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The New Normal: How to scout for the NBA Draft during a pandemic

Sport across the world has had to take a unique approach in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Bubbles, supporters left out of venues and now, the all-important NBA Draft, still set to take place on November 18 but with an altered, Covid-19 safe format.

The event will be staged from ESPN’s headquarters with only a limited number of people in attendance, including a select few prospects and league personnel. Overall, the event itself won’t look too different from normal, however, the new lengthy and in-depth process of finding the best up-and-coming talent is unlike anything seen before.

“It’s a situation of expansion and contraction,” said Chris Ekstrand, a draft expert working again as a consultant to the NBA. “There’s been a huge expansion in the amount of time teams have had to prepare. The contraction would be, well, we did not have the NCAA tournament; we did not have a 5-on-5 combine. There are a lot of components of it that we haven’t had.

“If you’re a team that has a lottery pick, you could watch every minute of every game that a guy ever has played and go through everything with a fine-toothed comb. But there has been a reduction in the events that you’ve been able to see.”

Hours upon hours of research, video reviews, phone work and Zoom availabilities are how scouts have had to operate throughout the pandemic, that has seen strict rules regarding the safety of personnel in the NBA, limiting the usual means of recommending the future stars of basketball.

As regulations started to relax across the United States, team representatives were able to travel and meet players. Golden State, who hold the number two overall draft pick, sent a party to both Atlanta and Miami to attend workouts, according to reports.

The NBA themselves have come to the rescue of teams to aid in this process, providing medical information on players, whereas agents have helped to organise phone calls and Skype interviews in place of the face-to-face interviews that would traditionally be expected.

“We’re ready to pick,” said Sachin Gupta, Minnesota’s vice president of basketball operations. “The NBA is doing a great job trying to salvage the draft combine process and pre-draft process. We still have measurements and testing and medical flowing in … Certainly lots of different scenarios and plans that we’re working through, but we feel good about our evaluations at this point.”

Adapting to the new world has had to have its reviews and evaluations too, such as the question over a possible over-analysis of players and seeking out flaws that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

Patrick Engelbrecht, the director of global scouting and international affairs for the Toronto Raptors said on the matter: “You have to be careful when you’re judging young men going through a pandemic. Some may have gym access, some may not. Some may have an agent who has resources to do ‘X, Y and Z,’ some may not.

“You’ve got to be careful because you don’t want to be one of those ‘study long, study wrong’ [types]. Where you get so much information and it’s a 17-year-old kid, and you’re just putting too much into every little factoid that you can find out about a guy.”

The 2020/21 season has finally had its start date confirmed for December 22. This campaign will likely be a fascinating one for the sport and offers a lot of opportunities to learn about the future operations in the NBA.

Some have suggested that the quick turnaround from being drafted to training with their new teams could be detrimental, or, instrumental into settling into the new environment. Questions could be asked about the scouting process too, as this pandemic will likely highlight the strengths and weaknesses from this new approach. At the moment, these things are impossible to predict, and we will only truly know upon the leagues conclusion next year.

Author: Jake Wilkin