In his three decades in the NBA, Terry Stotts has diagramed countless thousands of plays on a whiteboard. But if he has the choice, his dry erase days are behind him.
Stotts has ditched the whiteboard for drawing up plays during timeouts in favor of an iPad, a tech-forward shift that has become a mainstay in its 15 games on the Trail Blazers bench.
“I’m just getting used to it,” Stotts said of the switch “But I wouldn’t go back.”
The program Stotts uses was designed and built by Joe Lee, the team’s Basketball Applications Director. The iPad made its season debut on Dec. 29 in a home game against the Golden State Warriors. Stotts draws plays live on the screen using a stylus just as he would with the old grease boards and dry erase markers.
“The actual size of the court diagram is the equivalent of what I was using on the dry erase,” Stotts said. “You can save the plays. It was (Lee’s) idea and it works out well.”
The NBA has allowed teams to have tablets and laptops on the bench since 2012. Teams can use them for scouting and video review as long as the devices aren’t connected to an online network and can’t receive any form of outside communication.
Stotts’ new iPad was the next logical step in on-bench tech, and he doesn’t miss the days of scribbling on the whiteboard, having to rub out mistakes and then leaving the timeout with marker on his fingers and wrists.
“I’ve got five different colors. I can clear it right away,” Stotts said, listing the advantages. “I can draw it all up and instead of erasing everything I can just clear the whole thing and start over. I can undo my last action. There’s nothing I miss.”
He’ll often write the players initials down in one color, draw the first action of the play in a second color and the secondary action in a third. Blazers players have been receptive to the change.
“It was kinda funny when he first started using it,” Blazers big man Zach Collins said. “He had to figure it out a little bit. Honestly, he’s way better at it than I thought he would be. It’s worked out well.”
Not surprisingly there have been some hiccups with the use of new technology on the bench, but luckily for Stotts he works with a bunch of millenials that can jump into an IT role as needed.
“I had to help him early on,” Blazers guard Seth Curry said on Saturday night. “Last game, I think, I had to help him close out a screen and find the court again. He hit the wrong button somehow something happened and he didn’t know how to get out of it … but I knew how to do it.”
For now Stotts is drawing up plays live in the huddle during timeouts, but the plan is to eventually save a handful of late game and after timeout plays that he can quickly call up instead of having to diagram on the fly in crunch time.
Stotts said he thinks he is one of maybe two coaches in the league using an iPad to draw plays on the bench, noting that he saw an image of Brooklyn’s Kenny Atkinson working with something similar.
The dry erase days are a thing of the past in Portland and it’s a trend that will likely catch on across the rest of the league. Perhaps eventually every coach will ditch the marker in favor of the stylus.
“For sure, especially as younger coaches come in who have a little bit of tech savvy,” Curry said. “I think it’ll catch on.”