As mentioned a few days ago, General Manager Kevin Pritchard, Assistant General Manager Tom Penn, Director of NBA Scouting Mike Born and Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan embarked last week on a European tour with two purposes. First and foremost, the crew is traveling to Spain with the intention of convincing Rudy Fernandez to make the jump to the NBA. But before that, there's scouting of various international players to be done. In some ways, the future of the franchise could change dramatically depending on how successful they are in both tasks.
I had a chance to talk to Chad Buchanan today about the international game, the importance of seeing guys play in person and the whereabouts of Kevin Pritchard's luggage while he and the gang were driving "out in the middle of the country" from one undisclosed location to another. As I learned from talking to Buchanan, you can never be too careful when it comes to the draft.
So where are you at right now?
Buchanan: We’re scouting a couple of guys before we go to see Rudy tomorrow. I’d rather not tell you where we’re at just for confidentiality. We left on Friday and we’ve seen a couple of games already. Going to Barcelona tomorrow and we’ll be with Rudy for the next couple of days starting tomorrow.
Do you anticipate that he’s going to play while you’re there? He got a DNP in DKV Joventut's last game.
Buchanan: Jason Filippi, our international scout, said he’s got kind of a banged up shoulder. That may have been why he didn’t play. We’re hoping that he plays when we’re over here. If he doesn’t that’s alright. We’ve seen enough of him as a player to know we like him. We don’t need to see him anymore, but it’s more or less a chance for us to sit down with him and have him get comfortable with us and know what we’re about. That’s why we’re over here. We know he’s a player; we don’t need to see that.
Could you walk me through your first couple of days in Europe?
Buchanan: If I told you where we were at, people around the league would know who we’re seeing. With the draft getting closer, I’d rather teams not know who we’re scouting heavily. If I told you where we were at it would tip teams off. I’ll give you this: We’ve been in Western Europe, if that helps. That’s about as general as I can give you.
So in general, what have you thought about the quality of play that you've seen so far?
Buchanan: It’s been ok. European basketball is a little different than watching college or NBA basketball. It’s just a different style; a lot more motion and a lot more passing. I’d say the level of play is very comparable to a high level college team from what we’ve seen over here. We haven’t seen any of the high level European teams while we’ve been over here. You know, the American’s that are over here playing; there’s a reason there over here in Europe and not in the NBA.
I love the European game. The guys play together; they play hard. There’s not as many timeouts. There’s not as many media timeouts and the game has more flow to it. So it’s definitely an enjoyable game to watch. It’s a different taste and different flavor from what you watch over in the states, so it’s kind of a refreshing change watching how these guys play and how they’re coached. All the big guys can play out on the perimeter. Just very fundamentally sound players over here. They just don’t have the athleticism or quickness that the American players do, in general.
What have the crowds and reaction from the fans been like?
Buchanan: Soccer is always going to be the No. 1 sport over here, so basketball is kind of secondary. But the crowds are very … it would almost be like a college game. You’ve got like a student section that’s very rowdy. They’ve got their chants, they’re banging on drums. It’s a very vocal group. Even when you go to a game in one city, the opposing team usually brings a crowd of rowdy fans.
The fan reaction is a little different to the actual play than it is in the United States. In the United States there’s a momentum that builds as a team starts to make a run or has a couple good players. Whereas the European fans, they cheer individual plays and then the play is over. Like if a guy makes a free throw, that’s a big deal. If a team were to make five straight three-pointers, it’s not like you feel momentum building. They cheer each individual play. They don’t really argue about calls as much as American crowds to. I wouldn’t say that they’re not as educated about the game, they just appreciate different parts of the game than maybe American fans do. Like, you wouldn’t get a loud ovation when a guy makes a free throw like you would over here, for example.
Are you seeing other NBA people at games and do people recognize who you guys are when you’re over in Europe?
Buchanan: We do see other NBA people at games; other GMs, other scouts. The basketball world may be spread out a lot, but it’s really not as disconnected as people might think. The GMs of teams over here know who Kevin is and Kevin knows who they are. Kevin played over here, so he obviously knows a lot of people over here as it is. The fact that he’s general manager of the NBA team, people recognize him here at games. Even fans will recognize him.
Kevin Pritchard: I’m really big time!
Buchanan: Kevin says he’s really big time.
In most games, all the NBA people sit in the same section. Even the players know who most of us are and that we’re there to scout because we’re usually seated in the same section.
I'm assuming you don't have any direct contact with the players?
Buchanan: No, we can’t talk to the players at all. The NBA rules state you can’t have any contact with a player until he’s officially declared for the draft. We kind of save our contacts for when we get them into Portland. We’re just here to evaluate them as players right now in regular games. We met with a GM the other day, talk to coaches.
Another great contact is talking to American players over here about the European kids. They know the NBA. They’re playing with and against some of these European kids and their often a good source of information for us.
Do you have a sense of how many guys you’ve seen so far that you think might be in the NBA eventually?
Buchanan: Well, we’ve seen two games and I’d say there are two players. Very good chance they’ll be in the NBA.
Is there anything you’re looking for from players over there?
Buchanan: No different from what we’re looking for in the states. With our pick, we’re trying to draft the best player available. If it’s an American, if it’s an International, it really doesn’t impact how we evaluate a kid. We’re still looking at whether they can do the necessary things at their positions that they’re going to need to do at our level. Size, athleticism, all of that. And obviously skill level.
You know, the European players in general are very skilled because they’re kind of taught as a group rather than positionally growing up. Big kids aren’t clumped down at one end of the floor with guards at the other end of the floor. During skills work over here they all kind of work together. But no, we’re not looking for anything different from a European player than we are out of a college player or a minor league player or anything like that. There’s different styles of the game over here but it’s still the same game.
Is there anything you see in person that you feel like you couldn’t see on tape?
Buchanan: Absolutely. There are lots of things. When you watch a guy live you get a better feel for his size. Watching on tape it can sometimes be deceiving how big a kid is relative to the other guys on the floor. You can see him interact with his teammates, his coaches. You can see how he warms up. Is he the first kid out on the floor warming up before a game? After the game, how does he react to a win or a loss? And there’s lost of things that are very, very important to evaluating a player that you can’t pick up watching TV or a film.
Would it be possible to describe a player generally without stating his name or what team he’s on?
Buchanan: If I did that, I think that would kind of tip our hand. I’d prefer not to answer that one.
How are you guys getting around over there?
Buchanan: We’ve flown a little bit. Kevin actually lost his bag. We’re waiting on his bag still. He brought two bags. He’s got one bag with some clothes in it but his main bag is still trying to catch up to him.
We’ve been flying, we’ve been in taxis. We’re actually in a rental car right now. Tom is driving the rental car. We’re doing a little bit of everything. Jason Filippi takes a lot of trains around Europe. Some of these spots it’s easier to get around by train.
How are you getting by language-wise?
Buchanan: It’s obviously a barrier, some places more than others. Jason speaks a little of a lot of different languages, enough to get us by. Kevin played over here so knows a little bit. Tom and Mike and I have all been over here before so we know some of the basics that you need to know. But it’s hard to go somewhere were you don’t find people who know at least a little bit of English. It’s not as much of a barrier as you might think it is.
Are you guys having any fun or is it all business all the time?
Buchanan: We’re always talking basketball. When were going to watch basketball and around each other it’s always fun. We have fun together because we have good chemistry amongst us. We go to dinner at night but we’re not out partying or anything like that. We have good company around each other and we’re always talking about the team. Right now we’re kind of in draft mode so we’re talking a lot about the draft.