When Pat Riley became coach of the New York Knicks, he wanted every possible competitive edge. One of his ideas was using the latest computer technology to analyze statistics.

Big problem for Bob Salmi, the Knicks' video coordinator.

"I couldn't turn on a computer," he said. "I figured I better learn how to use one."

Four years later, Salmi is one of a handful of NBA assistant coaches using an advanced computer technology called data mining, which sifts through mounds of numbers to find statistical patterns that can help coaches plot game plans and strategy.

Using an IBM program called "Advanced Scout," coaches armed with a laptop computer can organize and interpret game stats, telling them what happens when a certain lineup combination plays together, how effective a scorer someone is in certain stretches of playing time or how well an opposing player shoots when different players guard him.

A coach could figure out many of the answers himself, but finding them could consume hours poring over video, play-by-play and other game stats. And the program can unearth patterns that never occurred to a coach.

"This gives you an added punch," Salmi said.

For instance, a coach using "Advanced Scout" asks his computer to analyze a hot shooting night by former Cleveland forward John Williams in a game last year between the Knicks and the Cavaliers.

The program tells the coach that Williams hit all four of his jump shots when Mark Price was playing the point and was 1 or 4 when Price was out of the game.

It also refers the coach to relevant video clips showing Williams's jumpers. The coach can then see that Price was using the pick-and-roll to draw the Knicks defense and free up Williams for open jumpers.

When Price was on the bench, the Knicks would collapse on Williams, preventing him from getting good looks at the basket.

"From that, you learn that you should play the pick-and-roll one way with Price in the game and another way when he's out of the game," Salmi said. "It puts specifics on the situation. It gets your mind going. At some point as a coach, you're going to run out of ideas."

Salmi and Orlando Magic assistant Tom Sterner worked with an IBM research staff member, Inderpal Bhandari, to develop the program.

Bhandari was no basketball expert when he first began working on the project four years ago. A native of India, he was more accustomed to cricket and field hockey.

Looking for an application for the data mining technology, Bhandari settled on basketball. In NBA assistant coaches, he saw just the kind of guinea pigs he was looking for: largely computer illiterate people with mountains of numbers to go through on a daily basis.

Coaches and team personnel across the league recently gathered to learn about "Advanced Scout" and other high-tech coaching tools. At least six teams are planning the use the program this season.

"You don't have to have much {computer} knowledge at all to use this software," Bhandari said. "We found the coaches were very receptive."

As smart and intuitive as the computer program is, it won't ever replace human scouts.

"It does a good job of finding patterns, but what it doesn't do is tell them {coaches} what actions to take," Bhandari said. "It can't create a play. "But it does take the game to a deeper level of analysis. It has the potential to revolutionize the game."