A bad pre-draft interview with an executive can hurt a prospect’s stock as much as an underwhelming game or workout for a team.
“It’s just amazing how these guys don’t realize this is a job interview, and this isn’t a recruiting process,” one longtime executive told HoopsHype. “You’re not coming in here, and we’re going to tell you how good you are. That’s what trips a lot of them up.”
With that in mind, HoopsHype spoke with six executives who’ve conducted pre-draft interviews with numerous NBA draft prospects over the years for different teams. The executives shared the worst answers they’ve heard over the years, responses to character questions and outlandish player comparisons that negatively impacted a prospect on their draft board.
Some executives were shocked by the blunt honesty of the prospect, while others learned new intel that wasn’t in their background report. The answers led the executives to downgrade prospects or remove them from their draft board.
One longtime Eastern Conference executive asked a prospect if he did drugs. When the player surprisingly said he did, the executive asked what his favorite drug was.
“He said he did ecstasy,” the executive recalled. “We asked him where he got the money for the drugs. He said, ‘They paid me to come to this school, so that’s where I got the money.’ Needless to say, he was red-flagged from our list.”
Other players had to answer questions about getting in trouble during their college career and failed to show the maturity needed for the executives to take a chance on them in the NBA.
One executive spoke to a draft prospect who got in trouble and was suspended by his school. The executive asked the player what he learned, and the response blew him away.
“He said, ‘People are always watching. I’ve got to be more careful next time.’” an executive told HoopsHype. “The player denied it, was asked about it again and doubled down denying the incident when it was basically public knowledge. I was like what the f—? Most guys own it. That’s the smart thing to do. This guy doubled down on it and was like I’ve got to be a better criminal.”
One executive spoke with a prospect who said he got caught with counterfeit money while trying to buy something at a store.
“That was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever heard, but I did have respect for him for being honest about it because none of us had that information,” another executive told HoopsHype. “That player is no longer in the league.”
Similarly, another executive appreciated the honesty of a prospect during their interview but was dismayed that the player didn’t learn from his mistake and repeated it.
“We had a player tell us that he was suspended for smoking weed and how the suspension was a great learning experience for him,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Then, we followed up by asking him if he had smoked weed since his suspension, and he said that he had.”
Occasionally, some answers are so bad they can even make an executive laugh.
One executive who conducted multiple draft interviews for various franchises asked a prospect how he made his college decision.
“He said the coach bought his mom a house,” the executive said as he sat back in his chair, stunned. “It was like, ‘Ok. Uh, was it a single-family house?’”
Finally, another player was given an assignment years ago at the combine to draw a play using a dry erase board. That player failed to draw any play on the board, which the executive flatly called “embarrassing.”
During other portions of pre-draft interviews, executives will ask questions to learn more about the character of a player. These moral questions don’t have a right or wrong answer.
Here’s an example one executive used years ago… Your friend got arrested, and all you had to do was lie to get him out. What would you do? Would you lie to get your friend off from jail or tell the truth?
“If he says he wouldn’t lie, you know he’s an honest kid,” the executive explained. “If he says he’d lie for his friend, you know he’s really loyal.”
Prospects who transferred are asked questions about dealing with adversity, according to some executives.
“They always threw their coaches under the bus,” one executive told HoopsHype. “It’s amazing how these players are more willing to throw their coaches under the bus as opposed to a teammate who might have been selfish and not gotten him the ball. That’s been the most eye-opening thing for me.”
For prospects who are considered second-round targets, the questions can be altered slightly. If you’re not drafted, how would you feel about being in the G League?
“That kid may say, ‘I’m willing to do whatever is best for the team and my growth to prove myself and how I can get better,’ which is the coached answer,” an executive explained. “As opposed to, ‘I probably wouldn’t like it, but if the coach thinks that’s what I need, then I’ll go and do it no problem.’ That’s a real answer. You’re supposed to be pissed off.”
No matter where your draft range is, most teams want to add players that are coachable and willing to absorb feedback productively. One Western Conference executive recalled interviews where he and prospects did separate film sessions together.
“Guys that are taking it really personally when you ask them why they’re not playing hard or what’s with the effort get pissed off at you,” the executive said. “I’m asking you a question about your performance. You can’t take a little bit of feedback right now? You’re getting defensive over this? That really negatively impacts guys massively.”
For every championship team, role players are major keys to success. Having the mindset of being a star in your role is something all coaches preach at the NBA level for the overall success of the team. For most players transitioning to the league, they have to adjust their game and mindset to be effective. Some prospects, however, think too highly of themselves, which can dissuade an executive from believing the player can fit into his locker room culture.
One executive asked a player whose role he can fill in the league tomorrow. The prospect mentioned Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. The executive looked at the prospect like he had two heads and replied, ‘I said tomorrow. Come on.’
Another executive was told by an underclassman, “I don’t really see anybody I play like, but I feel like I’m old school. I think I’m (Michael) Jordan. I think I’m Scottie Pippen.”
The executive shook his head at the prospect. “That question really tells you a lot about the kid’s sense of reality.”
According to the executives polled, correct answers are generally players who have a defined role or are veterans who have a particular skill that has allowed them to have a long career.
“I see myself being a sixth man like Lou Williams, or I see myself being a Tristan Thompson,” an executive said. “It’s funny to see the differences of the senses of reality with these kids that actually really know the game or have an inflated reality of themselves. Some know what their role is. They’re studying the game, and they see that maybe they’re not going to be a star and they’ll have to be an energy guy to stay on the floor. They were able to score in the post in college, but they’re not going to be used that way in the league. It gives you a sense of their basketball IQ.”
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto