Henry Abbott founded TrueHoop, a website that covered NBA news around the world, which became ESPNs TrueHoop Network of bloggers covering the NBA and finally ESPN’s TrueHoop site which merged the world of blogging with traditional sports reporting. To say Henry is a visionary is not a great over-statement. As Henry has evolved from blogger to mainstream media personality he has come in contact with many leading thinkers of the NBA game.
At ESPN, Henry not only met but worked closely with John Hollinger, the Grizzlies new Vice President of Basketball Operations. His perspective on who John is and what he will bring to the Grizzlies front office is more informed than someone on the outside who only knows John via his printed works. We at 3 Shades of Blue took a few minutes to ask Henry about Hollinger to get a better understanding of the man who is helping guide the Grizzlies franchise forward under the Robert Pera era.
3SOB: John Hollinger is seen as a stat man with no NBA real life experience. How excited or nervous should Memphis fans be?
Henry Abbott: John has been working full-time in the NBA for almost all of his adult life, and his life has been real as far as I know! The NBA is — in reality — a very small group of people. If it were a town, it’d be a small one. John has been visiting those arenas with those people for a long time. John’s phone already has a lot of the same contacts in the address book that he’ll need in this job.
While of course he’s tackling a very new kind of role, the territory of NBA decision-making is hardly alien to him. Importantly, his opinions have been out there in ways you can verify day after day after day. Possibly more than anyone else in the league we know what he thinks, and he has a big ol’ track record of that which goes way beyond the PER rankings. When you get in there and access that track record, it is not perfect — nobody’s is — but it rivals anything anybody else has going.
For example, when he forecasts how many wins each team will have, his results are right there with Vegas. When he forecasts which draft picks will do well his results rival the collective wisdom of the league’s 30 front offices.
He’s a smart guy who works really hard and already has gotten in his 10,000 hours, so to speak, to master many aspects of NBA decision-making. Ask John for an answer and you’ll never get a dumb one — nor will he tell you any metric is the entire story.
3SOB: Are we looking at a ‘MoneyBall in Memphis’ scenario now or will Hollinger venture away from his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) or stick to his guns? Have you ever discussed with him how his system would work in the real world?
HA: If you have been reading him closely for the last few years, he was always about far more than PER. PER is his solution to get the box score down to a single number, and it’s damn good at that. But from the beginning neither John nor anybody else thought such a number would trump all basketball conversations. To know John’s work is to not worry about all that, and that was true even before he took on a big front office role.
Since getting the job he has mentioned, for instance, that the Grizzlies have the best defensive efficiency in the NBA right now. PER doesn’t touch defense, really (other than where it sneaks into the box score via rebounding and turnovers) but it’s still half the game and something he has written about countless times.
3SOB: What’s John like as a person? Is he going to reach out to the Memphis community in the manner of Chris Wallace or is he more of a sit in his suite and leave him alone type like Jerry West?
HA: He has a ready smile, especially when he has a cup of coffee in his hand. (Seriously, coffee is a major Hollinger concern.)
It’s amusing to me that from afar lots of people treat John as if he’s scary. Anybody who knows him knows he’s a good dude. I have no idea if his role will entail being the face of the franchise to the local business community and the like. But if the job is to say hello, listen, smile, and build relationships … he can do that job.
3SOB: How do you see John working with Levien, Wallace and Hollins?
HA: Any relationship takes time to build. But he has a warm personality, an inquisitive mind, a killer work ethic, a deep love of NBA hoops and an urge to kick a lot of butt — without being a glory hound. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?
3SOB: The Tony Barone’s are gone now, and the Grizzlies scouting staff gets slashed again. Is it too simplistic to assume Hollinger’s stats will replace scouts?
HA: Not sure what the Grizzlies are paying John, but if they just wanted to make decisions based on Hollinger’s numbers, they could have saved a lot by simply paying for an Insider subscription. It’s all there! The PER rankings, the draft-rater … But that’s not what they wanted. Instead they want to build a perennial contender by making one smart decision after another. That means a room full of people with diverse knowledge sets sharing their best thinking on the regular. I think anybody would want both people like John and scouts in that room.
3 Shades of Blue wants to thank Henry Abbott for his time, for his including 3 Shades of Blue in the TrueHoop Network and for being the visionary to come up with the TrueHoop world in the first place. We’ll be sure to bring John coffee at our first meeting!