both bring the same thing, which is perimeter shooting, but I hate to compare one guy to another. Novak is a veteran guy. He’s proven himself statistically to be one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA at any position. He’s at a significantly lower (salary) number than Andrea, and we were also able to acquire a first-round pick. So, we didn’t say, “Is he going to be better or worse than Bargnani?” We just said, “We need what he brings and we like the deal, it checks a lot of boxes for us.” Masai had some things that he wanted to address early on and in that trade we were able to hit a few points that we wanted to hit.
SN: Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin were also signed in free agency. What specific holes do you see each of those guys filling on this team?
JW: One of the key elements that Masai wanted to hit early on was to make us a tougher team. Obviously, Tyler brings that competitive spirit and that fire and that willingness to not be afraid to challenge his teammates and the guys he’s playing against. He just plays with a fearlessness and a heart that is what we want to be about. With D.J., I think we really wanted someone to be able to push Kyle and also be able to challenge Kyle for minutes. D.J. Augustin is a young guy, he’s a lottery pick, he’s pretty much started his whole career and he’s not coming here to say, “I’m just going to take whatever minutes I can get.” He’s going to work for as big a role as he can get.
SN: I know you can’t necessarily speak to what the coaches are hoping to see from Chris Wright, Carlos Morais and Julyan Stone—the three guys competing for that last roster spot—but can you tell me what you guys saw in them to bring them in in the first place? What should fans be looking for from those guys?
JW: When deciding who to bring to camp, we wanted guys who were young or in their prime, high-motor, athletic and team-oriented—and guys who had some potential to grow as players. Worst case, we said, we want guys who are going to make our training camp more competitive, and all three of those guys will do that. They’re very different guys and they all bring certain elements of things we need. Can they do enough things to make our team? We’ll find out in training camp.
SN: I’ve heard you described as “analytics savvy”—that’s a direct quote—a lot has been made of Rudy Gay’s inefficiency on the offensive end. What’s your take on that?
JW: We’re not looking at that right now, we’re looking at what he could become. The guy has worked so hard this summer. He’s completely changed his body. He’s put in a week with Hakeem Olajuwon. I think he’s thinking about the team and his role in a very mature, aggressive, focused way. So I want to lay off any judgment, backstory or history with Rudy. We look at Rudy as an all-star talent, and it’s our job to challenge him and put the team around him and surround him with the coaches and everything else we can possibly give him to make him become the player that he should be and that I know he really wants to be.
SN: Sticking with analytics, I’ve read the Raptors have made a lot of progress with the Sport VU system. Can you explain, in a general sense, just what that is?
JW: The Sport VU system is six cameras that are installed above the court. The Sport VU guys will tell you that they track the X-Y coordinates. They track all the player movement, ball movement and ball height—all the data that you could imagine. I think it’s like 1.2 million bits of data that it generates per game, and there are different ways to slice the spatial relationships of players and ball, and different statistics that are generated, and it gets linked to the statistical play-by-play.
SN: How do you go about taking that raw data and figuring out which elements of it are genuinely useful—and then how to apply it?
JW: With the analytic data, you have to trust the guys who know it and really rely on them to tell you where the degrees of accuracy get a little fuzzy. Then you have to figure out where you can connect some of the analytics to some of the other parts of the operation that you value, because every organization will value things differently. I can tell you that it’s something that we take seriously and that we’ve tried to make headway with. It’s hard before you’ve played any games. We’re a basketball team, our job is to feed off what we see during the games. Once the games start, we’ll get a better start on being able to assess all that stuff.
SN: What’s the general plan for the Raptors moving forward?
JW: We feel we’ve added some good players, some competitiveness and hopefully some cohesiveness. We’ve got to let the players define, a little bit, what this team is going to be about. I think our job this year is to challenge, to push, to elevate the standard as high as we can and to assess, to see what we’ve got.