Andrew Harrison, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, LeBron James, Noah Vonleh, Russell Westbrook, Zach LaVine
When discussing draft prospects, it seems that people are often afraid to confidently assert that the scouts who drive the consensus are flat out wrong. This surprises me, since they have been wrong to hilarious degrees in the past, and will continue to be wrong going forward. They were able to recognize that LeBron James was a fairly awesome prospect, so that establishes that at least they have operative eyesight. But they also thought that Darko Milicic was half a notch below LeBron as a prospect, even though he never possessed any basketball playing ability of note. VJL recently made an excellent post on the irrelevance of hype, and I’d like to highlight some qualitative examples to show where high school scouts badly missed the mark.
Many scouts are woefully bad at assessing prospect skill level, especially in watching them go against high school competition. A recent example is UCLA’s Zach LaVine, when Chad Ford noted that a few scouts called him “Russell Westbrook with a jump shot.” Of course the only things LaVine has in common with Russell are his leaping ability and his decision to attend UCLA. Granted, he doesn’t get to show off much of his PG skill with Kyle Anderson and his virtuoso passing ability running the offense. But he also isn’t trusted enough as the backup PG, as those duties fall to Bryce Alford. And his assist rate (13.8%) doesn’t stand out from UCLA’s other wings as Jordan Adams (14.0%) and Norman Powell (12.7%) who are definitely not PG’s have similar assist rates. Ford notes that LaVine has a propensity to look for his shot instead of passing, but the fact of the matter is that he hardly has any dribble penetration skills whatsoever. On the season he is 11/28 on rim FG’s in the half-court offense, only 6’3 non-leaper Bryce Alford has fewer attempts at 10/25. Adams (44/67) Anderson (24/44) and Powell (44/73) all show vastly superior penetration ability. It is possible that his low attempts are due to lack of confidence in finishing in traffic given his thin build, but his handles look awfully pedestrian to me. He appears to be a SG through and through.
To bring back the Westbrook comparison, he led his UCLA team in assists as a sophomore in spite of playing a fair amount of SG with Darren Collison running the show. Like LaVine he didn’t get the chance to fully flaunt his PG skills, but at least he flaunted something, as the Thunder drafted him in large part to his strong performance as primary ball handler when Collison was out. LaVine has not begun to display flashes of PG skill, yet Chad Ford writes:
While he isn’t really running the point for UCLA, most scouts who have seen him in high school think he has all the tools to be a NBA point guard down the road
Why do they believe this? I don’t know, maybe they saw him dribble down the open court and finish spectacularly in transition and wrote down “POINT GOD” in their scrapbooks. If he develops his handles and passing at an inordinate rate then maybe he could be a PG, but to weigh that as a significant possibility at this stage is wishful thinking. Comparing him to Westbrook is silly so long as they have such an inordinate gap in PG skills, but many scouts are bad at deducing these sort of gaping differences so they wouldn’t know any better.
Now you may be thinking that while scouts may not be experts on deducing basketball playing ability, you gotta give credit to their ability to eye test tools. This is also wrong. Let’s take Noah Vonleh, in November of 2011 DraftExpress writes:
Standing a legit 6-8, with a 7-3 wingspan, huge hands, a terrific frame and excellent athleticism, Vonleh does not look like your typical 16-year old.
I imagine that the “excellent athleticism” was simply a commonly held belief in HS scoutings circles, as his ESPN recruiting profile notes that his “physical intangibles” include “extraordinarily long arms and bounce.” While he has done well as a freshman for Indiana, it is not due to leaping ability, as Vonleh has struggled to finish at the rim in spite of his size and length due to lackluster athleticism. To DX’s credit, they noticed that the initial assertion was incorrect and in their recent scouting video note that Vonleh is “not a leaper” and list lack of explosiveness as a weakness. But the bottom line is that HS scouts are not specially trained to deduce physical tools, and when they see a super long player like Vonleh dunking or blocking a shot, they conflate his impressive use of length with athleticism. Consequently, it is not safe to take their tool assessments entirely at face value.
Now let’s see what ESPN’s recruiting service said about Julius Randle’s future:
His reputation as a good person and hard worker will aid him as he hopes to improve and stave off competitian for his slot
This is part of a short writeup on the #2 prospect in America, and they couldn’t even spell “competition” correctly. I know this strays from basketball analysis, but most of their writeups do appear to have been translated from English to Estonian and back to English using Google translation. Here’s their bottom line on Andrew Harrison:
He raises the level of play on his team because he leads by example with a competitive nature, focus and battle tested toughness. At his size he has blossoming lead guard skills and is terrific at making plays. What separates him from the rest is in his pace of play. His game is like a stop light he can go from green to yellow to red all in a moments notice.
Maybe I’m being harsh, but when a scout’s writing is barely literate, it makes it that much harder to trust their “expertise.” That isn’t valid basketball analysis– it more closely resembles a child’s attempt at writing poetry.
For all intents and purposes, high school scouts are casual fans who try their best to offer their best NBA projections of high school prospects. Aside from the fact that extrapolating a player from high school to the pros is exceptionally difficult, it’s not a particularly prestigious position and does not attract the sharpest basketball minds. They are smart enough to know that LeBron James is great when they see him play, but they also have a number of baffling false positives. If any of us actually met a collection of high school scouts and had the opportunity to pick their brains, I doubt we would come away with the sensation that they possess any sort of expert wisdom that we lack.
In order to maximize efficiency in prospect analysis, stuff like pedigree and hype should be almost entirely disregarded. There may be exceptions for a player like Bradley Beal who was reputed as an elite shooter but ran cold from outside as a college freshman. But when top prospects such as Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle show troubling signs for their future, people seem slow to accept the relevance of these signs, as they feel that obvious warning signs are superseded by high school hype. The bottom line is scouts don’t have any advantage over an intelligent basketball fan in information (at least not once we get a sizable college sample), analytical ability, or even expertise in assessing tools. Personally I try to glean why they felt the way they did, take the perceived strengths for what they are worth, and then discard all bottom line conclusions as it is only noise that will dilute my own analysis. Giving any more credence than that only leads to skewed perceptions and wrong conclusions.
Mr. Judgmental (@ASFW_jrodger) said:
Well keep in mind that this is coming from Chad Ford, so it’s possible he selected the most flashy quote out of a series of more reasonable ones
Ford represents an interesting part of the draft process, because analyzing his writing is all about the incentive system of ESPN and the draft. There is little incentive for Ford to be right about prospects or release the best information, or to improve on the methods he makes his big board on. His incentive is purely reader engagement and entertainment. Ford deserves the prestigious job he has because he’s a talented and charismatic writer. A quote like Lavine = Westbrook with a jumper, fits in with what he’s paid to do. It makes readers more excited about another prospect in the draft, which makes them more excited about the draft and more likely to read Chad Ford daily
However, this creates a fascinating situation because Chad Ford and Jonathan Givony may be the single most influential people determining where players get picked. The way they rank players become the “consensus” for the media and many fans tend to follow in their footsteps. And this probably impacts how teams actually pick the players. Although we want to believe that teams would pay no attention to media hype and use their own scouting and analytics, the truth is that many of these teams in the draft, ESPECIALLY considering they are unsuccessful bad teams, are driven by their owners and not the general managers. Owners who’s thought process along with fear of criticism, may very well be fallible to media hype and doing what the consensus opinion says and who approach the draft as in picking between shiny hyped up toys.
Good comment. I like your points and I agree with your perception.
Also this is why Ford is always slow to sour on the players they dubbed as golden children such as Randle or Wiggins. They have so much hype that people are going to be always interested in talking about them, so keeping them atop their big board keeps that conversation going.
So as you noted Ford has reasonable motives for taking the approach he does, but it leads to an imperfect end product. So the franchises that end up buying the hype end up getting the shaft.
Chad Ford does a good job. I haven’t seen numbers on it, but if you look at his draft boards from previous years he seems to easily outperform the actual draft order. A lot of this is probably because teams draft partially for fit, where he doesn’t have to worry about that, but I still think he has done a good job.
Also he doesn’t make the consensus for everyone else. Its very much the other way around. His espn list is his best effort to get the consensus from people around the league. You’ll hear him talk about him personally liking a guy better or worse than his rankings, but for the purposes of his board he goes by what the league consensus is.
As for the Lavine quote, yeah it seems like it was just the most positive thing he heard from a scout or front office person or else he wouldn’t have had Lavine at 11th or whatever he had him at when he said that.
I’m pretty sure Chad Ford alters his ranks as prospects get to NBA experience to make them look better. I remember trying to cross check some of his past rankings with his draft grades at the time and they didn’t totally jive.
It’s a fair point that he builds his rankings based on league opinions, but I don’t think Ainge or Hinkie are going to talk too much about the sleepers that they like. I imagine his most honest opinions come from scouts
Mr. Judgmental (@ASFW_jrodger) said:
On that note, it’s also not a coincidental that the league who’s the biggest trainwreck drafting is the NFL, while the one best at it is the NHL. The NFL draft rankings are pure media hype. In the NHL some of the most importantly watched draft rankings and publications talking about the draft, have no connection to the media at all… they are released in minor annual publications, paid attention to only by teams and the diehard draft fans online. Those guys only care about rating the best prospects right, not attracting the viewers.
Not your best work Dean. These guys do seem to fuck up a lot and could seemingly make much better judgements, but you have a lot of advantages over these quotes your pulling. They are pretty old quotes so there’s already a lot of new information out there. These guys could have changed their minds by now.
When it comes to the Vonleh quote its not only really old, but the context isn’t completely clear either. Excellent athleticism as a 16yo playing against high schoolers might not mean the same thing as what you’d consider excellent athleticism for a probable lottery pick. And just the degree of difficulty in judging 16yos has to be really high.
Also you seem to be prejudging these statements awfully early. I don’t know how you can mock a quote about a players ability to become a NBA PG down the road when the player hasn’t had a chance to prove that statement wrong yet. This article would hold more water if you looked at players that have been out of college for at least a few years.
Overall, even though I agree with your general thesis, I don’t think you added anything constructive to what the VJL article already said.
I also doubt there is much reason to look at a scouts grammar.
Fair critique. Maybe I framed this incorrectly. I didn’t mean to place the blame entirely on scouts being incompetent, as degree of difficulty is also largely pertinent to HS rankings being bad.
WRT LaVine I think there’s enough information to ascertain that it’s a weak hypothesis. I think sometimes it’s better to focus on how perceptions comport with available info instead of long term outcome. If LaVine never develops PG skills that doesn’t necessarily prove me right, sometimes potential goes unrealized. And I’ve been wanting to debunk that one for a while anyway.
FWIW the ESPN stuff isn’t just bad writing, it’s bad writing bereft of basketball related analysis. I probably should have belabored this more, but that Andrew Harrison bit doesn’t actually mention anything that should be on a scouting report. It’s for better or worse an imaginary observation.
Anyway, I appreciate the feedback. Occasionally I’ll throw out some stuff that doesn’t resonate with everybody, and it’s good to know when that happens.
Justin Wayne said:
Lot’s of social comfort in this post. Good work Deano.
I’ve read in one of your articles that you are looking for a way to watch NBA D-League games, the NBA has a channel for the D-League where you can watch games.
It’s not a terrible article, but the title doesn’t really match. “High School Scouts Say The Darndest Things” with almost no examples – excluding the ESPN example because I’m not sure who wrote it – from actual high school scouts. Chad Ford is an NBA guy. Draft Express is obviously geared towards the NBA and likely only covers high school to get a baseline on guys.You might as well quote Dickie V as a high school scout since you lumped those guys in.
If you would have pulled reports from Dave Telep, Tom Konchalski, Frank Burlison, Paul Biancardi, Evan Daniels, Eric Bossi, etc., then the title would have fit much better. There could be some interesting quotes even from the best scouts.
Chad Ford wrote the analysis but he cited scouts who watched LaVine in high school. DX isn’t a high school scouting service but I assumed they were sponging consensus (maybe they weren’t tho).
That’s a good point that quoting the big name high school scouts would have been more effective though. I kind of mesh them into a single hivemind in my head, but I think I may start following some of the top guys to see what varying levels of perceptions they have.
Assani Fisher said:
1. I agree with your conclusion of not putting too much weight into HS scouting reports, but I don’t necessarily agree that its due to LOL HS SCOUTS. I think that there are inflection points at all levels of competition whereby a player will look much worse once he crosses. In other words I could totally imagine how a player like Lavine could look like he has PG skills against HSers yet not against college players right away. I think this way very much due to my personal experience of how many of my own skills didn’t carry over once crossing certain inflection points in level of competition.
2. Perhaps the best example would’ve been if you could’ve found some of the old nbadraft.net writeups on Amare Stoudemire in HS. I couldn’t find them, but IIRC they had him as a great defensive player with limited offensive skills, lol
I agree with your first point 100%. But the point still holds that their conclusions must be taken with grains of salt.
Funny you mention that bit about Amar’e, because I remember Chad Ford had Andre Drummond as Amar’e v2.0. Maybe he never watches the NBA and was merely reading nbadraft.net’s scouting report on Amar’e 🙂
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