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Pistons name Ken Catanella as Director of Basketball Operations

Those hoping the Pistons organization would start paying more attention to analytics are getting their wish. From a team press release:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the team has named Ken Catanella as Director of Basketball Operations. Catanella joins the Pistons after spending several years with the NBA League Office.

In his role with the Pistons, Catanella will serve as the team’s salary cap specialist and direct Detroit’s analytics efforts.

Prior to his time with the league office, Catanella worked for the New Jersey Nets (2006-08) where he managed the Nets’ analytics and spearheaded the creation and implementation of their statistical scouting systems.

A graduate of Amherst College where he played collegiately, Catanella has worked on Wall Street providing analytics on stadium/arena financings for professional teams and valuing publicly traded companies.

I can’t find the specific comment, but I know reader and Detroit Bad Boys contributor Ben Gulker has made the point on a few occasions that the model for the Pistons’ front office should be similar to this. Essentially, Joe Dumars relying on his strengths, namely experience/respect among players and agents/etc., while also hiring numbers people who can say things like, “Hey, here’s some data that shows why you want to avoid paying Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva a combined $20ish million a year.”

Also (hat tip to Mike Payne), here’s an interview Catanella did with TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott in 2008 with more on his background.

I thought this line was interesting from Payne’s post:

Ken was involved with the decisions of the 2008 NBA draft, where the Nets selected Brook Lopez 10th, Ryan Anderson 21st, and Chris Douglas-Roberts 40th. Each of these players have outperformed their draft positioning, which could reflect the value of having a guy like Catanella on staff.

One of the things Joe Dumars has done pretty consistently well is exactly that — find players in the draft who out-perform their draft position (albeit usually after they’re on another team’s roster). Obviously though, minus the influence of an analytics department, Dumars has used very different methods for finding those players than Catanella may have used. I’m really interested to see how the two styles co-exist and work together.


  • Dec 5, 20117:22 pm
    by detroitpcb


    Good hire. I know the guy from his days in Amherst. Inteligent. Very organized. Should be a nice addition to the front office

  • Dec 5, 20118:05 pm
    by frankie d


    so, joe had not had a guy doing that kind of statistical work previously?
    what about a cap specialist?
    was there a guy specifically doing work as a cap specialist?

  • Dec 5, 201110:28 pm
    by Patrick Ryan


    I like the hire a lot.  I remember reading that TrueHoop interview when it came out and I was pretty impressed with a lot of the type of thinking that Catanella was sharing.  Of course, he couldn’t go into proprietary methods, but as a kid who grew up as a stat head, I was pretty excited to get a glimpse into what teams were starting to do. 

    Looking into Langlois’ profiles of the assistants (especially Charles Klask), as well as some of the front office moves such as this hire, I’m very excited about the Pistons future.  It will take some time to get the ship righted, but I feel much better about the process now than I did six months ago.

  • Dec 6, 20112:25 am
    by frankie d


    if this is the first guy dumars has had in that role, it would go a long way to help explain some of the problems the team has had the last 5 years or so.
    just about every good team has at least one person handling cap issues specifically, a “capologist” and lots of teams have someone doing nothing but stats.
    joe’s pitiful handling of free agency, his ineptitude in using his team’s cap space was obvious the summer he signed CV and gordon.  while OKC picked up a nice PG during the season for nothing – eric maynor – because of their adept use of their cap space, joe seemed totally incapable of doing anything but spending the money he had to spend.  the idea of using it strategically, as OKC did, and as other teams routinely do, did not seem to occur to him.
    if it is true that he did not have a specialist handling those issues for the team, that is just plain incompetence.  and it helps to explain his ineptitude in dealing with those issues as they have become more and more important.

  • Dec 7, 20119:57 am
    by Patrick Ryan


    Very true, Frankie D.  The last few years have underscored how important it is for Dumars to have an intuitive, proactive assistant, such as John Hammond.  As we’ve seen from Hammond’s work in Milwaukee, he makes a good share of pretty shrewd decisions with limited resources.  And even when he whiffs on some, like Maggette, he’s willing to move on quickly and still get valuable resources in return.  I think having a checks-and-balances system in place helps the front office function better and the outcome is better.

    With that said, I’m certain that the Pistons have had a “capologist” over the years, since all teams have specialists who direct significant (if not exclusive) focus to the cap.  The key is having someone on board who is willing to think out of the box, like the OKC front office seems to do.  Dumars was actually pretty good at flipping assets when he had the green light to make deals in the Bill Davidson era, so it will be interesting to see what he’s able to do.

    I think the real value that Catanella will add is going to be by way of analytics.  Using statistical information in concert with scouting and player development, the Pistons will be more likely to find undervalued assets and long-term forecasting.  Since almost every team has an analytics department (or specialist) these days, it will be harder to gain an outright edge.  But at least now the Pistons are playing on the same field as other teams.

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