Harry Houdini and weird and magical powers, and his real name was Erich Weiss. Eric Weiss has weird and magical powers, and his real name is Eric Weiss.
You might recognize the name Eric Weiss from DraftExpress. Recently I heard that Weiss was involved in a startup that aims deliver psychological insight into NBA players to teams.
Eric's father, Dr. David Weiss, is an expert in that kind of work. I was curious, so I sent them some questions about the venture, called BBIQ, which they answered by e-mail. Much more after the jump.
TrueHoop: What's the process? What does BBIQ's actual work look like? How long does it take?
Eric Weiss: Executives and coaches would start by filling out what we call our PASS survey, which takes the subjective opinions and expectations that management has for their players and puts it into a quantitative form. This enables us to gauge what the team is looking for in terms of a particular players output and development.
We then do an assessment with all the principle decision makers, which takes only 45 minutes to complete. It is a multiple choice questionnaire that is designed to measure personality and decision making patterns. There are no right or wrong answers, just personal choices that are particular to every individual.
Once the assessment is completed, it is scored and edited to fit the particular individual based off of the team needs, goals, and expectations. There are 10 categories that we measure: Team Identity, Mental Toughness, Work Ethic, Court Awareness, Competitive Instinct, Coachability, Leadership Potential, Role Player Potential, Locker Room Presence, and Resistance to Burnout-all of these are measured with percentile certainty, not guestimations of aptitude.
It takes us about one working day to complete a single player/personnel assessment. The time it takes to analyze a complete team dynamic varies depending on the needs of that particular team.
For an initial evaluation, it will take 2-3 weeks of analysis before we'd deliver our initial report. But, once a team is on file and has a "team profile" on record, it is much easier to assess a particular player or situation as it arises because the cultural identity of the franchise is much more well known.
TrueHoop: Clearly, you think teams could do a better job deciding who they should give the big contracts to. Correct?
Eric Weiss: It’s not about telling a team that they’re making a bad decision with the contracts they’re giving out, or with the draft picks they’re making. Teams are professional and do their due diligence for the most part when making personnel decisions. These are multi-million dollar decisions and teams clearly have a vested interest in paying attention to the details.
That being said, it’s the details they have access to which help them to make the best decisions, especially during the draft. I believe measures of a player’s physical play and potential production is pretty well covered. But, it’s the so-called “intangibles” that make up the mindset of a player which end up being highly subjective in terms of review and measurement. When you factor in the environmental concerns, meaning how that player will interact with the other personalities on his team, that’s when you enter the real unknown.
What we can offer teams is a way to get quantitative data on those perceived “intangible” measures, such as court awareness, mental toughness, work ethic, and even optimal player roles such as being a role player or an on-court leader.
Dr. David Weiss: Henry, basically teams are telling us that they would like to do a much better job than their competition in the draft, free agency,etc. Every team has had stunning successes and stunning failures in predicting who will work out best for them. We are not scouts of physical talent—we are expert evaluators of Critical Core Dynamics ie. those so-called “intangibles” that are really quite tangible and measurable (See my enclosed article entitled “Finding the Next Ben Wallace,” Weiss (2006). We can quantify and predict these Critical Core Dynamics with substantial accuracy. For example teams want to know(1) Who will respond best under pressure compared to other players they are evaluating.? (2) who is most prone and least prone to “burnout” over the course of a season (3) Which player possesses “true confidence” vs a false confidence-bravado (4) Which player recovers from setbacks and adversity better than other players (5) Which player is prone to “impulse control” problems i.e. alcohol/drug abuse, off-court violence and other temptations of the “NBA lifestyle”.(6) Which player has a “real work ethic” and disciplined personality vs just saying the right things. (7) Which player will be most open to change and which will be too stubborn to change. (8) Which player responds to the “inspirational” type coach and which player responds to the “blueprint-tactition type of coach” or the “authoritarian drill-sergeant type coach. (8) Which players literally “hate” the limelight and which players love being the center of attention (9) Which players derive a good part of their identity by being part of a team identity and which players are much more self-centered. We give teams a detailed 27 page report on each player from our measurement and our data base. This is not pop-psychology, but real usable data presented in numerical form along with a detailed “on-court off-court” profile.
TrueHoop: What stage are you at now in setting up the company?
Eric Weiss: In terms of output capability, we are at 100 percent. If a team asked us to do an individual player or full team assessment, we could produce meaningful and relevant material. What we don’t have finished at this time is our digital interface. We’re currently building a web-accessible interface that is interactive, so team’s can log onto their account and view all the player information. We are also negotiating with Synergy Sports Technology with the hopes of providing support statistics and video, so teams can look at how a player’s personality attributes manifest in their game play. For interested teams, we also have 6 Ph.D. statistical experts who can generate a myriad of basketball-relevant statistics custom made to the teams specific needs. Most teams do not have full time “statistical analysts”.
TrueHoop: What kind of impact do you think you can have?
Eric Weiss: I feel we can make a substantial impact. BBIQ’s goal is to become a standard in the industry for what we do; an integrated Data Central. Dr. Weiss has provided this type of assessment information for individual athletes, Fortune 500 companies, military, police, and firefighting personnel for decades in order to put the best “teams” of decision makers together. My perspective is that basketball is a bit behind the times in terms of utilizing this type of analysis. But, times are changing in the league and (I predict everyone will be doing this in six or seven years. Our initial response from teams has been very enthusiastic!)
The success of “Money Ball” brought national relevance to the idea of advanced statistical analysis and basketball has started to come around in terms of using that type of information to study their physical performance. But, being able to identify critical core dynamics of personality and give percentile rating’s of a player’s ability to fit certain team roles is just as crucial. Basketball is a team game, and that requires understanding the personalities that make up that team dynamic. In a salary cap driven system with guaranteed contracts, knowing how a player is going to approach situations mentally before committing to them financially is essential. It’s just a matter of showing teams the depth and accuracy of what we can measure, after that it’ll take off like wild-fire.
TrueHoop: Give me some examples of how this kind of work has been effective (in sports or other fields).
David Weiss: I have given some examples above for basketball. Recently, one of the more successful teams in the league asked us to help them solely in the draft process. Since they are picking from the “middle of the pack” it is the Critical Core Dynamics that will make one player develop positively in the future more than his competition in the draft—given of course that the talent levels are about equal. We are not attempting to be judges of physical talent.
Outside of basketball (I work with other athletes as well) I was asked to help choose firefighters who would do best as team members under pressure. When fighting fires you literally “place your life in the hands of others”. A poor team player or one who crumbles under pressure can lead to the death or severe injury of another team member.-----Even worse than missing a critical foul shot in the final minutes of the fourth quarter!
TrueHoop: What are some of the problems you can help teams avoid?
Eric Weiss: It’s not so much about helping teams avoid problems as it is helping teams to maximize player potential. Figuring out which players are suited for what roles, identifying the coach on the staff who will have the best success at reaching a player, knowing which teammates will work well together and which will not from a communication standpoint. Trial and error is a slow and expensive way to come to these solutions. What we can do is show how a player will interact with the team and why that reaction is taking place.
David Weiss: Well, there are definitely certain players that bring their baggage with them—and a team would want to know this ahead of time. But it is also about finding the “goodness of fit” between player and team. For example, a player may have a great set of skills and a great set of Critical Core Dynamics except that the particular player scores very low on “Ability to Accept Change” So this player may work out terrifically on a team that already plays his style of basketball. However, if the team is “hoping” he will change his style of play, we let them know that this is rather unlikely and that they may wish to evaluate other players to fill the opening.
Eric Weiss: For instance, it took years for team’s to realize that Tim Thomas was not the type of player who would step up and be an on-court leader or “go-to” guy. Something inside of Thomas comes alive when he’s in the playoffs-or in a contract season-but doesn’t show itself on a regular basis. Yet, his physical talent is such that he got a max-level contract in the hope that he’d be that type of player. Only years later did Thomas reach a point where his market value was reflective of what he’d actually contribute to a team. BBIQ could have assessed Thomas his rookie year, measured the various elements of his critical core dynamics, and given a team an accurate gauge on what they were getting with a specific breakdown of how he’d fit in with the respective team and what role he would end up filling.
Essentially, we could have told the Bucks that Thomas’ consistency and team orientation were not ever going to make him a team leader, despite the lure of his talent. Whether or not they listened, at least they’d have known. Our job is to build our reputation to the point where teams trust the information we give them and use it in concert with their expertise to find the best fit for their team.
David Weiss: The entire value is to Quantify and Predict basketball relevant information based on what a team wants to know and based on a real database—not home grown pop psychology concepts that have not been validated.
TrueHoop: Besides avoiding certain players, might BBIQ help teams cope with players they can't avoid? Is it all about assessment, or do you also recommend tactics?
Eric Weiss: We certainly suggest solutions. Identifying a player’s tendencies is only the first part of discovering how to interact with that player to bring out the best of his ability. Our information is extremely valuable to team’s that are trying to build team chemistry. We’re not usually in the business of identifying “problem children” and outing them. Tim Thomas is a prime example of a player with value who simply was miss-judged in terms of his actual performance potential.
By knowing what a player is ideally suited for and how he is most comfortable being utilized within a system, teams can define roles and place value much easier. Coaches can put out more effective line ups, General Managers can have a more complete understanding of what types of players are missing from their roster, and player’s will perform better on the court. It’s all about maximizing player value, which should satisfy all parties, because player’s get paid to produce and putting a player in the best situation to excel is in everyone’s best interest.
David Weiss: Of course, Knowledge is Power. From a specific and thorough assessment, we can then suggest solutions based on team needs.
TrueHoop: Can you tell us about some examples of psychologically sound NBA players?
Eric Weiss: “Psychologically sound” infers that we are trying to separate the “good” from the “bad.” What we do is determine “goodness of fit.” A player in one situation may not be a “sound” player for another situation. Boris Diaw is a simple and quick example of a player who was not a sound fit for the Atlanta Hawks, but a tremendous match for the Phoenix Suns. There are a number of factors that play into this, common wisdom sums this up as a “change of scenery” or “the system” which elicited such a dramatic change in performance.
Without doing an assessment with Diaw, one can only speculate. But, the point is that by doing a BBIQ assessment, it is possible to uncover the Critcal Core Dynamics and his Environmental Parameters that make this type of transition possible. Diaw didn’t change as a person and his physical skills didn’t change to any substantial degree. But, the application of his skills to the game, his critical core dynamic profile, and the type of atmosphere that the Suns provided for him to develop determined his success. If he had stayed in Atlanta last season, I doubt the progress would have been as substantial. The key is in identifying the specific facets that enable a Boris Diaw to thrive and then placing him in the environment that fits his profile, we can do that.
TrueHoop: What else? What am I not asking you about that you'd like to tell me?
Eric Weiss: I think that about covers it from my end. Again, we didn’t invent the scientific methodology that goes into the BBIQ assessment process, this is an established and recognized quantitative database that has tens of millions of dollars worth of research and decades worth of usage behind it. What we’ve done is taken these established principles and applied them to a specific industry, as has been done in countless other professions with proven results. If I felt like I was trying to invent something out of the blue I wouldn’t be so ardent in my conviction of its relevance. But, we know how valuable it can be.
David Weiss: I have spent 30 years applying this methodology to thousands of individuals both athletes and non-athletes alike We have a proprietary database that is highly predictive now and is constantly being refined and expanded. It is sort of like coaching—When you have applied sound principles for 30 years, you are a better coach than when you first started.
Eric Weiss: The teams that start using this first are going to have a huge competitive advantage over their competition because they’ll be improving the efficiency with which they operate. Faster player development, better team chemistry, greater accuracy in talent acquisition, all of this can be done. It’s only a matter time before it is; we’d just like to be the first and the best.