Inside The Association: Scout Life
Do you want to go inside the NBA? Discover the inner workings of the NBA Pre-Draft process? What about understanding the NBA scouting process? Did you even know there are four types of scouts within the front office of an NBA team?
Lucky for you, I’m here to fill you in. Welcome to your inside scoop. Now let’s talk about who I am: my name is Jason Benadretti and I’m the Executive Vice President & Director of Basketball Operations at Ground Zero Training (“GZT” – www.groundzerotraining.com).
Ground Zero is the preferred training destination for many of your favorite NBA players. We specialize in elite basketball skill development, providing training with real game scenarios – not gimmicky drills like you so often see via the world of social media. We have one of the finest trainers in the world in Tim Anderson, the CEO of GZT. We are raw and edgy and not here to say or do what you like. If you want to improve and reach the next level, we are the guys to get you there. In the past three NBA Drafts alone, we have helped produce 15 selections, with 10 of those being 1st Round Picks.
My background extends beyond being a basketball trainer, as I have also coached at multiple levels of the collegiate game in the U.S.A, scouted for an NBA team, and worked as a scout for a third party service that NBA teams utilize for the NBA Draft. I’m here to take you inside the association.
Growing up, I often wondered what the NBA was like and thought that everyone involved with it was a superstar or highly paid. That is only partly true. Working closely with NBA players will quickly make you realize two things. First, these guys are way more talented than you could even imagine and secondly, I look like an ant next to the majority of them. Yes, if you are fortunate enough to play in the NBA, you are quite highly paid. If you are fortunate enough to obtain one of the few spots in the front office or coaching staff, odds are you’re still trying to figure out how to get by with the hopes of advancing up the chain.
For today, let’s talk about what the life of an NBA Scout is all about. Before I got paid to work in basketball, I had no idea how demanding a profession it is. I just assumed everyone made good money and that it was all fun and games. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here – anyone that gets to work in, and around, the game of basketball is extremely fortunate, and I, myself, feel this way each day. Most people assume that you spend your time traveling the world, watching basketball, and having international and NBA teams pay you for your opinions.
One of the things I quickly learned is that life in basketball is tough. You don’t really get to travel and explore. You travel because you have to do so to watch said team or player. For an international scout this may mean a scenario like this: you take two flights to cross the ocean, roll off your plane to catch a connection to a small city in Latvia, only to get there and have to navigate a language barrier and many other hurdles thrown your way. Head to the hotel for a shower and back out the door to watch what may be the next Kristaps Porzingis, or perhaps a 15-year-old you feel needs to be monitored. Now what? Vacation time? False. Rush right to the airport because lucky for you, there is a red-eye ticket with your name on it to Spain. Many people would use this chance to catch up on some sleep, but at times that just isn’t an option and that scouting report needs to be written up before you touch back down. Have fun feeling rested and in shape when you have to do this process on a regular basis.
As I mentioned, there are four different types of scouts within the NBA. A big thing they usually have in common is a very large amount of miles logged in the air and very few nights spent in their own beds. Think having a family is easy when you are spending the majority of the year on the road? Pretty tough to watch your children grow up through video chat and social media! Remember that body you used to make a priority to workout daily? Ha! Good luck with that one. It’s also not free spending because you work in the NBA. There is a budget in place which must be adhered to, and so often times this means long, grueling trips to see as many prospects as possible. Now, let’s discuss the four types of scouts and their roles in an organization.
International Scouts are the ones we touched on briefly, and are often the ones that pay the biggest price to their personal lives. These guys have to log some serious air miles and deal with language barriers and different customs all the time. Personally being a world traveler for work and pleasure, I know that this is no easy thing to navigate. Ever tried navigating parts of Eastern Europe without help? I have, and it’s not always the easiest experience in the world. Those friends and family you love so much back home? Well, they’ll love you, but you may just become a memory to them with how little you see each other. These days, most of the international scouts that a team employs will be based in a specific region or country abroad. This is the NBA and teams can’t afford to miss out on the next Kristaps Porzingis, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, or Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reality is, these guys are few and very, very, very far between. The majority of the players you scout will never step foot in an NBA locker room. Oh, and if they do, you’d better hope your investigative skills and the intel you received was accurate enough to know the ins and out of this individual and his family and life situation.
I think the majority of people in this world think of College Scouts when they imagine what an NBA scout does. Travel the country watching the hottest names in college basketball. Follow the guys that lead their team in the box scores you glimpse at. That’s correct, but there is so much more to it. What about the 6’10 freshman with a wingspan of 7’4 sitting on the bench of a perennial power? How about that guy in Montana annihilating opponents? Ever thought about team culture and how important having good people and leaders are? Yeah, well you’d better watch guys with those traits too. Remember the guy that just locked down but didn’t fill it up on the offensive end? Oh, you’d better make sure you watch him.
Most people can watch a player and have an opinion, but training your eye to recognize what will translate to the next level matters. Is there a player out there who may not be ready for the NBA now, but someone your team should consider drafting and stashing overseas, or in the D-League, to develop for a few years? Of course you will pour over hours and hours of film, but seeing a prospect in front of you in person is completely different.
Let’s talk about how scouts approach watching players in person. Different scouts have different approaches to this. Some like to show up to the game, watch, and then go home and write up their reports, while others like to jot down notes as the action is going on. I’ve done both, and have found an approach that works best for me. It’s critical to not just slide into your seat for a 7:30 tip-off as the ball is thrown in the air. Get to the gym early and observe. This is one of the times where you may pick up critical information. Is the player you’re watching goofing around and taking shots that he will never take in a game? How does he approach warming up? Is he locked in? Is his mind and body all over the place? What about seeing just how he looks? Does he have a frame that can add muscle, or will he always be that lanky, 6’3 guy with calves that resemble pogo sticks?
You’d better not just watch the play on the court. Watch the demeanor of a player when an opponent scores on him, when a teammate doesn’t provide that help on defense when they should, when their coach chews into them, when they pick up their teammates and respond positively. How about when a timeout is called? Yeah, you better see if they listen to their coach, or if they are thinking about the best party after the game, or if that girl in row 15 has a boyfriend.
Ever thought about if this person could handle a large sum of money being suddenly injected into their lives? Well, you’d better do your homework. College scouts are in the business of information gathering. You’d be surprised what you can learn about a player by speaking with an arena security guard or someone that player may have let his guard down to.
Ever wonder who evaluates the players in the NBA and the D-League? Well, it isn’t just the General Manager. Welcome to the role of Pro Personnel Scouts. These are the guys who are heavily involved in preparing information for trades and free agency. They focus specifically on players already in the NBA and D-League. Pro Personnel Scouts are there to support the GM in not only giving their views on a player, but also to gather information. They can often be found at the arena hours before a game tips off watching players trickle out of the locker room to warm up. You’d better make sure to see that guy who isn’t going to get one minute of game time. What if a trade comes up with said person’s involvement and you don’t have an opinion? Not exactly an ideal situation to be in. These are often the scouts that have deep relationships with coaches, front office personnel, and fellow colleagues, as information is vital in making a correct decision.
Now to a position I have a ton of love for, Advance Scouts. Having held various roles in basketball, this is arguably the most grueling position out there. I personally think you have to be a little crazy to do this job. These are the guys who focus on the X’s and 0’s of the game. Does your team play San Antonio in five games? Well, chances are you’re watching the Spurs play and dissecting their actions, play calls, and tendencies. Good luck ever watching a game the same way after having held this role. To this day, I struggle to not dissect actions when I am watching a game. Instead of seeing that amazing shot, I’m looking at what actions led to that shot.
An advance scout is essentially an extension of the coaching staff. While watching a game, your job is to watch what Greg Popovich is motioning. Did an assistant just give a hand signal? You’d better write that down. Did Tony Parker just yell out a play call or motion in a specific manner that may indicate a play signal? Write that down. Oh, and when the Spurs score on an action, you’d better identify what led to it and be able to report back with a name for this play. You basically have to block out any of the exciting areas of the game day environment, and the game itself, to succeed at this job. P.S. after the game is over you usually rush back to your hotel and re-watch parts of the game where you missed an action or call, as the TV microphones often pick up on something you couldn’t at the game. Time to spend a few hours writing up your report and sending it back to the staff before you sleep for three hours, pack up, and head off to the airport for the next city.
The NBA never stops and neither does your work as a scout. Every team wants to win and bring glory to their city and fans. As a scout, you do the little things, which may never directly result in an impact on your organization, or a team’s game plan. You scour the country and globe for talent-making sacrifices that are borderline insane. You work hours that are often a bit off the wall. Your support system better be solid, because this type of work can tear people and relationships up. Scout life is about time management. Scout life is about gathering information and studying your craft. Passion is what connects us all as scouts and members of the basketball community.