COMMENTARY: For NBA Teams, Draft is a Dice Roll
Charles E. Sutton | 6/30/2014, noon
If you're fortunate enough to become an NBA scout, one can only assume that you're passionate about watching basketball, at least you'd better be because you're going to be doing a lot of it. And you better watch closely. As the eyes and ears of the organization, scouts are who teams rely upon to determine whether they will pursue a specific player.
Each club has dedicated staff whose primary responsibility is to scout players worldwide, some as young as 12. I know it sounds a bit extreme, but it's true. If you’re in middle school and can really handle the ball or consistently knock down a 15-footer, an NBA scout will find you.
Never is the NBA scout's job more important than when the draft rolls around. This is when a prospect can buoy the spirits of a franchise and its fan base, before hopes and expectations are eventually tempered by performance. The right picks could lead a team to instant success. The wrong ones could cripple it for years.
So why do some teams get it right so often, while others seem to bungle it annually? Well, conspiracy theories aside, the truth is, there's no real answer. Even the most astute and thorough scout has to deal with an air of uncertainty surrounding every selection, and if things don't go well, it can cost that scout (and others) their job. When your fortune is dependent upon someone else's success or failures, it's a tough — and harrowing — way to make a living.
The fact is, after the smoke from the draft has cleared, we don't know which players are keepers. There have been countless lottery picks that did virtually nothing in the NBA, while some players who were afterthoughts on draft night became some of the best the league has ever seen. I can appreciate all the scouting efforts and the team's draft preparation. But simply put, you never know who's game-ready until he shows up and proves it.
Of course, hindsight's certainly 20/20, but such cliches do little to quell a franchise hungry for a winner after a pick doesn't pan out. In the 1984 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers infamously chose Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan with the No. 2 overall pick. Bowie, a 7-foot-1 All-American center from Kentucky with brittle feet, sputtered through a disappointing pro career. Jordan, on the other hand, became a global icon. His franchise end up with six titles, while Portland hasn't won a championship since the Carter administration.
But spotting true talent isn't an exact science, even for those who played pro ball. For all of Jordan's on-court genius, he's whiffed notably as a front office exec in the draft over the years, particularly in 2001 as the Wizards president of basketball operations when he took Kwame Brown with the No. 1 overall pick. Brown, a heralded 7-foot high schooler, was totally ineffective as a pro. Meanwhile, the 28th overall choice that year was a skinny French teen named Tony Parker, who just won his fourth NBA championship and may be the best point guard in the game today. Again, you just never know.