It might be late in the college basketball season, but it’s early in the process of assessing college players. And that assessment is going to take place this week mostly in Las Vegas, where four separate conference tournaments will be held.
That explains why the top two Pistons executives, Joe Dumars and George David, merely hitched a ride west on Roundball One over the weekend with the Pistons headed to Los Angeles to start a weeklong, four-game trip up the Pacific Coast.
Dumars and David watched the Pistons lose to the Clippers on Sunday night, then stayed behind when the team left for Utah after the game. They both headed instead to Las Vegas, which this week serves as the intersection for the West Coast Conference, which wrapped up its tournament Monday night with Gonzaga beating Saint Mary’s for the title at Orleans Arena; the Pacific-12, which starts Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena; the Western Athletic, which starts today at Orleans; and the Mountain West, which starts today at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
“It’s extremely unusual to have that many teams in one city,” David said. “I don’t know if there’s another city that could host that many teams.”
Because of the single-elimination format of both the conference and NCAA tournaments, David’s scouting schedule remains open-ended. But barring a rash of upsets, he and Dumars will get to see a few handfuls of players likely to hear their names called on June 27 during the NBA draft.
Among the headliners are UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, Cal’s Allen Crabbe of Cal, Arizona’s Solomon Hill and Brandon Ashley, Washington’s C.J. Wilcox and Colorado’s Andre Roberson from the Pac-12; Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris and St. Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova from the West Coast; San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams from the Mountain West; and Louisiana Tech’s Raheem Abbleby and Idaho’s Kyle Barone from the Western Atheltic.
You’ll see those names splashed in various places across the many top-100 prospects lists, but don’t make the mistake of putting much stock in those rankings just yet. Scouts have been aware of most of those names for multiple years, but until a player is ready to be drafted – either automatically or by submitting his name for early entry – NBA teams are focused on collecting as much evidence of their ability as possible. The analysis of their ability is something they will hash out in the weeks leading to the draft, after the compilation of their scouting efforts has been submitted.
“By most people’s appearances, it’s late in the process,” David said. “But right now, it’s extremely early in the process. Right now, we’re really focusing on gauging the talent. That’s really what you want to spend every day and hour on at this point. When the season is over and the postseason is over, then as the declare dates and those things come up, you have more of an opportunity to actually gauge the strength or weakness of the draft.”
The Pistons, barring them beating long-shot odds to draw a top-three lottery pick, figure to be drafting in the range where they’ve selected in the past three drafts: seventh in 2010, when they took Greg Monroe; eighth in 2011, when they drafted Brandon Knight; and ninth in 2012, when Andre Drummond fell to their spot. David went into each of those drafts feeling the Pistons would come away with a player who could immediately improve the roster and step into the playing rotation. He feels much the same about this draft, even though it has been widely characterized as thin. What David sees is a draft that, like many others, is lacking clearly defined stars but holds plenty of depth.
“I would say there have been only a few drafts probably in the last nine or 10 years that have had a good share of stars in them,” he said. “For the most part, the rest have been pretty balanced. I would say this is a pretty balanced draft – there’s a good balance of starters, rotation players, fringe guys. I still feel there’s going to be a player who is going to help us.”
Scouts like coming to conference and NCAA tournaments mostly for convenience and efficiency – it’s an opportunity to see many games and players in one setting, on one day. But it’s also useful for the level playing field it provides. Unlike the regular season, there is no home-court advantage, the motivation for both sides is exactly the same, both teams usually go into the game with the same amount of time between games, and the schedule more closely approximates an NBA schedule.
“With a lot of these conference tournaments, you have to win at least four games,” David said. “Just winning four games in a row in a short period of time is a pretty good accomplishment. If you are a player who was in large part responsible for helping your team win four straight, that in itself is something you don’t usually get an opportunity to see a player do. It’s a time of year when most teams are playing their best and every team is playing hard. In many ways, it’s the best time to see players playing against each other at a high level.”
And, this week, all in one place.