The 2017 NBA Draft is less than two weeks away. Our resident coach/scout Andrew Ford has been breaking down skill sets of basketball players for years now, and he has graciously taken the time to let us know what he looks for when he is scouting prospects. When watching film/games, look for these types of things to see how, or if, talent will transfer to the NBA.
First up in the series? Point guard, a position that is currently enjoying its golden age in the Association. There are several top prospects at the top of the Draft this year. How do you differentiate who will succeed and who will struggle, who will be the next Mike Conley and who will be the next Sebastian Telfair? Coach Ford has some tips.
• How well does he change speeds? Is he able to keep a tight handle while shifting gears? Does he fool defenders?
• Does he have more than a hesitation pull up jumper in his arsenal or a spin move over the same shoulder every time? I need to see more than one or two moves from a ball-dominant player if he’s going to have a chance to run an NBA offense in my eyes. Defenses have gotten too crafty for a ball-handler to be so one-dimensional.
• Does he settle in tough situations or push forward? In other words, when he’s frustrated does he give up the ball easily or make things happen?
• Can he absorb contact at the rim, or is he contact-averse? This is a tricky line to walk as it’s tough to tell if a basketball player is truly averse to physicality, but looking at his free throw rate as well as seeing if he leans into contact to create space at the rim tells me a lot. Does he push off blatantly, or is he crafty with his forearm check to create space? A lot of guys get in foul trouble because they overextend to feel comfortable getting the shot off.
• The balance between the easy pass and the pass that’s going to open up the defense is key. I want to see patience and aggression flow together to create an intuitive mix.
• How does he navigate the pick-and-roll? Were teams successful at forcing the ball out of his hands? Does he angle himself well to allow for space for the big man to roll? Does he go wide or narrow? What are his tendencies with the pass to the roller?
• Does he spread out the defense for his shooters and create better pockets of space for those around him? It is possible to contort the defense in the wrong way. Set up is essential.
• Can he wiggle out of tight spots? Can he dummy dribble on the baseline, work out of traps, wiggle forward with a defender on his back and a big waiting at the rim?
• How does he shoot off of the bounce? Point guards are starting to be used less traditionally and more off the ball, but for the most part they still need to create shots off the bounce.
• Does he maintain balance on his jumper? Low center of gravity is important. The best shooters don’t get too high off of the floor. Is he repeating the same form every single time, or is there a hitch in his shot that shows up in certain situations, i.e. when guys close out on him or off the bounce?
• Can he create open shots for himself or by utilizing screens? Can he run his man into screens and create advantageous situations like 2-on-1 headed to the rim or 3-on-2 briefly on the strong side of the floor? That’s going to create good shots.
• Can he fire up his shot quickly? Not going to be able to wind up very much playing off the bounce.
Off the Ball
• How is his footwork? Does he trip himself up by planting and exploding off of the wrong foot around screens, or does he set himself up to create space in those situations?
• Is he a willing screen setter? So many NBA teams are going to want a point guard who will make a simple pass and screen away or screen down for another wing. Does he make good contact, and does he stay in the play when the ball is not in his hands? For instance, does he fill out to the perimeter after kick outs or just kind of sit inside the perimeter and clog up space?
• Can he catch and shoot? What does that percentage look like? Most guys aren’t going to be good enough on the ball to not be forced to work their way into good shooting situations off the ball. Teams are looking for guys like Mike Conley who can give it up to the elbow early, set a back screen, and flare out to start an action on the wing all in a matter of seconds.
Defending the Perimeter
• How well does he slide his feet laterally? Can he shift directions quickly if the ball-handler spins or goes behind his back? Does he overpursue? Is he too slow?
• Does he recognize screens early? How’s the body angle? Does he seek or avoid contact? Can he minimize his width enough to bump by and roll on?
• Is he too handsy to keep his man in front? How often was he in foul trouble in college/overseas?
• What does the stance look like? Too upright? Too bent over? Flat-footed?
• Can he listen to his big man and alter coverages on the fly? Big men call out pick-and-roll coverages.
• Does he understand gap schemes? Can he gap to guard two guys at once to prevent easy perimeter passes?
• Does he defend with his hands up or down? Does he have quick hands to disrupt passing lanes or poke the ball away? Does he force his man to alter the play, thus watering down the offense? Eric Bledsoe used to be incredible at this. Marcus Smart is incredible when he’s not fouling.
• Can he track his man off the ball? Can he do the subtle things like split gaps when necessary, tug a jersey without getting a foul, etc.? A lot of this is feel for the game.
• Watch every action the guy you’re scouting executes. Spot watch. Do not watch the ball, do not watch shots. Watch only the man you’re scouting because it’s the only way to actually realize if he understands the game and can adapt contextually.
• Feel for the game? Can he adapt to the situation of the game? Does a change in tempo get him off? Did he improve year over year in college? Shows me that the game is slowing down for him.
• How consistent is his game? Is he unwavering no matter the competition? Does he struggle against the best opponents? I try to at least watch three games of every prospect. I try to find a game where he was at his best, a game where he was average, and a bad game.
• Is he going to pigeon hole a coach into employing a very specific system or will the franchise be free to surround him with versatile pieces that can morph to fit almost any system?
Stay tuned as we continue the series next week!