Babcock Hoops’ team of draft analysts navigate NBA Draft coverage, traveling the country to evaluate top prospects for the upcoming draft. In this article, Matt Babcock breaks down the methodology behind preparing a college scouting schedule.
For many agents, media members and NBA scouts, the NBA Draft is the single 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. My responsibilities while in these college towns, however, have shifted from recruiting new clients for my agency to evaluating prospective NBA players.
Now, as a media member covering the NBA draft, a lot has changed and I have found the transition to be interesting. I would like to share with you the process that I use for organizing my scouting schedule in my new role.
STEP 1: ESTABLISH A GOAL
The goal sounds simple: have comprehensive knowledge of each and every draft prospect prior to the NBA draft in June. As with most things in life, easier said than done! In any given year there can be up to 150 players 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 in order to do a proper comprehensive evaluation. You need to analyze players’ on-court skill sets and physical attributes while also gathering as much insider information about their character and background as possible. Essentially, you need to know everything about these players — 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 important to identify which prospects are realistically going to be in the upcoming draft. You will need to rank these players — dig deep, break down the players and organize your thoughts and opinions on their draft values. When ranking players initially, you will need to consider information you’ve gathered from your sources and various media outlets, as well as your own personal opinions from evaluations that you have completed in previous seasons — if applicable. It is necessary to acknowledge players that have the hype, right or wrong. And it is especially important to evaluate players that you feel are overrated and underrated. As your rankings take shape, your priority list for players you must see will naturally fall into place, as well.
As the season progresses, you cover more ground and collect more information, your rankings should gradually reflect more of your own evaluations rather than from outside sources. You should always consider players’ true market value when doing your rankings, however, at the end of this process, your rankings should predominantly be determined by your own personal 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. It is imperative to be organized so that you can cover as much ground as possible, while keeping expenses down and avoiding burning yourself out. The first thing to do during this step of the scheduling process is to identify local games that will allow you to cover top priority players affordably and easily. For example, I live in Denver, Colorado and I am easily able to drive to schools such as Air Force, Colorado, Colorado State and Wyoming. This allows me to 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 is able to 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 scheduled to scout games at the following schools: Houston, Oklahoma, North Texas, SMU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas-Arlington and Texas Tech. Luca is able to 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, I will be attending the Charleston Classic in Charleston, South Carolina and the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri later this month. Between these two short trips I will be able to evaluate NBA prospects from Alabama, Davidson, Nebraska, Purdue, Texas Tech, USC, Virginia Tech and Wichita State. I am going to be able to see a lot of basketball and a lot of potential draft picks in just a few short days. After you have identified the tournaments and double-headers you are attending, you will need to pencil in games throughout the rest of the season — which will mostly be conference play games. Find matchups that have NBA prospects on both teams so that you can ‘kill two birds with one stone’. Inevitably it will be necessary to make trips just to see one player if teams’ schedules don’t work in your favor. For example, last year I flew to Boise, Idaho just to see Chandler Hutchison of Boise State. He was the only player in that game that was an imminent NBA prospect. 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 that 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 the bulk of the season but 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 the bulk of last season with injuries. When he was rumored to be returning from injury to play, scouts dropped everything and flocked to those games. Porter, Jr. went on to be 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 a player who is injured 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 important 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, last year, I scouted the Big Ten and ACC tournaments in New York. 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 players that were drafted — nearly one-third of the entire draft!
Personally, I love watching basketball. I get a rush of adrenaline everytime I walk into an arena and very rarely view it as a chore. However, scouting conference tournaments requires a lot of work and discipline. There are a handful of games per day and the 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 are able to gather on so many players, all with one fell swoop, is incredible.
If you follow these 5 steps and you take your evaluations and scouting reports seriously, you will find yourself to not only have been well travelled but you will have also accumulated a wealth of knowledge, an attainment that is truly rewarding. Regardless if 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 and if it’s done properly, ‘the cream will rise to the top’.