NBA scouting becomes more sophisticated

It was the first day of the NBA Summer League, and as the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors were playing inside Cox Pavilion on Friday, Scott Wissel was hard at work.

His laptop charged, his specially designed program “FastDraw” up and running, Wissel’s fingers flew across the keyboard, his mouse clicking and dragging diagrams of plays being run by the Rockets and Raptors. In minutes, he had Toronto’s offense down and was ready to send the information to the Sacramento Kings’ coaching staff.

Scouting? In the summer league?

“We’re trying to get our young guys acclimated to the NBA style of doing things,” Wissel said. “It’s about player development and team bonding in the summer league, and advance scouting plays a role in that.”

Things have gotten more sophisticated since the days when a scouting report essentially said, “He can’t go to his left,” or “He has no range beyond the key with his jumper.” As an NBA advance scout, Wissel’s job is to not just figure out what plays opposing teams run. He’s looking for the specific play call, when that particular play gets called during the game and who runs it. Reports are tailor-made for the team and individual players.

“The good players always want the edge,” said Wissel, who has been scouting for 17 years.

Pat Zipfel, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ advance scout, said the summer league is a great place to point toward the regular season and get a feel for what teams and players in the other conference do.

“We may not see Charlotte until February,” Zipfel said. “But we can get an early line on a new player like (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist here in Vegas and see what they’re running. That information could be useful down the road.”

Zipfel has spent 12 years as an advance scout, and he likens his job to that of a military reconnaissance officer who goes to the front, assesses what the enemy is up to and reports back to his superiors.

“It’s not glamorous,” said Zipfel, who is married with two kids and sees more than 100 NBA games a season. “But it’s critical to a team. Your job is to help the coaches give the team its best chance of winning with the information you provide.”

Chris Gilmartin, the Milwaukee Bucks’ advance scout, said the summer league is the perfect place for young players to develop good habits.

“We’re trying to get them into the routine of game preparation,” Gilmartin said. “They’re going to see things they’re not used to seeing in college, and we want them to learn about matchups and tendencies.

“This is a very competitive league. The smart ones are the ones who are always prepared and want an advantage.”

Gilmartin said today’s technology allows him to do far more in much less time.

“When I started doing this, I would write out my reports by hand at 2 in the morning, go down to the business center at the hotel where I was staying and fax 30 pages,” he said. “Now, I can send everything electronically right to the coaches in a single file to their iPad, and they just have to click on to the file and it’s all there for them.”

Zipfel said he can’t remember the last time he watched an NBA game as a fan. His focus isn’t on spectacular slam dunks or big-time blocked shots. He’s watching for tendencies, mismatches, substitution patterns and how certain players react to a given situation.

“It’s an attention-to-detail job,” he said. “The coaches are counting on you to provide them with accurate information so when they’re putting together their game plan there’s no surprises.”

But while you never can have enough knowledge, what good is it if you don’t use it? Wissel sent his report on the Rockets to the Kings’ summer league coaches and there was plenty of good information.

Houston’s advance scout must have been doing his job, too. When the Kings and Rockets met Monday, Houston shot 52 percent from the floor, put seven players in double figures, forced 18 turnovers and beat the Kings, 113-91. The Toronto report didn’t help, either, as the Raptors topped Sacramento on Wednesday, 96-89.

Wissel took it in stride.

“You give the coaches the information, and they pass it on to the players,” Wissel said. “Ultimately, it’s up to them to execute.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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