We really need a nickname for scouting directors Mike Born and Chad Buchanan, at least until the Blazers finds a replacement General Manager. Maybe, "B + B Basketball Factory"? Everybody scout now!
After yesterday's rookie introduction press conference, I posed a few of the early-developing questions about Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson to both Born and Buchanan, who are helming the team's basketball operations staff at the moment.
My goal here was simple. We've got a pretty basic understanding of what each of these incoming rookies can do. But how do the scouts see them fitting with the other established roster pieces? What are some lineup combinations that might work and what would those lineup combinations produce? What will they be looking for during Summer League?
After going into some detail about those issues I asked a few other questions that might be of interest. From Born, I wanted to know what it was like stepping through the complicated hoops of the summer season without Kevin Pritchard (or his replacement) in place yet. What's different on a day-to-day basis this year than previous years?
For Buchanan, my question was a little more off-the-wall: Why does seemingly every incoming rookie think he is a future all star? What do scouts who are paid to evaluate players based on both their skills and their potential think when a player presents himself so confidently when the scout might not be as high on the player's abilities? Do the Blazers target self-confident players in particular or is that just a personality by-product?
I came away from these brief chats smiling and with some food for thought as the start of Summer League gets closer by the day. I've left their answers unedited in hopes that you might get a sense for both their personalities.
Click through to read the chats.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter
Mike Born, Director of NBA Scouting
When you start to look at these rookies and how they might fit into second unit lineup combinations, what do you see? Do you look at pairing Jerryd Bayless and Elliot Williams together? Is that a combination that could work?
Yeah, I mean possibly.
I think when you look at Armon [Johnson] and Elliot [Williams] I think those guys, Armon is probably more one than he is two. Elliot is probably more two than he is one at this point. I think they both could potentially be guys that could guard twos. Elliot obviously could because of his size, his length, his quickness and athleticism. I think Armon, just because he's tall, he can potentially guard some 2s. If you had [Johnson] and Bayless on the floor, I think you would have to decide who you put on those guys.
I think you could definitely play those guys together. I think you can potentially play both of those guys with Bayless.
Part of it will just be the evolution of those guys as players. Who do they become? Does Elliot become a better ball-handler where you feel like you can put him and Jerryd out there and sort of let those guys play a 2 guard front. And not even necessarily use a designated point guard. Initially, it might be Bayless because the coaching staff is more comfortable with him. I think Elliot definitely has the potential to be a guy that can play some point.
I don't know if he will become a full-fledged point guard but he definitely has the ball in his hands, can initiate offense. I think he's a good enough ball handler this year in college where you feel like he has the potential to play some 1 or potentially play off of Brandon even. He'll have to continue to work on his shooting, if you put him out there with Brandon, let him guard the one, he'll be able to knock shots down off of Brandon.
That's sort of what we're hoping that JB can do as well. Be a guy that can step in and defend the 1. I think JB has really improved his ball-handling, his decision-making. Can it still be better? Absolutely. I know Jerryd is working really hard on his shooting this summer as he always does because that's a huge advantage, we experienced it with Blake being here, a guy that can guard the one and stick those shots. I think JB is going to continue to work to be that guy.
When you look at Luke Babbitt, is he a guy that plays one position on offense and then maybe he gets used in cross match-ups on defense? Say he plays the perimeter on offense and then guards stretch 4s or even he plays the 4 on offense and then you hide him in the corner on defense?
I think like Chad said [during the press conference], his versatility is something that we'll sort of experiment with in Summer League. With him and Dante [Cunningham] together, we'll sort of flip flop those guys, let them both play 3 on defense and both play 3 on offense and flip them and do the same thing on defense.
Obviously losing Martell [Webster] we're going to need another guy to step in there and guard some of those bigger wings. I think Elliot could be a guy who guard some straight 2s and Dante could be a guy who could step in and guard some big 3s. He's big, strong and athletic and pretty mobile. I think like we've done in the past with some of our guys, you put them out there in Summer League and see what they're capable of doing. Find the fit from there.
I think with Luke [Babbitt] he's skilled enough. I think part of it is [Blazers Coach] Nate [McMillan] seeing how he plays and what he can do. He's big enough that you can play him at the 4, a la Travis [Outlaw]. Chad made a comment where he's like Travis because he can get his own shot. Luke has a really high basketball IQ. He's a good passer. I think he'll be more athletic than people think. He tested out really well in a lot of the Chicago pre-draft stuff.
But, yeah, we'll see. We're obviously excited to have him. I think he's got some really good versatility going forward.
You look a lot more rested and relaxed today than you did last week. How are you settling in without Kevin there now that it's been a few days?
Part of that [fatigue and emotion] was just the draft. We all worked so hard to be prepared for that test. I know me personally I feel like I'm catching up a little bit because I'm spending a lot of time during the NBA season on the road. So it's like I'm catching up.
You want to be prepared for everything. We accumulate so much information, Chad and his college staff do an unbelievable job. Jason Filippi and the international guys, they accumulate so much information and because we look at being in so many different spots in the draft, you don't want to just casually know these players. You want to know them really, really well. And when you have all the information there, then it's like it's your job to read all that information, but there's so much of it that it can wear you down. Once we got through that, obviously you're going to be tired from that.
Every year you feel absolutely exhausted and you need a couple of days just to decompress. We didn't have that chance this year because it we have to step right in and do Summer League stuff, and the Gomes stuff and all these other things going on, trying to get done. I feel good about where we're at.
Obviously it's different sitting there [without Kevin Pritchard], but we've also had a really close relationship with Kevin. Kevin was great about including us in all of that stuff. It's not like it's been overwhelming, like we had no idea what was going to happen because even though we may not be the ones making the calls and talking to those guys, we're still involved in that process. So now it's just a matter of you doing it versus him.
You seem a lot happier and proud today. Are you able to enjoy the process now that it's over?
Yeah, it's been good. It's been good. It's been a lot of work. I think it helps because having Chad, it helps having two people to gather the information which is great, but it's also nice to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. [Scout / Basketball Operations manager] Joe Cronin has done a really good job for us. The team has worked well. It obviously hasn't been very many days but it's been comforting to know that we've had someone awesome to learn from, in Kevin, but also having the people that we do, the support staff. It's not like it's just Chad, Joe and I are doing it all. Everyone has helped, it's been a total team effort.
Chad Buchanan, Director of College Scouting
I would say if you look at the combination if Jerryd is in our second unit and you put Elliot out there, you have two attackers. If you put two attackers on the floor, you put some shooting around them, it gives them more length, more room to work with.
I can see Luke being very effective because of Luke's shooting, being very good with both of those guys. Obviously Armon and Luke have a connection to begin with. I think the combination of adding guys that are aggressive going into the paint, Elliot was one of the best getting to the free throw line this year and Jerryd was great at that this year, obviously. You put a lot of stress on your weakside defenders.
If you're going to leave Luke Babbitt he's going to have a wide open look and we feel pretty good with our chances if he has a wide open look. Or, if Elliot or Jerryd are going to the basket, there are definitely some skills that might complement each other.
Last year, the second unit went with a lot of pick and roll with the ball in Jerryd's hands. Sometimes things stagnated as defenses loaded up on Jerryd assuming that he would shoot, drive or maybe struggle to make the right read. Is Elliot a guy where he potentially opens that pick and roll game up a little bit more by keeping defenses honest with his ability to shoot and drive?
Elliot is a good shooter, he has really improved his catch-and-shoot. He shot a decent percentage this year and has really worked on it, even from the end of the season to when we saw him at his workout in June. We felt like he's made strides. Every time I feel like he's a little bit better shooting the ball, he's really worked at it and he'll continue to get better at catch-and-shoot. To go with being a threat to put it on the floor, if you can shoot it you're going to be awfully hard to guard.
When you look at Luke Babbitt, is he a guy that plays one position on offense and then maybe he gets used in cross match-ups on defense? Mike said it would be something you guys look at in Las Vegas potentially.
He could. For him, that's going to be his biggest adjustment, guarding his position, whether you use him offensively as a spread 4 in certain match-ups. He handles the ball well enough and skilled enough to play the 3 as well. At his team in Nevada, they weren't very deep, it was important for him to stay on the floor. People knock him for what he does on the defensive end, well he had to stay on the floor because he couldn't risk getting into foul trouble because he needed to be on the floor if his team was going to be competitive. He's a better athlete than people give him credit for and I think he'll figure out a way to not be a liability defensively. He's got too much pride and he's too competitive to allow that to happen.
One knock on Martell Webster was that he needed some minutes and touches to get going, that his consistency wasn't always there offensively and with his shot in smaller minutes. None of these three rookies figures to play big-time minutes on paper. Do you think these guys have the mentality and skills to succeed in limited minutes?
That's a tough role. Especially if you're a shooter. To come in there and play 15 or 20 minutes, to find a rhythm can sometimes take some guys longer than others. Luke believes in himself and his ability to make shots. I think whatever minutes he gets he is going to produce for us offensively. Elliot and Armon, they're aggressive players, however many minutes you give them they're going to be attacking in those minutes.
All of of those guys will find a way to put their imprint on a game. Obviously as a rookie, there's a lot of adjustments and they're going to find that out even here in Summer League and when they get to training camp. As soon as they adjust to it, I think the more they're going to provide some help off the bench.
One thing I've noticed about the process this year is that a lot of guys are coming in with the "I'm a future all star" angle. Very, very confident guys. How do you explain that? Or what do you make of it as a scout when you see hundreds of players and realize only a few will wind up making it to that level? Are you guys targeting confidence as a specific attribute when you're drafting?
Well, part of it is just this time of year. They've gone through a procedure where agents are recruiting them and to help recruit them you've got to tell them how much you believe in them. Sometimes the truth and sometimes... it's like the kids who are getting recruited coming into their freshman year of college, they've been told how great they are by coaches and programs and media so they start to naturally feel good about themselves and feel confident. Then you get to Summer League and it can hit you in the face a little bit. And then you can get to training camp and it can really be... REALITY HITS YOU.
But you want to have some confidence, if you don't have some confidence you're going to get eaten up in this league. It's about being a balance of being confident and realizing who you are as a player. We talk about that all the time. Can you look in the mirror and see what you are? You want to believe in yourself and also understand what your limitations are and what your ceiling probably is. It's kind of a balance. Interviewing kids during the draft process, a lot of guys probably a little over-inflated view of what they are because they've been told that by people.
The guys who come in without an ego tend to stick in your mind more than the ones who do, because there's not many of them. These guys are all good players and they should believe in themselves, should have confidence in themselves because they've produced and done it at a high level.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter