Now that it’s May, the draft process is kicked into another gear. Prospects will start cris-crossing the country in order to get workouts with teams that express interest in them. It’s a crazy process, and a lot more goes into it than most think. Here’s a breakdown of all the logistics of a draft workout.
All year long Assistant GMs, Personnel Directors, Scouts, etc. watch as many prospects as possible and start to filter out who may be a good fit for their organization. As you may have guessed, most teams have a pretty similar list of players that may be successful. That means that there will be multiple teams asking some (not all) players to come to campus for a visit. Enter the agents! Both parties, agency and team, will have calendars that they are looking to fill…with completely different intentions behind each move.
Agents want to send their players to teams that may actually draft them. And in a move of gamesmanship, they’ll balk at a team that is “out of their guy’s range,” in an attempt to gain more information about the team’s interest.
Teams want to set up workouts to meet the kid for the first (or second/third) time and really dive into the person. Some of the reasons behind selecting certain dates are to match up players that are in the same draft range and the same position. If those players haven’t gone against each other during their NCAA careers and are projected in a similar situation, they’ll see each other at multiple workouts throughout the process. For example, it wouldn’t shock us if Jerome Robinson, Jacob Evans and Chandler Hutchison worked out against each other for a few teams. Seeing how they stack up against each other in a job interview can be a tie-breaker for some decision-makers. Depending on who the agents are, they may request certain match ups…or deny a client’s visit based on who else will be there that day. MAJOR RED FLAG if someone doesn’t want to go up against another guy. Newsflash agents, at some point your client is going to have to outplay the guy you’re worried about. A good way to screw your future clients is by being difficult to work with in this setting and trying to hide something from the teams. They don’t forget. The smart agents will generally go along with whatever the request of the team is, but may ask for one of their lesser known clients to tag along to get some exposure he may not have earned. That’s the cost of doing business.
After all of the posturing on both sides, the team and agent agree to a date for the player to arrive, workout and depart. There are strict rules from the NBA on the amount of time a prospect can spend with each team (generally 48 hours) but the start/stop of the clock can be fudged a little bit to ease travel between cities.
Here’s where the next level of puzzle making comes into play. As we said before, a lot of the players that will be asked to visit, will be asked by more than one team. That means that there is a good chance that a player will travel from Team A to Team B without going home in between. For the mid-first round guys, expect to be on the road for most of the month leading up to the draft. It’s not unheard for a guy to be on the road for double-digit days. Welcome to the NBA, Rook!
To make travel between teams easier, during a highly (somewhat) secretive process, there is a list that circulates throughout the league that connects those responsible for travel in/out of a workout. That means when a player is heading from the Bulls to the HEAT, someone at the HEAT has to reach out to someone at the Bulls to figure out what flight Player A can get on at O’Hare to make it to Miami. The list has general guidelines as to which airport is best to use and what time to shoot for, but booking flights without running it by the team that is sending them to you is not a good look. It’s an easy way for a team to get on the bad side of the agent/player and colleague.
Teams sending a player out are responsible for getting that player to their flight on time. That means that the receiving team has to give the sending team the boarding information so they can expedite the travel process as much as possible. Once the player lands in a particular city, they’re job interview begins. Teams differ with how they transport players from the airport to their hotel/practice facility. Some roll out the red carpet, some send an intern in a rental van. Player talent, time of day, and a few other factors go into that. But if a team sends someone from their Front Office to get the player, it’s a good bet that they want to see how the kid acts when he’s not in front of the coach/GM/president. It’s a smart tactic by teams, sending a younger staffer who can relate to the players (and knows everything about them) can disarm the prospect and the team gets a glimpse at who he truly is.
Teams that are smart send the staffer with a few extra copies of the player’s itinerary as their is very little chance that their agent has properly prepared a travel binder with all of the pertinent information for each stop. It’s a task that doesn’t outweigh the cost and can’t keep up with the last-minute changes. That was not a dig at agencies, it just doesn’t make sense for them to go through all of that trouble knowing that the team will have the most accurate information.
The day/night of arrival is different for every player and is predicated on the timing of the workout. Someone who arrives in the afternoon the day before (20 hours prior to) the workout will have a chance to relax at the hotel and catch up on whatever they may need to. Those that get in around dinner time may head straight to a restaurant to meet with some of the executive team and other workout participants. High level lottery picks rarely work out against anyone else…and the main decision makers spend all the time with these guys. If you’re imagining a lavish steak dinner at the best spot in town, you’re probably right. That is, unless the team has some intel that states the player’s favorite place to eat is at TGI Fridays and they want to show they’ve done their homework.
After dinner, it’s on the players to get some rest and be ready for a long day starting early. While most players think everything is centered around the on-court workout, there are so many other factors involved that weigh just as heavily. Keep in mind that the scouting staff has seen every single guy coming in through the door at some point in their college career. Now is their chance to see everything else. Hotel pickup can be around 8am for a “10am” workout. Teams will provide breakfast for the players and then it’s time for them to hit the training/weight room for testing. Unlike the NCAA and high school, the NBA tends to work with accurate height/weight/wingspan/hand size/vertical reach measurements. So every single player that enters the building will, at minimum, be measured in these standard ways. The performance staff may have other tests they’ll run that measure flexibility, mobility, and range of motion among other things that can directly impact a player’s playing career. Some strength, explosion and quickness drills will also be recorded to add to the player’s draft model.
Teams are allowed a maximum of 6 players on the court in a given session, and no more than 12 per day. They can split that up however they want. Two groups of 6. One group of 6, two solo workouts and a 4 man group to end the day. Other days may just be a lottery prospect and the building stays dark for all non-essential personnel. There will be some ball handling drills. A lot of shooting drills. Some competitive stuff to see who the toughest guys are. And expect some situational drills to see what their BBIQ looks like. Remember, this is most likely the first time that the coaching staff has seen these players play. They’re too busy trying to win 82 games to worry about guys that aren’t in the NBA yet.
Depending on what time of day the workout is, players will go through an interview process either before or after the on court session. Team will want to sit down with each player and talk to them, as a person. It’s a good chance to see if they stories the scouting staff have collected match with the player sitting in the chair that day. It’s also a chance for each player to ask for some honest feedback. They’ll ask, but they won’t always get it. The draft market is fluid and each pick is a tremendous investment by the team. They can’t tip their hand one way or the other too early in the process. The agents will call their team contact after the workout to try and get some feedback, but they should expect the same level of gamesmanship they displayed in getting the workout exactly how they wanted it. Teams don’t forget.
The level of interest can be inferred, based on how many meetings each player has. If a player meets with the Head Coach, GM, Assistant GM, and nearly everyone else involved…that team has real interest. If the GM wasn’t in the building for your workout, you’re looking at a 2nd round selection at best.
It’s a long, strenuous, and detail-oriented process. The 76ers during Hinkie’s time were rumored to have nearly 100 players come through so they could collect mountains of data and meet everyone. Imagine being that travel coordinator! It’s the NBA, everything is expected to run like a well-oiled machine. No wasting time with players sitting around doing nothing…unless they aren’t good enough, then they should just feel honored to be there. Players need to be on time. Be polite. And work their tails off. Teams need to watch every movement and hear everything said. In a league where information is the highest form of currency, the smallest drip can tip the scales into a favorable position.
How can a player tank their draft status? Easy, be late for a meeting. Be a jerk to the assistant strength coach when he’s trying to get your body ready to perform. Mix up what city you’re in and what team you’re interviewing with. Openly trash the team’s current roster. There are tons of ways that players can mess up.
Other things teams are looking for? Who else has/will that player workout for. Who else has been in their workouts. Again, teams want to establish a range of where each player may have real interest in order to best maneuver their assets to impact the roster positively. Teams also want to show off how great their organization is. Even if they don’t draft Player A, there may be a point in time where Player A becomes a free agency target, and if you didn’t treat him right in the draft process, he probably won’t be telling his agent to get a meeting with you on July 1.
It’s an exciting time. It’s a lot of long days and weeks all thrown together. It takes a whole team effort to make it look good. For the players, it’s a whirlwind of job interviews and you hope to impress one team enough to hear your name called. For teams, it’s a culmination of over a year of work on a draft class. To both parties, enjoy it.