ESPN writer joins Grizzlies’ front office
By Ben Golliver
The Grizzlies announced the hiring of ESPN.com NBA columnist and statistician John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations on Thursday.
Hollinger, a pioneer in the use of advanced statistics in basketball, invented the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) to represent player performance using a single number. Hollinger will leave ESPN.com to join the Grizzlies’ front office under Robert Pera’s new ownership group and will work alongside general manager Chris Wallace. The Grizzlies also announced the hiring of Stu Lash as director of player personnel on Thursday.
“We are thrilled to have John and Stu join the Grizzlies,” Grizzlies CEO & Managing Partner Jason Levien said. “Both of these individuals will provide innovative and unique perspectives that bolster the organization’s future.”
“It is clear to me that this is an organization that is focused on building thoughtful decision-making processes and establishing a forward-thinking culture of sustained success,” Hollinger said. “Working in Memphis and being part of the new vision and leadership was an opportunity I just could not pass up.”
“It’s incredibly difficult to leave ESPN, but the chance to work for an NBA team and the Grizzlies’ new ownership was an irresistible opportunity,” Hollinger said Thursday.
Hollinger, 41, founded the website “Alleyoop” in 1996 to launch his online career as a basketball sabermetrician and authored a series of books originally known as the “Pro Basketball Prospectus” and later titled “Pro Basketball Forecast.”
He went on to work for The Oregonian newspaper’s online site (OregonLive.com) and served as the NBA editor of Sports Illustrated’s online site (SI.com) before joining ESPN.com in February 2005.
The Grizzlies lost quantitative analyst Aaron Barzilai, who joined the Sixers as their director of analytics in November.
One of the leading analytical minds and most-cited writers for years, Hollinger makes an unusual transition from media member to NBA front office executive, although Timberwolves GM David Kahn was a sports writer. Hollinger’s sarcasm and blunt takes often provoked responses from NBA players and coaches. After Hollinger predicted that the Raptors would win 33 games this season, Toronto coach Dwane Casey used the forecast as motivation for his team, according to the Toronto Sun.
“I saw today someone predict we’re going to win 33 games, so, with that lack of respect, that should get us motivated to come in this gym each and every day to bust our tails … I’m just telling you guys that, Hollinger report or whatever it was. That right there tells us how much lack of respect the league has for us and how much we’ve got to continue to work each and every day we walk on the floor.”
Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan then added on Twitter: “Who the hell is John Hollinger?”
Although former media members are scarce in NBA front offices, Hollinger is far from the only analytically inclined NBA executive. Rockets GM Daryl Morey, Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren and others have all discussed their use of advanced statistics in guiding personnel decisions.