Bradley Beal’s body language against the Nets during the first half and what NBA executives and scouts were saying. Michael Scotto: I texted with a couple of executives and scouts. One executive in the East told me, “Damn, that’s unbelievable. Red flags everywhere.” Another scout, who’s been in the league for over a decade at this point, texted me, “He looks like he’s done with them.” That was in the first half.
Bayern Munich Sports Director Daniele Baiesi talked about how he “overlooked” Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic during his time with the Detroit Pistons as Chief of International Scouting. “I overlooked Nikola Jokic. I overlooked Jusuf Nurkic,” Baiesi said for Bayern’s Open Court podcast. “With the information I had, it made me think that these aren’t the right guys for us for many reasons. Nobody is going to tell you or guarantee you ‘OK these guys would’ve worked in Detroit.’ Nobody can say that. They would be trading chips maybe, which is still better than nothing.”
Years ago, a longtime NBA scout settled into Madison Square Garden for an early-season college game. He found his seat more than two hours before tip-off, eager to watch warmups. He’d heard good things about the prospect he had come to evaluate. The player, a college junior, was excelling for a ranked Big East team. The scout pulled out his notebook and pen.
But the player, whom the scout declined to name, “didn’t possess the demeanor of a pro.” He didn’t hustle. He “goofed off,” failed to run in straight lines during warmup drills and didn’t make much eye contact with teammates. “The overall feel I got left me with a lot of questions,” the scout recalls. “It was a red flag.” He crossed off the prospect’s name, packed his bags and left the arena — before the game had even begun. Sticking around, he reasoned, would have been a waste of time.
But the landscape has shifted this season, with almost every NBA organization opting to conduct all college scouting remotely, according to conversations with nearly a dozen league scouts. The consensus is that with live evaluation on pause because of the pandemic, they must pick up on the little things through TV. There’s an increased importance in making extra calls to a prospect’s past and current acquaintances, down to grassroots coaches and high school guidance counselors.
“When you see a player in person, I can’t tell you the world of difference it makes,” says a Western Conference scout based in the Northeast. “It’s all in the details you pick up: warmups, body language, what do they do when the camera isn’t on them. The stuff you can’t get on TV or on Synergy (an analytics and film platform). The biggest thing is that being at the games and seeing these guys for yourself reduces our organization’s risk as far as making a pick.”
Still early into his second season, a brief polling of Zion Williamson surveyors verified why excitement has followed him since his early teens. “If he gets an angle on you going to the basket, it’s over. He’s already one of the most devastating interior scorers in the league,” one scout said.