For many agents, media members, and NBA scouts, the NBA Draft is the biggest day of the year, with 364 days of preparation beforehand. I spent many years as a sports agent traveling to college towns to see NBA prospects play, and while I am no longer an agent, the travel has remained the same.
As a media member covering the NBA draft, a lot has changed, and I have found the transition interesting. I want to share with you the process I use to organize my scouting schedule in my new role.
STEP 1: ESTABLISH A GOAL
The goal sounds simple: have comprehensive knowledge of every draft prospect before the NBA draft in June. As with most things in life, it's easier said than done. In any given year, up to 150 players can be considered as NBA draft prospects, and they are scattered across the globe. As a scout, you must know every one of these players thoroughly. Watching film on players is great, but you must watch these players in person to be able to make a proper comprehensive evaluation. You must analyze players' on-court skill sets and physical attributes while gathering as much insider information about their character and background as possible. You need to know everything about these players. It's not a simple task.
STEP 2: SET YOUR PLAYER RANKINGS
Before you ever hit the road, you will need to spend a lot of time figuring out who you need to see play live throughout the season. First and foremost, it is essential to identify which prospects will likely be in the upcoming draft. You must rank these players, dig deep, break them down, and organize your thoughts and opinions on their draft values. When ranking players initially, you will need to consider the information you've gathered from your sources and various media outlets, as well as your own opinions from evaluations you have completed in previous seasons, if applicable. It is necessary to acknowledge players with the hype, right or wrong. And it is imperative to evaluate players you feel are overrated and underrated. As your rankings take shape, your priority list for players you must see will also naturally fall into place.
As the season progresses, you cover more ground and collect more information, and your rankings should gradually reflect more of your evaluations than those from outside sources. It always helps to consider players' actual market value when ranking them. However, at the end of this process, your rankings should predominantly be determined by your opinions rather than 'hype.'
STEP 3: SET A CALENDAR
Now you know which players you need to see, and it's time to organize your calendar for the season, knowing full well that it will change and evolve. Organization is vital to cover as much ground as possible while keeping expenses down and avoiding burning yourself out. During this step of the scheduling process, the first thing to do is to identify local games that will allow you to cover top-priority players affordably and efficiently. For example, I live in Denver, Colorado, and can quickly drive to schools such as Air Force, Colorado, Colorado State, and Wyoming. So, I can cover the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences without much trouble. One of our draft analysts here at Babcock Hoops, Luca Desta, lives in Dallas, Texas, and he can spend the bulk of his time in and around Texas because of how many schools he can cover within driving distance. This season, he is set to scout games at the following schools: Houston, Oklahoma, North Texas, SMU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas-Arlington, and Texas Tech. Luca can cover a lot of quality games and still sleep in his own bed most nights.
Once local games are penciled into your schedule, identify holiday tournaments and double-headers that will allow you to see multiple NBA prospects in one trip. For example, later this month, I will attend the Charleston Classic in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri. Between these two short trips, I can evaluate NBA prospects from Alabama, Davidson, Nebraska, Purdue, Texas Tech, USC, Virginia Tech, and Wichita State. I will be able to see a lot of basketball and potential draft picks in just a few short days. After identifying the tournaments and double-headers you attend, you must pencil in games throughout the rest of the season, mostly conference play games. Find matchups with NBA prospects on both teams so you can 'kill two birds with one stone.' Inevitably, it will be necessary to make trips to see one player if teams' schedules don't work in your favor. For example, last year, I flew to Boise, Idaho, to see Chandler Hutchison of Boise State. He was the only player in that game that was an imminent NBA prospect. And it was well worth the trip as Hutchison went on to be selected 22nd overall in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.
STEP 4: KEEP A PULSE AND ADJUST ACCORDINGLY
Be prepared to change your schedule! It is important to keep a pulse on the market value of prospects as their draft stock will inevitably change throughout the season. There are always surprising breakout players, and there are also players who have disappointing showings. Donte DiVincenzo is a perfect example of this. Last season, he was not projected as an early entry candidate for the 2018 NBA draft for most of the season. Still, he continued to improve throughout the year and finished with a breakout performance in the championship game for Villanova. DiVincenzo would go on to not only be an early entrant but even a 1st round pick. He was drafted 17th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Injuries are always a factor, as well. Michael Porter, Jr., a top prospect from Missouri, missed most of last season with injuries. When it was rumored he could return from injury to play, scouts dropped everything and flocked to those games. Porter, Jr. was drafted 14th overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Initial scheduling preparation is important, but having a firm grip on the current market value of prospects is vital. In this world, you have to be flexible. You do not want to be sitting at a game to see an injured player if you can avoid it. You also do not want to miss seeing breakout players just because they were not on your radar from the beginning of the season. Step 4 is, quite possibly, the most crucial step of my process.
STEP 5: MARCH MADNESS
For anyone involved in basketball: March is madness.
From a scheduling standpoint, March is a critical time of the year. With conference tournaments and 'The Big Dance,' it is a time when you have many NBA prospects playing in one location. For example, I scouted the Big Ten and ACC tournaments in New York last year. I was there for a week and I was able to see the following players that would go on to be drafted in last June's draft: Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter, Miles Bridges, Jerome Robinson, Lonnie Walker, Kevin Huerter, Josh Okogie, Grayson Allen, Mo Wagner, Gary Trent Jr., Keita Bates-Diop, Tony Carr, Vince Edwards, Devon Hall and Ray Spalding. I would have seen Bruce Brown and Justin Jackson if they had not been injured. That's 18 drafted players and nearly one-third of the entire draft!
I get an adrenaline rush every time I walk into an arena and rarely view it as a chore; I love watching basketball. However, scouting conference tournaments requires a lot of work and discipline. Scouting reports pile up quickly. Despite the long days, I assure you, attending conference tournaments is well worth it! Knowledge is power, and the amount of information you can gather on so many players, all in one fell swoop, is incredible.
Follow these five steps, and take your evaluations and scouting reports seriously. If you do, you will have been well-traveled and accumulated a wealth of knowledge, which is truly rewarding. Whether you are an agent, media member, or NBA scout, everyone covering the draft is trying to find 'the cream of the crop.' Essentially, this is a process of elimination to find the top NBA prospects, but if it's done properly, 'the cream will rise to the top.'