- Joined Oct 13, 2001
[h3]The keys to great scouting [/h3]
With the 2009-10 college basketball season officially over it's time for NBA teams to ratchet up their process of evaluating the top players in June's draft.
While studying potential NBA players is a 12-month grind which takes scouts around the country (and, these days, the globe), the next two months is the homestretch of a year's worth of work. How well these scouts, NBA front-office "foot soldiers," have evaluated players will determine whether a team (depending on whereit selects) will end up with a solid NBA player, a potential All-Star or a bust.
Having been around basketball for 30 years as a coach and a broadcaster, I have watched many NBA scouts in action. Like any business, some of them work harder than others, some possess greater basketball acumen and each has different experiences that they bring to an organization's decision-making process. Here are some of the key factors that should help you evaluate the evaluators.
1. Knowledge of the league
The biggest eye-opener for me about the NBA was the half-season I advance scouted for the New York Knicks in 1999. After being around college basketball for 20 years and helping 18 players get to the NBA, I was still stunned at the level of athleticism and ability in the NBA compared to college. It would be like learning Spanish and Portuguese. The languages may sound the same but are completely different.
It doesn't matter how much college basketball a scout watches if he isn't constantly studying the NBA. Guys have told me that it takes three years to truly know the NBA. That's why many general managers make their college scouts take in two or three NBA games a month to stay current.
You have to be able to scout from inside the NBA out. You must understand the size, strength and length at each NBA position and how a college player's athleticism will translate to the league. In addition, finding out how a player's skill level for his position compares to similar-sized winning players in the NBA in critical.
West Virginia's Joe Alexander, drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the eighth pick in the first round in 2008, has had a rough adjustment to the league. He came in with a reputation as an excellent athlete at 6-foot-8 but, if you watched him closely at WVU, he scored mostly inside against smaller players in the Big East. He posted up in Bob Huggins' five-man motion offense and jumped over people.
Now, Alexander's perceived strength has been negated in his first two NBA seasons by the level of athleticism he sees every night (when he plays). He doesn't possess the skill level to play away from the hoop at his height as a small forward, nor the size and strength to play near the basket. Recently traded to the Chicago Bulls, Alexander's NBA career is in no-man's land because the Bucks didn't correctly evaluate his game.
2. A relentless work ethic
Every September that I was a college head coach, I would get a call from current Denver Nuggets General Manager Mark Warkentein. He had been a relentless recruiter in his day for Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV and the work ethic carried over when he got to the NBA.
Warkentein just wanted to know if there were any potential NBA prospects on my team or in my conference. He called every school out of more than 300 in Division I. I don't recall anyone else making those calls. Did his work ethic uncover a player no one else would have found? I don't know, but I am sure that, because of his detective skills, he created good will with college coaches who might be willing to give him information on prospects that would provide useful closer to the draft.
Because knowledge is power in NBA scouting, a good talent evaluator must be willing to watch one more tape, make one more phone call and watch one more game in person, often in out-of-the-way places other scouts wouldn't bother getting to.
One night, I showed up to watch Cal State Fullerton, with an under-the-radar sophomore at the time, Bobby Brown, play at Kansas State the night before I was to broadcast a Kansas game. It was a chance to see a talented young guard play on the road at a Big 12 school. But K-State's campus is a hard place to get to. I filed away the fact that the only scout at the game that night was the Spurs' Sam Presti. It's not a coincidence that the Spurs and, now, the Oklahoma City Thunder have done a good job of digging up prospects that seem to hide in plain sight. That's not an accident to me.
The more knowledge they accumulate, the more effective NBA scouts should be. Conversely, there have been occasions where I've seen NBA scouts slip out of a college game early because the local Ruth's Chris Steak House was closing at 10 p.m. As I sat courtside, I thought to myself, "If their general manager only knew."
3. A dispassionate eye for talent
A good scout should take emotion out of the evaluation process and, instead, have a dispassionate, clinical idea of a player's strengths and weaknesses. A preconceived notion of a player's ability can hurt an evaluation.
The Dallas Mavericks mistakenly passed on Louisiana Tech's Karl Malone in the 1985 NBA draft but did draft a very solid NBA player in Washington's Detlef Schrempf. Still, they heard about it from their fans. So, they thought they could redeem themselves when they drafted Randy White, a supposed Malone clone from Louisiana Tech with the eighth pick in 1989. The emotion of passing on Malone, originally, clouded their judgment the second time around. White scored 34,845 fewer points in his NBA career.
As much of a local hero as Gordon Hayward has become in Indianapolis this season, it will be very enticing for the Indiana Pacers to grab the Butler star with their first-round pick, if he stays in the draft. It would be a great storybook ending for the young man whose high school team won a state championship in the Pacers' Conseco Field House as a senior. Just don't count on it happening.
Larry Bird and his scouting staff will take the player most likely to help the Pacers win games and he'll take emotion out of the decision-making process. Putting together a quality roster leaves no time for sentiment and, for that reason alone, Hayward will be scrutinized even more closely if he's available.
4. Sound basketball knowledge
The better a scout knows the game, the easier the evaluation process becomes for him. He must understand how coaches develop players and their skills. They must understand how a player fits into a coach's system and whether that player can learn the skills necessary to become a productive NBA player.
Wesley Matthews went undrafted out of Marquette last season, but now starts for the Utah Jazz. He played in a high-profile league, the Big East, started all four seasons and is the son of a former NBA player. Every NBA team must have seen him at least 50 times during his career. How did everyone miss? While he fell through the cracks, the Jazz gave him an opportunity to play for their summer league team, he was invited to training camp in the fall and made the roster. Someone did their homework and got a little lucky, as well.
Here's what I think happened. Matthews came out of a college program that valued work ethic and execution, two traits that have been part of the Jazz culture under coach Jerry Sloan for over two decades. The Golden Eagles play a lot of screen-and-roll basketball out of a lot of different sets. Matthews was already ingrained in an NBA offensive system.
Secondly, while Matthews shared the spotlight with two other outstanding senior guards, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James, he ended up the eighth all-time scorer in Marquette history. In addition, he became the school's all-time leader in free-throws made, a sign that, as a 6-5 guard, he relishes the contact that is part of NBA basketball.
It's possible that Matthews' skills weren't a fit for many teams. But, what Matthews did well made him a good fit for Sloan's "execution culture." Credit the Jazz for finding that fit.
Ultimately, for all of the time and effort that goes into evaluating players for an NBA team, it comes down to "How does that player help you win?" Great talent, obviously, helps you win but even some talented players don't understand what goes into winning. Finding players who love basketball and not just love the trappings of the NBA is critical.
[h3]Training is key for NBA prospects [/h3]
The deadline for entering the NBA draft has come and gone, and nowevery senior and eligible underclassman begins a journey that can bebroken down into three distinct parts:
1. Pre-Chicago camp training
2. The Chicago predraft camp
3. Individual and group workouts with the NBA teams
Thelast two phases can end up looking vastly different depending on theplayer. But the first part, training their bodies and their game beforethe Chicago draft combine (May 19-23), looks about the same foreveryone. Here's a look at what they are undertaking for the next threeweeks, and how this hard work can help their draft fortunes, just as itdid for Jonny Flynn, Courtney Lee, Kevin Love and DeJuan Blair.
Itwould be easy for the players to throw themselves into their predrafttraining if most of them were not students as well, but that is not thecase. The seniors are close to either graduating or finishing anothersemester, so dropping out now is not the best play. And many of theunderclassmen are attempting to keep their eligibility until they haveto make a final decision on May 8, so they, too, must go to class.
Sowho gets the early edge in this process? Yep, the underclassmen whohave decided to turn pro already. While their competitors in the draftare balancing training with school, they are totally devoted toimproving their bodies and games.
Conditioning is a bigpart of the predraft process, partly because many of these players havebeen resting since their season ended. This "resting" phase isimportant, as it allows their bodies time to heal from the long season.I normally advise athletes to take two full weeks off, without concernfor their diet or doing any strength or cardio sessions. Last year,Blair did just that and gained 15 pounds before he started histraining. His body needed the rest after a grueling season, and he wasable to drop those 15 pounds and another 25 or so before the Chicagocamp. Then he dropped an additional 20 in June. Love could tell asimilar tale from two years ago.
If every player startedtraining April 19, that would give them a full month before the Chicagocamp, which is ample time to get into terrific shape. The reality isthat most guys start working in early April, so that they are ready todo an NBA workout or two before the predraft camp.
Theplayers who train for three to four weeks will be going through acomplex process, one designed to maximize a player's physique, both inlooks and productivity, along with his overall game. The "eye test" issomething each player hopes to pass -- while perhaps even surprisingevaluators -- when they are first seen by team personnel. Remember,almost all of these players will have been invisible to NBA peoplesince their last game in March, so the opportunity to impress them withbulging muscles and a lean physique is evident. NBA executives expectto see heavy guys look lighter and skinny guys look ripped, or at leastbigger.
Just like the NFL draft, players can fool NBAteams with excellent marks in areas that have nothing to do with theactual playing of the game, as teams do want to see proof of effort ingetting stronger and fitter. Keep in mind the college game is all aboutpower, with stronger players taking advantage of younger and lighterones, and referees who allow more pushing. The NBA game, while stillfeaturing power matchups, is a speed and quickness game and is far moretightly officiated.
Many players will be training onimproving their jumping (one leg and two) because they'll get testedfor that in Chicago. They'll also be doing an assortment of short andmedium sprints, and will do a shuttle-run test in Chicago. They'll mixin whole-body strength training and will have to do a bench-press test,though it seems that particular test may disappear, considering Kevin Durantcould not bench 180 pounds even one time but still went No. 2 in thedraft and has blossomed into one of the league's best players.
Thisoverall performance training is no doubt important to the process, justas it is for NBA veterans. It's wrong to assume that a player is at hisathletic peak when he leaves college. In fact, he should still be yearsaway from that peak. But it's also wrong to assume that a three- orfour-year college player will be fundamentally sound on the basketballcourt. Great college coaches can win games by recruiting talentedplayers and molding them into a team, each guy focused on using hisbest strengths and avoiding his weaknesses. Consequently, most playersentering the draft have serious fundamental deficiencies that need tobe corrected to help them move up the draft board.
So inthree weeks' time, a player should have a comprehensive training planlaid out, one that addresses his issues on a daily basis, more or less.At the same time, maintaining strengths is a must, so players keep theskills they have while adding new ones. This is why most players willbe on a court for two to three hours a day, six days a week, in May.Factor in an additional two hours a day for performance and strengthtraining, plus some extra cardio for 45 minutes or so, and it's easy tounderstand why many of them look and play so much better in May andJune (and in July summer leagues) than they did in the season.
CourtneyLee is a great example of this phenomenon. In college, he looked to bean above-average athlete, but he performed as an elite one for NBAteams. I personally witnessed him make a layup on a breakaway inFebruary of his senior season and watched six NBA scouts frown. Butafter training to play more athletically, he showed teams in privateworkouts what the world saw in the Eastern Conference finals lastspring, dunking on two occasions over a challenging LeBron James. Without that extra gear as an athlete, he would have dropped into the second round, where he was initially projected to go.
Considerthat all this work is being done by these prospects individually, asopposed to the hours they were spending each day in college working onteam stuff. When players leave for Chicago, they should be able togenuinely feel like they have never been better at basketball in theirlives.
The workouts are certainly the most important partof the draft process, as getting outplayed by a competitor can never begood. But there is another area that players can help separatethemselves from their fellow draftees, and it is in the interview room.
Inthe NFL, they are calling this the "Ben Roethlisberger effect." The NBAhas not named this phenomenon yet, but rest assured, teams areconsidering character and intelligence and "fit" more each year. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunderhave been the most outspoken about this, looking for "their kind ofguy," and witnessing their success has only furthered the cause forothers. Consequently, draftees will get coached up on this process aswell, so that they will be better prepared to discuss things rangingfrom their favorite book to what they would do in hypotheticalsituations (perhaps involving drugs and teammates). Flynn was theunquestioned star of the interview process last year, showingintelligence and classic leadership traits in the Q&A sessions withteams. It's a big reason why he was drafted sixth overall.
There is no one formula that works above the others, other than "talent trumps all." So for guys like John Wall and Evan Turner,just looking and acting the part that's expected of them is all theyneed to assure they'll be picked at the top. But for most of the rest,with their talent being equal to at least one or two other guys, thelittle things can make all the difference. Being casual about thosethings, like not preparing properly for this process, is a red flag toteams.
That's why some players will push themselves likenever before, hoping to impress teams and suggest that they will worktirelessly on their games in the coming years. The draft is alwayspartly based on what a player has already accomplished, but it's evenmore about what they can do going forward. No player helps himself morethan the one who has executives huddled in the draft room June 25talking about how much better that player is than what they saw allseason.
Sure, ad-blocking software does a great job at blocking ads, but it also blocks some useful and important features of our website. For the best possible site experience please take a moment to disable your AdBlocker or head over to our upgrade page to donate for an ad-free experience Upgrade now