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More Thoughts On Process and Drafting

How can the Wolves scout proactively and avoid panicking on draft night?

Harry How

Disclaimer: I have no insider information. For all I know, the franchise already follows the advice outlined in this article, despite my suspicions that this is not the case. However, I do not actually know what process Minnesota uses to scout and draft prospects, so much of what I say will be general prescriptive advice, rather than attempts to target specific problems within the franchise's process.

Right now, the Timberwolves should be preparing for the 2015 draft. What's that? Isn't every team testing the ability of every 2014 prospect, at least those whose agents will allow them will deign to visit the Wolves, to crab dribble around cones while reciting the alphabet backwards to somehow test their NBA potential? Yes, but as should be obvious, the best predictor of how someone will play in NBA is how they have played before being drafted. Unfortunately, most prospects play their last competitive basketball a full three months before the draft, making it difficult to add useful information beyond what most well prepared scouts, and well prepared NBA teams by extension, will have known since March.

Teams that attempt to cram their draft preparation into the several months before the draft are like students who never show up to class, then try to read the textbook the night before the exam. Sure, they might get lucky and read the chapter that provided most of the questions, but it is not a good, repeatable strategy. When you don't consistently put in the work, you are going to miss something important, and what's even more crucial is that you won't know what you are missing until it's too late.

One area this preparation is relevant is on-court production. There are no flawless prospects. It may be very valuable to see which prospects work on their flaws and develop over the course of a year, and which prospects stagnate. Knowing the prospects in October allows you to see their progression, and how they adjust over a season. It also allows your scouts to begin to see the little things players do that can make or break their relationship with their coaches. Do they set good screens? Do they make smart passes? Do they jack up moronic shots? Do they try on defense? It is unfathomable to me that a scout who watched six or seven UCLA games this year would recommend drafting Zach LaVine in the lottery simply due to the sheer number of bad decisions he made every night. It is one thing to read "questionable decision making" on a draft site and discount it due to a player's vertical leap. It is another to watch those bad decisions night in and night out. It is also valuable to see the total team context. How is the team's coaching? Was the player put in an easy position to succeed, like Derrick Williams getting to isolate against PAC-12 centers? Or did the player succeed despite their coaches, role, and teammates?

Spending the whole year preparing for the draft is arguably even more important for judging a player's intangibles. Did they buy into the system? What are they like in practice? What do their teammates think of them? How did they handle adversity? In the couple months before the draft, everyone is on their best behavior. It's much more difficult to fake all of the hard work that goes into becoming a NBA player over the course of an entire season. It appears some successful executives feel the same way.

Doing your homework early may be most valuable when scouting international prospects. There is enough draft coverage these days that some of this information is available through general basketball osmosis and game tape. It is far more difficult to scout European players at the last minute, especially younger prospects like Dante Exum, who may not play a significant role for a Euroleague team, and who may face their most telling competition at U19 and other tournaments during the summer before the draft. Teams that are aggressive about scouting these international prospects during the previous summer have a huge advantage when bringing them into workouts, as they know what skills and weaknesses to test during the workout, and are able to observe how the player has changed since that competition.

But, couldn't this all be a colossal waste of time? Yes. The Wolves may not even receive their first round pick next year. What value is there in doing all of this work if that turns out to be the case? For one, you never know when an opportunity to jump in the draft may arise. If every relevant prospect has been thoroughly scouted and evaluated well ahead of time, it will empower the General Manager to make better decisions when determining if the team should trade for a pick. It is also important to have this information once a player enters the league, in case they become available. Keeping a file on Nikola Mirotic, for example, for the past several years would have given the Wolves information that would be very valuable this summer.

Finally, doing due diligence on these prospects would hopefully give the Wolves a better chance at finding contributors in the second round or as undrafted Summer League invitees. Spending this much time does not guarantee excellent results, and may cost more money than ownership is willing to pay, but I think it easily beats judging players by highlight videos, combine drills, handshakes, and name recognition.