April 09, 2001, 11:25 AM — ON PAPER, the Los Angeles Lakers should win the NBA title again this year. But basketball is not a game played "on paper." And with the advent of a new application for handheld devices, it's not scouted that way either.
The Lakers are the first team in the NBA to scrap traditional scouting methods and adopt L.A.-based Infinite Mobility's Pocket Hoops service, which brings a basketball-scouting application to PocketPC devices. In the past, Lakers scouts watched college games armed with a piece of paper for each player being scouted. After evaluating players, scouts mailed reports from all over the country to the Lakers' home office. Reports often sat in piles until just weeks before draft day.
Pocket Hoops lets scouts dial into a telephone connection -- the team turned down a wireless option -- and immediately transfer information on players. The system includes interfaces that track every aspect of a player's performance -- free-throw percentage, shot selection, you name it -- and catalog every player with text and recorded voice comments.
To create the perfect scouting tool, Infinite Mobility CEO Jonathan Schreiber and his cohorts scouted games with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and former Lakers President Jerry West and customized interfaces based on what they saw.
Creating an application that the Lakers' grizzled scouts could and would use was a challenge. Kupchak says he's still getting used to the device.
"We have just started with these things, and the jury's still out," he says. "You can sit in your office and figure it out, but when you're at a game, one small change of a screen and you start to panic."
Still, the Lakers' scouts have become so accustomed to the devices that support calls have virtually stopped, Schreiber says. But, as many benefits as the device has, Kupchak knows it won't guarantee another NBA crown next spring.
"The bottom line is I think it will be easier to use in a game environment than a pad of pages and a pencil," he says. "It doesn't mean you're going to pick the right player on draft day."