This is the final part of the exclusive interview 3 Shades of Blue had with Stu Lash, the least known member of the big three players in the Memphis Grizzlies front office.
His title is Director of Player Development and Basketball Development. This means that he has been the man running the player camps for the upcoming NBA Draft on Thursday night. He has run the majority of these camps without the presence of Jason Levien and John Holling, the other major players in the Grizzlies front office, and all of the camps without a head coach present.
In part one 3 Shades of Blue addressed Stu’s experience. In part 2 we strived to find out more about his beliefs and what he brings to the table for the Grizzlies.
3SOB: Let me get the dates straight again. You spent 5 years with Denver, 2 years with Jason and then 4 more years on your own. Prior to that you spent time running the 5 Star Camps and coaching high school kids. What was the best lesson you learned from that? Kind of a strange question I admit.
Stu Lash: No. That’s a good question. I would say that those guys had the most to learn. To me those players were blank slates. Even the very talented.
I remember we had LeBron James at 5 Star the summer before his sophomore year in high school year. He was just starting to come on the national scene. And you could tell. It was like…he was a big deal in the Midwest and there was the zeal about a freshman that was about to explode on the national scene and we had him there.
At the younger age, the great ones you could just tell their willingness to learn and be coached. There was no prima donna in him or anything. He was playing in both leagues at the camp. There was a league for his age group as well as the upper division of Juniors and Seniors.
I still remember this as if it was yesterday cause it stuck to me so well. The younger teams games were on one side of the campus and the other games were on the other and he had games back to back. After the first game I saw him jogging on this dirt path to get to the other game on time. He could have easily just been walking the shorter route where the other camper were. Guys were getting rides in golf carts. He was by himself getting work in.
There was that story and the story I remember of Kobe Bryant at the ABCD Camp his senior year. They go to wake him up at 6:30 in the morning and he wasn’t there. He was out on the track by himself doing wind sprints. That’s what separates those guys. When they are young and you see something like that. Obviously at that level there are tons of players with raw talent. It’s those things that separates those guys and make them special.
That’s whats so fun with those guys. They were so young and had such a willingness to learn and to be great. When I was at 5 Star we had a wealth of talent coming through over the years that I was there. Guys that are now in the prime of their careers in the NBA.
3SOB: From there you went to Denver as a scout…
SL: I was hired as the Video and Scouting Co-Ordinator. So I spent a good deal of my time in that film room. In the dungeon as every team has. That’s where I really cut my teeth in understanding what the NBA is really about. Initially, the first two years I was there, Jeff Bdzelic was the coach. The last few years Goerge Karl was the head coach.
Bdzelic came from the Pat Riley school of coaching and obviously George with his background, what I took away from those guys was a lot. Just being there and being part of that was what really gave me the basketball philosophy I have now.
3SOB: When you were in the video rooms, and we hear all the time about Tony watching videos or Mike’s been studying videos, what do you do as that co-ordinator to cut the film and help these players learn?
SL: Well it’s a combination of their own development and their game prep. During the season you are balancing that out.
When I was in Denver, one of the things that we did with Carmello was after every game we’d have his touches pulled out and Tim Grgurich and myself, mostly Grg, would watch it with Melo and we’d go through everything and just show him, this was earlier in his career and its the same thing we do with Marc and Mike and Zach now, and we’d just walk him through each part of his game. We’d slow it down and say “now was that a good play?”
The tape doesn’t lie. So it is very easy. It really is just how you communicate each detail to those guys to earn their trust. They see what you are seeing.
Basketball is a game of mistakes. There are more mistakes in a game of basketball than you can imagine. So its just filtering that out and understanding how to get better and finding the plays that fit into the confines of what you are trying to do as a team.
And then there is also the game prep. Tony is an amazing student of the game on his opponents. That’s his thing. He’s as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. So we’re playing the Thunder and Kevin Durant or the Lakers and Kobe, he’s honed in on those guys. He knows every tendency they are doing, every habit that they have. That’s what makes him the kind of player that he is.
3SOB: So does he look at the entirety of the game or is he breaking down certain moments?
SL: I think he focuses a lot on player minutes. So if there is two or three guys he’s going to specifically be guarding, I think he is watching those guys, their player tendencies, their touches and certainly their minutes. That’s what he’s focusing on.
3SOB: Your history is with James Garfinkle from 5 Star, Jeff Bdzelic – an extension of Pat Riley – George Karl and Lionel Hollins, what can you take from each of these influences to help you put together what you are looking for with the Memphis Grizzlies? What can we as fans look at and say Stu probably had a hand in this?
SL: That’s another good question. Overall we want guys that are going to play our way. Our core right now has adopted an unselfish, fun way to play the game. We want to be a little bit unpredictable from an analysis standpoint and a preparation standpoint for other teams, but be able to go out there and make the right play.
The game tells you what kind of play you should make. Make that extra pass. See the game where you’re not cheating the game. When the man is open move the ball. When the man is overplaying you, cut back door. I really believe in playing the game the right way. If you have a good basketball IQ, a high basketball IQ, you see the game and the game tells you what to do.
That’s a hard trait to have and very few players are born with it but it’s something that can be developed through continuity and the right make up of a player. Nobody on this level would be here if they didn’t have talent. I have talked about many times there are different layers of talent. There are different definitions of talent.
It’s not just what you see on the basketball court. It’s what you see in the film room. It’s what you see in the weight room. It’s the understanding of concepts. Its the character of a player. Is he willing to spend the extra time in the gym working on his craft?
All of those things to me are talent. Some guys have some of them. Some have more of one and less of another. Again it’s just trying to find those guys that fit into that puzzle. Maybe one guy has more of one thing and less of another so you are trying to balance that out. That’s what a team is.
The team and the organization is bigger than one person.
3SOB: You know there has been a lot of discussion around town about PER or the new statistics and that this is taking away from player development and what is really happening on the court but everything you’ve talked about today has been about court related. How does this new statistical world fit into what you see on the court or is it just totally overblown and we are making too big of a deal of it?
SL: No, I don’t think it’s overblown. I think people are always trying to make that strong man argument. The same way the team and the roster is a puzzle, decision making is a puzzle too. That’s a part of the decision making but it is not the law.
All these things come into play in making decisions. John Hollinger will be the first person to tell you there is nothing he can derive that can tell you how hard a player plays, or the heart of a player or the character or the work ethic of a guy. That’s equally important as anything else that we do.
When we sit down and make decisions all of those voices are in there together. We’re going to have our ups and downs. We are going to have disagreements. We’re not always going to be on the same page, but when we come out of that room we are going to come out together with a unified decision and that we stand by it collectively and feel good about it.
That’s our process.
This ended the interview. 3 Shades of Blue wants to thank Stu Lash for his time during this very busy portion of the season for the team and himself in particular. We look forward to getting to know him better and sharing more of his insights on the puzzle he and the rest of the Grizzlies management team are putting together for the fans.