As the 2023 NBA Draft approaches, so does my seventh year fully covering the NBA Draft. I’ve come a long way from my first tweets, which seem to have aged gracefully:
For those who don’t know my story, the elevator pitch is this:
I have followed every NBA Draft closely since I was 10 years old at the time of the 2004 NBA Draft when the Orlando Magic had the first pick, so the intrigue between Dwight Howard & Emeka Okafor was striking to me, spawning a newfound passion. Come 2016, I started studying up on Markelle Fultz which led to me making my first true big board & scouting reports after doing scouting reports for minor league baseball prospects for the prior two seasons. In 2017, I started my own site (that you are reading this on) and a Twitter just in case my draft notes ended up aging well.
Fast forward to today, early 2023, and there have been a lot of hits and misses. Particularly, the early returns of the 2022 NBA Draft have haunted me over and over again, which has given me lots of new lessons in addition to the ones I had already begun to learn from past mistakes.
Some deep lessons I have learned include: follow your first impressions, it’s normal to be wrong & completely okay to miss on prospects so long as you learn from your mistakes, watch past prospects with hindsight bias, scouting reports matter more than big board rankings, it’s okay to take breaks & prioritize mental health, and trust the G League Ignite.
Follow Your First Impressions:
One thing I have learned in my time projecting young talent is that your first impression can generally paint a strong picture of a prospect. In your first time watching a prospect with minimal outside knowledge, there are almost no biases to fall victim to with preconceived notions. I have fallen victim in the past to adjusting my notes & rankings because of what the consensus or even groupthink has led to, which is not always right. If the consensus was always right, the hit rate in the top 20 picks of the Draft would be much higher. This isn’t to say your first instinct is always right, but it at least leads you down an authentic path.
In addition to this, overthinking drifts you far away from your first impressions when you can see the raw overview of a player and the context surrounding them. In 2022, I fell victim to watching too many games of too many players, causing me to overthink and get many obvious picks wrong.
There will be misses along the way; some examples I have of both ends in my experience by going against the grain:
- Desmond Bane (Had him top 40 in 2019 before he was on most NBA radars and top 20 in 2020)
- Donovan Mitchell (Had him top 10 in 2017)
- Kawhi Leonard (Had him top 5 in 2011)
- Mikal Bridges (Had him top 5 in 2018)
- Keldon Johnson (Had him 10 in 2019)
- Elijah Hughes (Had him top 15 in 2020)
- Louis King (Had him top 15 in 2019)
- Walker Kessler (Had him 76 in 2022)
- Jaden Hardy (Had him 32 in 2022 with some atrocious takes)
- Had Trae Young below Collin Sexton in 2018
It’s Okay To Be Wrong
As you can see from above, there are some brutal misses that most others didn’t have. This is all part of taking a chance; sometimes you will be wrong and have to learn from your mistakes without over-correcting. What you do when you’re wrong is what separates you from your competition.
Far too often, I see people even years removed from a draft still holding the same preconceived notions they had pre-draft despite the player proving them wrong, or finding excuses as to how that wouldn’t happen most times and it was unlucky that they were wrong. While there is a lot of luck that goes into the Draft, scouting misses should never be attributed to luck. In the most technologically advanced era of humanity, we have almost unlimited access of film to players, and there was probably something obvious that was over-thought or outright missed. If you aren’t ready to be ridiculed for missing on takes you were loud about, reconsider being loud on those topics.
Watch Past Prospects With Hindsight Bias
Hindsight bias is generally a bad thing in most contexts, using it when watching former prospects, both failed and successful can be quite useful. Hindsight bias is when someone looks back at an unpredictable event and says “ah I knew it would go this way all along” by revising history in a way.
Finding commonalities among top pick busts & second round stars can help identify future red flags and hidden gems more successfully. If you have access to Synergy, this becomes especially easy since they have almost every college game available since the mid-2000s.
Scouting Reports Matter More Than Big Boards
One of my core beliefs is that ranking players in an entire draft class, often 100+ deep, is incredibly difficult because it has too much randomness to it to be weighed as heavily as it is. Personally, I have a hard time balancing the weights of two scouting reports of deeper players to say which will be better. Therefore, I think finding the most accurate scouting reports show more diligence and ability than ranking players one-by-one in a list. Doing what I do, I’d rather let someone else rank the players based on what I build out about a player.
Some of my proudest work as an amateur scout lies in my scouting reports, being able to break down the most specific elements of a player as both strengths and weaknesses. One narrative I hope to see change soon is for people to move from asking ‘where did you rank a player on your board?’, to ‘what was your scouting report?’
Take Breaks & Prioritize Yourself
One pitfall I often fall victim to is pushing through and burning myself out at times, making film-watching a chore. It’s better to be invested with 90-100% effort 3 times than to be invested with less than 50% effort 5+ times. Nothing too profound here, but basketball is not immune to this philosophy, even if you are like me and use sports as a whole as an escape from reality.
Trust the G League Ignite
The early returns of the G League Ignite, starting with the 2021 NBA Draft, have been strong. Jalen Green has a wildly high ceiling, Jonathan Kuminga has taken a jump as a second year player and likely will take another big jump soon, Jaden Hardy has emerged as a key part of the Mavs’ future, and Dyson Daniels & MarJon Beauchamp look to have promising futures.
While it’s still too early to say the superstar upside is there, it is not premature to say that the G League Ignite is at minimum great for building out a high floor for players. The culture and development are strong, and this path teaches players not only how to develop their skills more practically, but also teaches players how to be pros at such a young age.
All of this to be said, there are lots of lessons to be learned from scouting, something that can simultaneously be so simple yet so difficult. I hope this self-reflection paints a picture of how I scout and for how to accurately scout, at least at an introductory level. Scouting takes so much work, and surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable (without being toxic) while also praising your successes is incredibly important.