Draft prospect evaluation continues to evolve

The NBA Draft can provide a great opportunity for teams looking to upgrade their identity and alter perceptions.

Of course, upgrading is one thing. But what about outright identity theft? (And we’re not talking about teams attempting to copy the team-building principles of the San Antonio Spurs.)

Welcome to another interesting twist in the annual right of prospect vetting, courtesy of a personnel exec employed by an Eastern Conference team: “A player we talked to said another team asked him if he would reveal his social security number.”

“I guess the team involved was trying to find out if the player was smart enough to not give out his information.”
 
Or maybe they were wondering if the prospect was smart enough to memorize the digits.
 
“We heard of quite a few interesting questions that some teams had players answer … or try to answer,” our personnel guy said. “I think they’re just trying to get a rise out of ’em to see who can keep their composure.”
 
Another league personnel sharpie said he heard that one team passed on Denver Nuggets rebound machine Kenneth Faried last year due to results from a recognition-type test involving a blindfold and flashing lights. It’s a good thing for the Nuggets that Faried, who led the nation in rebounding, plays without a blindfold and can identify where missed shots are going.
 
These are examples of how the NBA Draft process has transitioned from watching video, conducting some generic workouts and holding polite conversation over lunch to a near-comprehensive examination of what makes a player tick.
 
“The salary cap and luxury tax makes acquiring talent through the draft even more important,” a scout who works for a Western Conference team said. “So you try to gather as much information about the player as you can … some teams bring in psychologists to conduct the interviews. That’s sort of necessary, because — with players not attending college very long — they show up with less social skills. They’re not the more refined young men we used to see a few years ago.”
 
The Chicago pre-draft camp, which the league put in its rear-view mirror a few days ago, has become a shopping mall of drill scrutiny, physical testing and psychological nitpicking.
 
“That’s all really been ramped up,” the personnel guy said.
 
While background checks have intensified, our scout thinks the biggest change in the draft process has been enacted by those who would be judged.
 
“There’s a lot more control on the players’ side of things,” he said. “Well, the players’ agents are the ones taking more control. Before, almost everyone played in the pre-draft camps, and when you wanted to bring them to your facility for workouts against other prospects, it wasn’t a problem.”
 
In today’s NBA, when an already highly regarded prospect is summoned for a job interview, the agent rarely allows direct competition with a (presumed) lower-ranked player.
 
“To me, that’s a warning that they’re trying to hide something,” the scout said. “If you think you should be drafted high, then have the confidence to go out and prove it.”
 
BASKETBALL JONES
 
With the Phoenix Suns sitting at pick No. 13 and publicly committed to looking for perimeter help, a couple of forwards named Jones could help make this a lucky selection number.
 
In Baylor sophomore Perry Jones III, lottery teams are looking at an athletic, 6-foot-11 prospect with just enough skill away from the basket to tease folks into thinking he can play small forward.
 
“I certainly don’t see him as a three,” our personnel guy said. “He hasn’t shown much interest in going inside and playing the kind of physical basketball you want from a power forward. But being able to make a perimeter shot or dribble a little doesn’t mean you can take the ball to the basket against NBA small forwards or have enough lateral quickness to guard them off the dribble and chase ’em around screens.”
 
But he still thinks Jones is intriguing.
 
“Now put that explosiveness and perimeter skill against power forwards,” he said, “and you have a stretch four who can create mismatch issues on offense and be a help-side shot blocker on defense. I do like how he’s competed in workouts since leaving Baylor.”
 
The other Jones is 6-9 Kentucky sophomore Terrence, who — like Perry — has the potential to go middle lottery, late lottery or even fall out of it.
 
“At 6-9, he’s looked upon as not having the length to play against power forwards,” the personnel guy said. “That’s how we limit guys during their pre-draft evaluation. Once he gets into the league, you’ll see that he has enough strength — he goes a solid 250 (pounds) — and bounce and length to play the four. He’s at least as big as a lot guys playing there right now. It’ll be easier for him to play against power forwards and, like Perry Jones, use his outside-in talents to beat bigger guys than it will be for him to chase quick small forwards.
 
“They’re both very talented guys, who — if lottery teams can get beyond preconceptions about size and positions — could go fairly high.”
 
And that could help push a talented perimeter prospect closer to the Suns at 13.
 
SEA CHANGE
 
After landing Chris Paul and winning a playoff series, the Los Angeles Clippers begin the off-season looking for a new general manager.
 
The old GM, Neil Olshey, left to work for the Portland Trail Blazers, leaving the rising Clips in search of a replacement.
 
According to a general manager employed by an Eastern Conference team, they already may have the right guy on the payroll.
 
That would be Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks, a long-time employee who’s worked up through the organizational ranks and is minding the prospect-evaluation store with head coach Vinny Del Negro.
 
“They’ve made some pretty good moves,” the Eastern GM said of the Clips, who don’t have a first-round pick this year. “They got DeAndre Jordan in the second round and picked up Eric Bledsoe. They added some good vets this year, too.”
 
Olshey, who was brought to the Clippers as a player-development coach by former head coach-eventual GM Mike Dunleavy, certainly has accomplished more than his predecessor. He’ll have two lottery picks and cap room to help rebuild the Blazers around LaMarcus Aldridge.
 
“He’s been pretty good,” the Eastern GM said of Olshey. “And having the Paul trade with the Lakers fall through makes everyone look smarter. But, according to the people I’ve talked to, Gary Sacks has had a pretty important role in shaping the roster. In terms of continuity, he’d probably be a good choice.”