Bryan Oringher, a former video coordinator for the Wizards as well as a former scout for the Raptors and Hawks, has since left the NBA to make a career in public-facing basketball commentary. The one hitch in that plan is that he has struggled to peacefully interface with the public.
Oringher first broke into wider consciousness in February, after remarking on his experience playing pickup with WNBA players and his sense that he could “100% hold my own playing w rotation WNBA players.” He then deleted and apologized for the remark, which he more recently characterized as “tone-deaf.”
In the months since, Oringher has been trying to build a subscriber base for his video commentary. This isn’t an easy thing to pull off, no matter the level of expertise. The skills required to cultivate such an audience are, for better or for worse, different from the skills required to run an NBA film room. It’s a matter of selling the product.
Oringher chose a highly unconventional sales strategy: direct confrontation. As he tried to expand his audience, the former scout talked to—and with wild frequency, squabbled with—lots of basketball commentators online. Many of those people chose to publicly air out their private conversations with Oringher, thus pouring kerosene onto this extremely online conflagration.
It’s truly surreal to see meat-and-potatoes basketball tape-eating interspersed with these interminable, anime-style showdowns.
On Twitter, @ScoutWithBryan has a talent for escalation. He possesses Draymond-like court awareness that alerts him to every slight, no matter how veiled. He collects receipts as assiduously as someone filing an expense report. The objects of his scorn have ranged from meme-fueled jokesters to national basketball reporters at major media concerns. These battles are bizarre and diverse, difficult to parse, and invariably one or both people involved is being an ass. At some point he was widely accused of operating burner accounts. Oringher has since laid out his story in a long, transfixing blog post which contains the word “ether” in its URL. He shared his perspective on the recent events, explained some of his recent personal hardships, made some fairly accurate assessments of basketball media and its surrounding Twitter ecosystem, and yet seemed to still be relishing the mess he’s made.
A representative sample of the energy in that blog post:
Do I care about a blue check? No. If Twitter came calling and said they’d like to give me one, would I take it? Sure! But it’s hysterical how many people think I’m all bummed out, because I’m sitting here 6 months into my Twitter career and the trolls decide to make it look like I’ve failed. I have over 6300 followers! I have 115 paying people! I have hundreds of others who message me and tell me how much they love and appreciate my content. The comments on my Warriors’ G6 video are literally about half “this is the best analysis I’ve ever seen.”
I spoke with Oringher to learn more about how he got here, the culture shock as he transitioned from the NBA to the sad online world, and how he would have rephrased that WNBA comment if he’d had the chance. It’s harder to fly off the handle when you’re speaking to someone on the phone in the middle of the afternoon: Oringher was mild-mannered throughout our half-hour conversation.
Because he regularly makes reference to his credentials, I asked Oringher to briefly explain his role with the Wizards.
“For four seasons I was the head video coordinator for the Wizards,” he said. “So in that role, it’s almost like you’re in charge of the game-planning process. You work closely with the assistant coaches on all the actual game plans, all the opponent scouting, making sure we know all their play calls, all their tendencies. Actually, you end up doing a lot of the physical game plans that are written up for the players. So it’s almost like the video coordinator title’s kind of a misnomer. It’s really just, you know, being in charge of the game-planning process almost.”
While Oringher respects a lot of beat reporters and a few mainstream analysts like Zach Lowe—“he studies the game, he’s talked to people, he’s talked to me even when I worked in basketball, he works on it relentlessly”—he believes there are far too many unwashed bloggers distributing their takes to the unwashed masses. “There are like 50,000 basketball writers right now. And so many sites will just spout credentials and let you put something in your handle and say you’re a site manager, you did this and that, and it gives like this presumption of authority.”
His main gripes with the basketball media include a naked over-reliance on analytics and a lack of understanding of scheme. He offered an anecdote from his time with the Wizards to illustrate this point.
“We had our in-house analytics people watch every game and tally up everything and put out some really in-depth defensive rating system,” Oringher said. “And it would come down to the coaches the next morning, and half the time it would say that John Wall had a horrible defensive game when the coaches who watched the film and knew the scheme thought he was, like, perfect. And that doesn’t mean that the analytics are completely wrong or that the coaches are completely right. It just means that if the analytics guys don’t know what the game plan was, if they don’t know what the coaches asked John to do, things like that, it can’t measure exactly. And nobody can, unless you really understand, again, the scheme and what players are supposed to be doing.”
That information gap, he believes, results in a lot of errors in analysis. He dislikes when people try to fill that gap with holistic metrics, especially when discussing defense.
“I think it’s a culture where everybody wants to boil everything down to a single number, and just everybody wants more analytics, or more VORPs that are going to boil everything down to, ‘Oh we can just point to this one number and say this is the top 20 players in the league and that’s it.’ Whereas my stance is: obviously it’s a lot more nuanced than that. I think there’s great numbers to look at on a team level, I think there’s important things, and analytics absolutely have a place. ‘Eyes, ears, numbers,’ is something that [former Hornets GM] Rich Cho has said a ton and I’m a huge believer in that.”
DeMar DeRozan was a favorite example of a player with bad on-off numbers that he nevertheless believes in. “People love to pick some all-encompassing number and then throw out, ‘This means DeMar DeRozan’s bad,’ when really if you look at him as a player, he’s been on 50-win teams the majority of his career and had a huge, huge impact on winning. And he’s a guy that analytics Twitter loves to trash on and coaches for the most part universally really appreciate.”
I asked Oringher to offer an argument for DeRozan’s value. His answer didn’t quite shake my opinion, nor did the appeal to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s authority. (Mostly, it just made me think that Pop is good at squeezing lemonade out of lemons.)
“I think the biggest thing most importantly is honestly just winning,” he said. “I know that might sound cliched and people are going to say, ‘Oh it’s just like this RINGZ culture.’ But teams that he’s on do very well. The Spurs this year, I think the ESPN model, some people had them winning 38 games. They go out and lose their starting point guard in [Dejounte] Murray in the preseason. He’s out the whole season and they end up winning 49 and going to Game 7 of the playoffs. With a team that was built around DeRozan and Aldridge, and Aldridge ends up basically playing point guard. [Update: In a follow-up message, Oringher said he meant to say DeRozan, not Aldridge, plays point guard.] I think if Pop plays them that much and knows how good of a player he is—he’s not a top 10 player like Kawhi is, he’s not that level of elite. But I think he’s still a phenomenal old-fashioned mid-range mid-post scorer. He’s a creative passer. He’s a better defender than people give him credit for.”
One of the major themes of my chat with Oringher was the difficulty of moving out of the context of the NBA and into the context of public commentary. Some of these issues had to do with his, uh, tone.
“I think when you’re in the NBA, you’re around people all day who have very confrontational styles,” he said, when asked if he was as confrontational in real life as he was online. “You’re used to working for coaches that will chew you out if anything goes wrong, whether it’s your fault or not. So I think I’ve developed a little higher tolerance for that as a person—for people talking like that or just being that way. Myself, I’m probably wired a little bit more like a coach. I think that’s kind of my background a little bit, and how I act in a tiny way.”
Some of it had to do with the mismatch between the popular consensus in the league and the popular consensus online. Oringher dove into Twitter and found himself shocked by some of the party lines. This made him want to push back on a few. Former Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd was one case.
“Generally, the perception of him [within the league] was that he was a pretty good coach. He wasn’t brilliant, but he was a really smart general offensive mind, and for a while the Bucks had the second-ranked defense or something, and then I think ultimately when the defense ended up falling apart by the end, everybody decided he was the worst coach on Earth. But I wasn’t aware of that at all. So when I got on Twitter, I’m thinking Jason Kidd’s a fine coach, maybe not the best human in the world, but he’s a decent coach. And I see the perception of him is that he’s the worst coach that’s ever been in basketball. So I spoke up and I defended him and, you know, I think things like that initially kind of got everybody against me in a way, because the prevailing and accepted groupthink on there is that Jason Kidd’s this doofus. And I was kind of aggressively saying, ‘No, I’m not really sure that’s true.’ You talk to Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Giannis loves him. You talk to Jared Dudley and Jared Dudley said he was great for the culture there. I think he took a team from C to B, and Bud [Mike Budenholzer] took them from B to A. I think my take on him was pretty fair. But yeah, I think a lot of that stuff kind of gets lost in this Twitter groupthink era.”
Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen was another.
“I think that in Chicago, it’s a very angry fan base, and rightfully so. I think they’ve been mad at that front office for a long time,” Oringher said. “As a result, a lot of the bloggers just distrust everything and think everything’s terrible there and pretty much in his first week on the job, everybody decided that Jim Boylen is some nutjob lunatic who’s trying to run these kids to death, and is a legitimate psychopath. And I just literally said—I didn’t even guarantee that he’s a top-25 coach or anything like that, I just said—it’s a super young team, they don’t know what it takes to win yet. And he’s a guy that’s been around, as he loves to remind people, been around Gregg Popovich. He knows what winning teams have to do, and I think he’s a fine coach for where they’re at right now in their development.”
These are harmless cases. Nobody will lose sleep over an impassioned defense of Jim Boylen. But sometimes basketball conversations are really conversations about other values. And sometimes unfamiliarity with a discourse, including some of its common lines of attack, can backfire spectacularly, as it did when he delivered that infamous WNBA anecdote. I asked Oringher what the ideal version of that anecdote might’ve looked like.
“The ideal version—I just wouldn’t have told the story. I think I was just a poor decision to share. And I regret it terribly and I apologize for sharing it. And it was completely unnecessary and served no purpose. The only thing I’ll say in my defense again was I’d been on Twitter, I think, for two or so months of actual tweeting, and I hadn’t really paid attention to this culture where apparently so many guys feel the need to demean the WNBA by saying they could beat players. I hadn’t involved in that at all. I literally saw a tweet pop up on my timeline by [SB Nation writer] Natalie Weiner. And I didn’t even know who she was. I didn’t really know anything about it. A lot of times in my tweets I just share random stories from my time in the NBA, random things I’ve observed being around coaches on the road, or whatever. I just saw that and I decided to share it.
“Like, literally the story was, we played pickup with WNBA backups, five-on-five games, and the games were fairly competitive and nobody embarrassed themselves. That was basically the story and how I meant it to be phrased. And obviously I would not have shared it anymore because, now I do see there’s so many guys that feel the need to say they could crush WNBA players, or that’s why they don’t watch or anything, and that’s the dumbest shit ever to me. If people want to watch the WNBA they will, and if not they won’t. But we don’t need to make it a competition about can they beat a man or not. Like, you know, it’s basketball, it’s great basketball, and I have tremendous admiration for those players and those around some of them, and like watching the game, and it’s really high-level phenomenal basketball.”
I asked if he plans to operate more peacefully, now that he has adjusted to the new culture.
“I realize now that my sharing that story ended up kind of appearing to be an endorsement of those guys when that wasn’t at all how I intended it. So I do understand now, being on Twitter for six months, I’ve become more familiar with the discourse and with the culture, and the way things work and so on, and so I know I have to be a little more careful and play a little bit nicer and tone it down a little bit and I’d like to do all those things and come across a little better. But I do think again there’s something to be said for being authentic and speaking my mind, and I’m hoping to just keep it honest and try to be as respectful as I can from here on out.”
Oringher speaks often the importance of respect. I asked him to tell me, candidly, if he feels he has been respectful throughout his time online, or if there have been lapses.
“You know, there’s just been some moments. Like, I 100 percent sent an email I shouldn’t have sent. That was really just me kind of just late at night, really pissed off about something, and that’s always the worst time to react to something emotionally and just fire off some angry email. And that was really dumb. There’s probably one or two other DMs like that.”
The appeal of dunking on Oringher is obvious enough: Here’s some guy barging onto the scene with a red-assed mentality, gatekeeping basketball knowledge while protesting the gatekeepers of the NBA media. He’s a tempting target. But it’s not quite accurate to say that he lacks subject-area knowledge; his videos often highlight interesting minutiae, and I’m open to what the professional tape-eater has to say about tape. Oringher certainly has skills when it comes to identifying and communicating details on a basketball court. Thus far, that hasn’t translated to communicating with other human beings online. May he learn from his experiences and never escalate a DeMar DeRozan argument to a one-day visit to Temecula.