This is our third in a continuing series looking at some of the unrecognized and often under-appreciated jobs that surround the Blazers and the NBA in general.
Today we are privileged to hear from Pat Zipfel, an Advance Scout for the Portland Trailblazers. "What's an Advance Scout" you ask? Let Pat tell you...
Blazersedge: For those who might be interested in becoming an NBA scout, what were the steps along the way for you? Can you give us a sense of how you came to this position? Would you say yours was a fairly typical journey/progression?
My job title is Advance NBA scout and this is my third year with the Portland Trail Blazers and my sixth overall in the NBA. The Advance scout is directly responsible for advance scouting upcoming opponents and knowing their offenses, their defenses, their tendencies and their personnel. The position is focused on how to beat upcoming opponents. Essentially my job is to know the enemy.
The position works directly with the coaching staff to help prepare them for who our next opponents are. It is a basketball specialization position with the majority of the focus on the X and O's of the game of basketball.
It is the responsibility of the Advance scout to know what their top offensive sets/plays are and what they are called, what their defenses are called, even knowing what their Side out of bounds and Baseline out of bounds plays and calls are. The coaching staff will then take that information and incorporate it into a game plan. How do we defend certain plays, etc.
Rarely, am I in practice with our team and in fact, many of our players don't really know me that well, since I am traveling watching our next opponent play. But on game night, I return to the team and am often sitting behind the bench and the coaching staff during the game. (If someone wants to be around the players, being an advance scout is not the role).
My role at our games is to watch the opponent and know their plays/calls during the game and relay it to the coaches.
Personally, I became an Advance scout because of my LOVE of X and O's. I played for an outstanding small college coach who fostered my love for X and O's and saw the value it offers to coaching. Some coaches are workout types, some work with the big men, the Advance scout specializes in knowing opponents and the knowledge of the game.
Professionally, there is no clear cut way of becoming a scout of any type in the NBA. If you asked 10 different scouts, you would get 10 different answers but they would all have a few things in common.
- Love of basketball.
- Understanding of the game
- Strong work ethic.
Blazersedge: What kind of qualities/skills does one need to do your job?
The modern advance scout needs the technical skill/ability to use software, laptop, winfax and of course, email.
When Advance scouting started (by the Godfather of Advance Scouting Bill Bertka of the Los Angeles Lakers), he would use pen and paper and would telephone and tell the head coach about the opponent. In today's modern era, the information is input into a laptop, plays drawn with special software (called Coaches Tool) and emailed or faxed to the coaches.
Each night Advance scouting works with the video director Kaleb Canales (the hardest working guy in all of Portland) to know everything we can know about the enemy. Coupled with video, we are able to make a concise, complete history of each team.
The skill set necessary for the job is technical but with a basketball focus.
Blazersedge: The first thing everyone thinks of when they hear the word "scout" is hectic travel. I imagine long flights and arena food go with the territory. What else though? Can you give us an example of your workday schedule?
The demands of the Advance scout is that following every game, he must input all the information into the laptop to give the coaches information and prepare them.
While a game may end at 10 pm at night- the real work begins after the game when the information is inputted to the computer and the report is written. Most times it is sent to the coaches for the following morning meeting. So, writing a report can routinely take until 4:30 am the next morning. Fortunately, you learn to sleep on a plane.
There is no average NBA Advance scouting report size but the largest is 73 pages this season of an Eastern Conference team, and the smallest is 46 pages of information.
I tend to see the last 2 games of our opponent in person, and watch the previous 2 games on DVD to get an understanding of what the "Enemy" is doing right now. It changes throughout the season- with coaches adding and subtracting plays and changing personnel.
The video coordinator of the Blazers helps coordinate the information to the coaches and is truly the unsung hero of the behind the scenes work of basketball operations. Our video coordinator is one of the youngest and widely considered as the hardest working and his efforts help make the process run smoothly.
Indeed Pat sent his whole month's calendar and it's crazy! I don't have room to reproduce it all but here's a sampling:
Sun. Feb. 25th
Fly San Antonio to Seattle
Attend Practice/Coaches' Meeting
Mon. Feb, 26th
Coaches' Meeting at 10 a.m. Shootaround
Game in Seattle
Tues. Feb 27th
Wed. Feb. 28th
Fly Portland to Sacramento
Scout Charlotte @ Sacramento (both teams)
Thu. Mar. 1st
Coaches' Meeting 9 a.m.
Game in Portland
Fri. Mar. 2nd
Scout Sacramento @ L.A. Lakers
Sat. Mar. 3rd
Coaches' Meeting 9 a.m.
Game in Portland
Travel Portland to Washington D.C.
Sun. Mar 4th
Scout Golden State @ Washington
It goes on like that...
Blazersedge: In addition to scouting teams you also get a firsthand view of the progress of individual players. Obviously what you look for in each player will depend on his position and skill set, but are there some qualities that stand out across the board for everyone? In other words, what are some of the things a player HAS to have to make an impact in this league?
His system (that started upon his arrival here in Portland) has helped the personnel staff dramatically and has shown dividends with the success he and his staff have had with picking talent. Brandon Roy, LeMarcus Aldridge, Sergio Rodriquez.
This system (with a few clicks of a mouse), allows all the information on each player be available easy and convenient to help the personnel guys.
The advance scout has nothing to do with the process of selecting talent but rather is to know our upcoming enemy. I wish I was smart enough to have picked those three guys during the last draft but that is a credit to Kevin Pritchard and his staff. They let me concentrate on plays and diagrams.
Blazersedge: What are some of the things you look for when watching a game that fans might recognize also?
Blazersedge: What's one thing you look for that you're sure an ordinary fan wouldn't have a clue to look for (or maybe even what you're talking about)?
Example? Do you know what Chin action is? How about Zipper? Or if a team will defensively "blue" the side pick and roll?
I never realized how well coached the NBA game was and am not sure most fans truly know how each possession is valued.
Blazersedge: What's something that fans usually overrate the importance of while watching the game? (Another way to look at this is, if a fan sat down beside you and scouted a game their report would probably be full of remarks about ____, which might not turn out to be as important as they think.)
Blazersedge: On the other hand, what do fans usually underrate in importance?
Blazersedge: I imagine after a while a person in your position becomes a little jaded with all the games you've seen but have you ever caught yourself just sitting and admiring a guy's play out there, forgetting for a second that you're there working as a scout? (In other words, slipping for a second into a "fan moment", if that's not an insulting way to put it?)
Blazersedge: Can you give us your impressions of Nate McMillan?
The Players respond to him and he is an extremely hard working coach who is fully committed to the Blazer organization and winning.
Blazersedge: The fans' favorite question always comes last: Have you got any interesting/funny/shocking/unusual stories of the road/teams/players?
Since I am always traveling and catching up with the team and literally living out of a suitcase, I found it difficult to pack a suit for the game when I am behind the bench for our Blazer games. I never check my bags at the airport and will travel only with carry on to save time.
So, three years ago, with the help of Geoff Clark, our Assistant Trainer and Equipment Manager, we started the season and packed one suit, a pair of dress shoes, a shirt and a few ties in a travel bag.
SO, No matter where the team goes, this bag travels with them and no matter what city I happen to get to, there is a suit there for me. Geoff is so organized that I can show up at an arena and have the "suit in a bag" ready and waiting for me. BUT since it spends so much time in the travel bag, the suit is often wrinkled beyond words and it is difficult to find a place to have it ironed a few hours before a game at the arena.
In our recent game in Orlando, the suit was so wrinkled when removed from the travel bag that Dan Dickau had to loan me his sport coat to avoid the embarrassment of wearing it.
"Suit in a bag" has become a joke among a few members of our staff who know about it! How thankful I was that we have a player who I can actually fit in his clothes!
Overall, I feel fortunate to have a position in the NBA after having only played at the NCAA Division III level and try to treat each day as a priviledge to have this position. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the resurgence of the Portland Trail Blazers and working with a young Nate McMillan and his staff.
Thanks to Pat Zipfel and the Blazers for giving us a little peek into the hectic life and times of an NBA Scout. Sometimes it's good to get a reminder that just because we talk as if we know something that doesn't mean we actually do.
And Ken, you are ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN to talk about any "chin action" by the "Zipper".