Key 1: Know who you are and what your are about
“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a
champion.” —Billie Jean King
You need to know yourself and your goals if you want to succeed. I want to highlight four important things that stand out to me.
Your level of experience
Just starting out?
You’re probably not going to make a landmark basketball discovery right away. And that’s okay!
At the beginning, you’re learning about the scouting process as much as you are about any given game you’re watching on the court.
But it won’t feel that way all that time. The pressure will get to you.
You’ll feel so attached to getting it right—to not making a mistake. If you can’t let go of needing to be perfect, you’re toast.
Don’t pressure yourself to be a hero.
Honor the learning process by taking it easy, soliciting feedback, and focusing on learning instead of always needing to be right.
Being married to being right all the time will ruin you.
Don’t fight to be right.
So have realistic expectations. Focus on learning.
“Trust the process.”
Your scouting muscle
I firmly believe we all have a scouting muscle.
You can’t see it. But it’s there. Otherwise it’s like any other muscle in your body.
You exercise it. It gets stronger.
You don’t exercise it. It atrophies.
Compared to watching a game as a fan, scouting requires a special mindset. It also takes a much higher level of focus and stamina.
Watching a game like a scout is a workout.
More than once I spent 14 hours watching youth development level basketball games in little known gyms with no air conditioning. Those days drained me as much as any physical workout.
To handle ultramarathon days, your scouting muscle has to be strong.
You’ll need to exercise your scouting muscle regularly in order to build that up.
And as with any exercise regimen, you want to start with lighter weights and shorter workouts. Build proper form and habits. Don’t overextend yourself and burn out.
At first, maybe you watch games from a comfortable setting. That’s why now using InStat’s basketball platform comes in handy. You could watch at home on TV or go from your laptop (and even if we are in a global pandemic), and plan on evaluating only one or two players each time.
Later you can try more intense environments and work more players into your evaluations.
When I first started, I went to a U16 games internationally. I had trouble following the action with keen attention for more than a half-dozen possessions at a time.
It was a frustrating experience. I ended up asking myself “Why couldn’t I do a better job? Why couldn’t I stay focused and pick up on more details?”
I knew I had two choices. I could calm down and simply do my best, without beating myself up about it not being enough, or I could give up.
I chose the first option. I kept scouting. I kept at it. To the point where I covered major FIBA tournaments and also managed to get to NCAA level.
I went to more events internationally. Within a short time span, my improved focused allow me to take in details about footwork and ball-handling I didn’t pick up on earlier.
Using InStat to keep watching games always helped and allowed me to look back at anything I missed.
If I hadn’t been willing to lift the small weights first, my career would never have gotten off the ground (and you wouldn’t be reading this guide).
If you try to scout beyond your capabilities, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Start where you are and put yourself in a position to succeed.
The more you learn even as a coach or as a fan of the game you need a keen eye and need constant attention to do a solid evaluation.
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Your limitations and goals
Your limitations as a scout vary based your scouting muscle.
But make no mistake — even the most experienced scouts have their limits, I learnt this the hard way during my days in the NBA and under scrutiny of guys like Scott Perry and the Knicks.
You cannot get a 100% accurate and fully comprehensive read on everything that’s happening on
the court. Specialize in what you are looking for. This allowed me to watch lineups and my analyst background was very effective for me to use.
Normally, you can’t. I don’t care how good or experienced you are. It is not possible.
There’s inverse relationship between how much you try to take in and how accurate your perspective is going to be. This is simply how well scouting and analytics can mesh to give you a whole picture when you need it.
The more you spread your focus, the less precise and detailed you can be.
It’s much easier to focus on doing a good job evaluating one player than trying to scout everyone.
When it’s only one player you care about, you can watch him or her all night and see what’s going on.
What does he do when guarding away from the ball?
Is she active on offense when she doesn’t have the ball in she hands? What’s his body language like on the bench?
How does she communicate with her teammates when the team is losing?
Doing a broad evaluation of a game where you try to pick out the best players gives you less ability to be detailed and accurate.
That’s why you need to understand your goals going into a game.
Then you optimize your process, focus, and intentions in order to meet those goals.
Your biases and preferences
Yes. You’re biased.
We all are.
Deal with it.
We all have tastes for certain foods, hobbies, and movies. We love some. We dislike others.
The same concept carries over to basketball.
Maybe you love high-flying dunks. Or perhaps you’re the kind of person who would much rather watch an old VHS tape about the Triangle offense on a Friday night. (Hi, Coach!)
At a grassroots tournament years ago, having overheard a group of scouts talking about
how “soft” they thought a particular player was.
A big guard, the scouts expected him to use his size to constantly bully smaller guards.
But this kid had more of a small guard’s game. He got to the basket at will, rained threes from all over the arc, and repeatedly set up his teammates for easy baskets.
The scouts looked at him and thought he should be someone else. They saw who
he wasn’t, not who he was.
And the player? He ended up playing for a national title contender.
Whatever your preferences are, you need to be aware of them, or they will sabotage you.
Don’t mistake those statements for me saying that you need to be completely
neutral at all times.
Basketball is meant to be appreciated, and I don’t think it’s possible to check all
our biases at the door.
We are not saying take the fun out of basketball.
But be aware of your biases when you’re scouting. You’ll gain the ability to put things in the proper perspective. And you’ll have honest, self-aware evaluations.
Take Russell Westbrook as an example.
Some people love him for his aggressiveness and dazzling skills. Others get turned
off because they think he doesn’t play smart enough basketball.
Because of that divide, there are typically two camps of people in the public conversation.
1. People who love Westbrook to the point that they ignore his faults completely.
2. People who refuse to acknowledge his strengths and harp endlessly on his weaknesses.
To be an effective scout, you must step outside that red-blue debate.
You must be willing to objectively analyze a player even when their game contains
elements that you don’t care for.
You also must put aside the temptation to completely fall in love with a player because they fit a mold you like.
Scouting well means taking a player as a whole: their strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and everything else.
Every player is their own self-contained system.
Key #2: Build supporting systems.
“The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.” —Thomas Edison
Preparation plays an enormous role in scouting.
You want to set yourself up to succeed from the beginning. Think about how many moving pieces are on a basketball court. If you try to wing it, you’re going to get overwhelmed.
Everything gets easier when you can come in and maintain a calm, balanced state of mind.
Having a system to optimize your success comes in handy. I recommend starting with these tips.
Find writing materials that work well for you.
A notebook, a waiter’s pad, pen, pencil, whatever.
It’s important to be comfortable with what you’re using.
At first, you probably won’t know what works for you. Don’t worry about it.
But prepare as best you can.
Don’t bring a writing pad that flops around in your hand like a dead fish when you try to take notes. And make sure you double-check you brought something to write with. You don’t want to sheepishly ask Coach K to borrow a pen.
A simple pen and a school notebook will do the trick for you. If you don’t know
where to begin, start there.
But don’t let the materials be an obstacle to you focusing on the game at hand. You don’t need to overthink it. Just make sure you did basic preparation.
Develop your own shorthand and style.
You don’t have to know at the beginning exactly what will work for you.
Start by writing in whatever way feels most natural to you. Feeling comfortable with what you do helps.
Once you get settled, I encourage experimenting with different ways of jotting things down. A player makes three-pointers on back-to-back possession. What do you do?
• Do you write, “Jackson made back-to-back threes?”
• Do you write the number 3 twice next to his name?
• Do you draw a smiley face eating two number 3s?
• Do you ignore the result and instead make a couple notes about the form on his jump shot?
See which method feels most comfortable and most productive when it comes to recording your thoughts and insights.
Quickness and brevity count.
A lot of things happening on the court in a matter of seconds. You want to keep up as best you can.
But you also need to interpret your writing later. At least to make sense of it. It takes practice to find the balance.
Consider your organizational system.
Do you plan on transferring your evaluations into a document or database of some kind?
Are you cataloging them somehow so you can find them more quickly later? How much information do you want to gather ahead of time about the players
you’re going to watch?
You don’t need to answer these questions before you ever start scouting. But they’re helpful things to keep in mind, especially as you start building up an inventory of reports.
And these things have potential drawbacks.
If you spend a lot of time gathering info by reading what other people have to say, you may color your opinion before you even watch the game.
More information and organization can be good, but they take more time and effort to maintain. And if you get off-track, you might end up feeling discouraged and wanting to give up.
Play around with developing a mental DVR.
Try to keep a mental playback of the last couple possessions you’re watching.
By doing so, you avoid getting hung up on who finishes the play.
The thunderous dunk to cap off a possession is meaningful. But sometimes the rebound in traffic and the precise pass that led to the dunk two passes later carry more importance.
Key 3: Embrace context and uncertainty.
“If there’s one thing that’s certain in business, it’s uncertainty.” —Stephen Covey
To scout well you need to put what you see into proper context.
That’s much harder than you may think.
Remember that what you see on any given day or night depends so much on other factors.
Level of competition. Schedule. Coaching. Teammates.
Even more random things like illness, off the court stresses, and simple luck.
A high school playoff game is a different setting than a grassroots game in a gym with college coaches watching.
A skilled player in a high pick-and-roll based system will look different compared to when that same player operates in a Triangle offense.
Most long-range shooters will look better shooting wide open threes off the catch than when creating their own shots against double-teams.
Experience and deliberate practice help you gain the skills to make those adjustments in your head.
I like to compare my evaluations of a player over time and see how the reports differ.
Then I try to figure out why they differ.
Why do I love his shooting ability now but I didn’t like it a year ago?
Did the player simply have bad shooting nights the first couple times I saw him?
Maybe he improved his jump shot? What did I say about his form the first time I saw him, compared to now?
What kind of shots was he taking last year? Maybe they were off-balance, contested shots the first time, and now he’s adjusted and is taking open rhythm threes off the catch?
Or maybe my evaluation the first time — or now — is simply off the mark?
Make comparisons. Investigate. You can form more complete evaluations of the players you watch while taking your own skills to new levels.
Your evaluations won’t stand up to scrutiny without a genuine attempt to put what you’re seeing into proper context.
You also have to accept that sometimes you simply won’t have good
opportunities to evaluate a player.
Sometimes you’ll watch a player twice and find out later that you saw his or her best (or worst) two games of the last year.
Players play in dozens of games every season. Unless you watch every single game, you never know exactly what you’re going to get.
A lot of rookie scouts slip up because the get too attached to figuring out every player they see.
When those scouts see a player make a good play or a bad play, they read into it and draw a conclusion right away about that player.
Then once that early conclusion has been drawn, everything else the scout sees that player do either confirms the initial assessment or gets subconsciously discarded.
A dangerous way of evaluating. It will lead you astray. I’ve seen scouts stick with embarrassing evaluations because of the wrong first impression.
You have to accept that what you watch on any given day may be insufficient to draw a strong conclusion.
Sometimes you don’t have a chance to do your best work. It’s not your fault. Just don’t overcompensate.
Key #4: Focus first on what a player does
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” —John Wooden
It’s easy in today’s 24/7 media cycle and online basketball discussions to pick
apart players and zero in on what they can’t do. “He doesn’t guard anyone.”
“He can’t shoot.”
“He has no left hand.”
Of course you take a player’s weaknesses into consideration. But it’s scouting
malpractice to flippantly dismiss a player because of them.
When you focus on a player’s weaknesses, you build negative momentum in
evaluating that player.
It leads you to end up with a pessimistic view of them that doesn’t tell you
anything constructive about how that player could help a team win.
Your evaluation comes across like any team would be foolish to use that player, when that might not be the case at all.
It’s much easier for a good coach to hide an otherwise talented player’s glaring weaknesses than it is for that same coach to turn an all-around mediocre player into a solid contributor.
Nikola Jokic may not be a good defender and Giannis Antetokounmpo may not be a good shooter. But they’re excellent players in spite of those drawbacks. Their teams feel thrilled to plan their personnel and schemes to maximize those
players’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Note a player’s deficiencies, don’t dismiss him or her immediately because of them. Look for his or her strengths too. Take them into consideration. Continue watching with open eyes.
Despite the way the media tells the story sometimes, players doing things well wins games. Talking about a player “choking” may get more page views, but it provides an overly simplistic explanation of a complex game.
Learn to find what works well for a player and you’ll come out ahead in the
Putting it all together…
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
I believe that these Four Pillars of Effective Scouting will serve you well in developing as a basketball scout.
Looking back on my own journey, I found these four ideas sat at the core of the successes I had — and a failure to practice them at other times led to setbacks and mistakes.
I called this guide a “cheat sheet” for a reason.
Used it as a reference guide of key points for you to keep in mind on your journey. Practice them deliberately. Again, they are:
Key #1: Know who you are and what you’re about.
By starting where you are, building your scouting muscle, and being aware of your
biases and preferences, you’ll come out ahead.
Key #2: Build supporting systems.
Have systems that enable you to be at your best.
Key #3: Embrace context and uncertainty.
Look at what is really going on beneath the surface.
Key #4: Focus first on what a player does well.
Remember to explore what a player does well without getting completely turned off by his or her weaknesses.
The more you practice these Four Pillars when you’re scouting, the better you’ll
get not only at these specific principles, but in your overall evaluations.
Whether you’re going to local high school, college, or professional games, or you’re watching on television or online, these principles will guide you on your way.
You’ll achieve not only your current scouting goals, but your future ones too.
I want to leave you with five suggestions for what you can do next to put them into action.
(Please only do in-person events when it is safe to do so with respect to sensible public health guidelines.)
If you have access to actual game tape, great! If not, there are plenty of full games archived on YouTube for you to watch.
Film can sometimes serve as better practice than live scouting because it allows you to rewind and watch things at your own pace.
Attend a game locally.
It doesn’t matter what the level of play is. Any kind of game will help you practice.
Watch various levels of play if you can. It will help you improve at imagining players independent of their current environment.
Watch a team practice.
It’s probably easiest for you to watch a practice at the high school level, although
some colleges are open about it as well.
Just reach out to the coach and ask if it would be okay if you stopped by to watch them. Through this behind the scenes look, you’ll be able to learn and pick up on things you wouldn’t be able to see as easily during games.
Take inventory of your biases and preferences.
I like to do this exercise from time to time.
Take out a sheet of paper and make a list of players and teams you think highly of.
Then make another list of players and teams you don’t particularly like.
Look for themes and commonalities. You’ll gain extra insight about your own
Reach out to another scout and make a connection.
Talking with other scouts gives you additional perspectives about what to look for when evaluating players.
Early on in my scouting career, networking helped me immensely in seeing the details other scouts with more experience could pick up on.
You made it to the end! Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. I recognize and appreciate that you made an investment in yourself by doing so.
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