I tried to watch Duke Big Ten Gear shirtstars Paolo Banchero, Trevor Keels and others like an NBA scout. It wasn't easy
NEW ORLEANS — How do scouts, coaches, and NBA executives watch the Final Four? While fans are keeping their eyes plastered to the ball and the scoreboard, scouts are focused on completely different things. They are lasering in on a select few guys, whether they’re on the court or not.
Duke assistant coach Chris Carrawell was scouting Villanova before his team took the floor on Saturday. He told The Sporting News what he was looking for.
"I’m looking at everything Villanova runs," Carrawell explained. "[Collin] Gillespie, their best player, how does he get his shots? What are their plays? What do they do on defense? We’re not paying attention to the score. We watch five, six, seven games on video. Then when we’re live, we see how it compares.”
I wanted to get specific instructions on how people in the pros watch when they attend games, so I asked an NBA scout for some advice with the plan of applying it to the Duke vs. North Carolina game later that night.
Duke has five potential first-round prospects in Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Mark Williams, Wendell Moore Jr., and Trevor Keels. They would make a great guinea pig to see how hard it would be to watch the game like a scout.
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The first piece of advice the scout gave me was to pay attention to guys shooting around in practice and pregame warmups. Many college players don't have enough in-game attempts to glean how strong of a shooter they actually are. Practice shots can add some data points to get a better idea of true ability.
For example, there are a lot of questions about Banchero's 3-pointer, but he's only taken 126 of them. There’s still a lot of luck involved in such a small sample.
I watched all five of my prospects shoot 3-pointers before taking the court against UNC on Saturday. Here's how they performed.
The player that I really had my eye on over the course of three days in New Orleans was Williams. There’s been a lot of intrigue in particular around his jump shot because there isn't much information on it. He’ FSU vs. Miami Rivalry Shirts s barely shot any jumpers at Duke and missed badly on the only 3-pointer of his college career. Could he have more potential that he wasn’t showing?
Despite missing two clutch free throws on Saturday night, Williams did drastically improve his percentage from the line as a sophomore. He told me that College Operation Hat Trick Apparel he tweaked his routine slightly this season. But the improvement was mostly a result of practicing free throws and jumpers from that area rather than any major mechanical changes.
Duke had an open practice on Friday, so I headed down to the gym floor to watch Williams specifically. He spent most of the practice practicing his righty hook shot and layups. But at the practice's conclusion, he stepped out to the 3-point line and took 36 shots from 3. He airballe Dartmouth Big Green shirt d two of them, wasn’t close on most, and went on a hot streak at the end to make 10-of-36.
There are a couple of different rules of thumb to estimate a player’s 3-point percentage in games based on his practice percentage. One is to divide that practice percentage in half. Another is to subtract 20 percent from what he shoots in practice. Either way, Williams was looking Florida vs. Georgia Rivalry Gear like somewhere between an eight and 14 percent college 3-point shooter. It's no wonder why he doesn’t take them.
The next piece of advice the scout gave me was to pay attention to size. "The biggest in-person thing is taking more accurate account of measurements," he told me.
In person, Williams looked a lot skinnier than his listed 242 pounds. Keels looked extremely muscular. The other Duke guys looked pretty close to their unofficial measurements listed on the team's website.
Once the game started, the scout advised me to listen for the sounds on the floor.
“One thing I like to watch for is verbal communication, like calling out [defensive] coverages,” he said.
The players themselves would know who communicates better than anyone, so I asked them who they thought were the best talkers that they’d played with or against.
UNC forward Caleb Love mentioned teammate Leaky Black. “I feel like he’s the best at communicating, not even on defense, but on offense,” he told me. “Telling us to get in the right spots.”
UNC center Armando Bacot named a different teammate.
“Justin McKoy. He does a very good job of talking. He’s very vocal, quarterbacking all of us in the right position.”
Bacot highlighted some good opponents that he’s played against too.
“Wendell [Moore Jr.] is a good talker, I hear him talking all the time. The whole UVA team. That’s a very vocal team. They know what they’re doing.”
Banchero also mentioned his teammate Moore as a great communicator, then later added Roach and Keels to his list.
Nobody mentioned Williams, but he was one of the loudest players on the court during the game. I could visibly hearing him screaming out "ICE" during multiple pick-and-rolls, indicating how he wanted his guards to direct ballhandlers.
Williams had told me before the game that his Anderson Trojans Jerseys communication was an area where he was trying to get more decisive, particularly in calling out when to switch.
“For me, it’s something I’ve improved on over the course of the year. I feel Culinary Institute of America Steels clothes like I wasn’t as vocal on the defensive end at the start of the season.”
Moore lived up to his reputation during UNC's game. He was in constant communication with teammates, directing Griffin when he was matched up with the wrong player and shouting early in possessions to direct weak-side coverages.
Banchero was less talkative, but he was the one that was gathering players together during many of the huddles that happened at breaks in the game.
The other obvious area where scouts try to get information in-person is in judging a player’s intangibles. Who shows up to the gym early, how do guys react on the bench, and what are their personalities like off the court. But how much could I glean in such a limited time frame? It's the same problem that NBA teams face, trying to learn someone's personality in only a few hours of interview time.
I attended all of the Duke prospects' press conferences, and I tried to form impressions in the half hour that they spoke to the media. Banchero was subdued with his answers. Moore was serious and professional. Williams was the charmer of the group, and his teammates universally agreed that he was the funniest guy on the team. He reminded me of a quote from Daryl Morey in Michael Lewis’ book The Undoing Project.
“There’s a lot of charming bigs,” said Morey. “I don’t know if it’s like the fat kid on the playground or what.”
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Maybe Michigan vs. Ohio State Rivalry Jerseys the students would have some better knowledge of the players’ personalities. I decided to give it a try. I saw Duke's student band warming up and headed over to ask some members if they had any personal interactions with the players.
“I had a friend of a friend who had a class with Mark Williams,” a drummer told me proudly. His other band members looked on in amazement at this stunning revelation.
A note to any scouts reading this: The band probably isn’t a great source for intel.
I did manage to get some information from Duke junior Max Rego. He’s the Managing Editor for the sports section of the student newspaper, The Chronicle. Rego had been around the team all year and spoken to the player Franklin & Marshall Diplomats Jerseys s numerous times.
Rego told me Moore was known as the gym rat on the team and usually the first to arrive. Keels was a weight room monster, breaking the freshman bench press record. Banchero has been criticized for his lack of defensive intensity, but Rego pushed back on that idea.
“He's pretty laid back, but intense when he needs to be. He’s improved as a verbal leader. When he’s locked in, he can be a really good defender.”
As for the game itself, Moore and Griffin both shot the ball poorly. Williams was limited severely by foul trouble. Banchero looked at times dominant, and Keels' scoring kept the Blue Devils close. But I tried to focus more on the intangibles rather than how many times the ball went through the hoop.
In-person scoutin NCAA Spirit shirt g was an interesting and challenging experience. It was hard not to ball watch or care about the score. I gave myself an F after my hundredth glance at the scoreboard in an 81-77 nail-biter win for North Carolina.
During breaks in the action, I tried to focus on Williams slapping the floor to energize teammates instead of the break-dancing mascot wearing a giant ram costume that was obstructing my view. The mascot won that battle, adding to my failing grade.
Despite my struggles as an in-game scout, the real scout’s last words rang truest to me.
“For the most part I think you can glean most of what you need from film, but some elements are obviously tougher.”
Like Carrawell, I got a much better idea of Williams as a draft prospect from watching a half dozen of his games earlier in the week than the 17 minutes that he played during one nationally-televised game. I did get a few extra kernels of knowledge. But in the end, there’s no replacement for watching the totality of a prospect’s work.