I talked to Mike Born, the Trail Blazers' Director of NBA Scouting, right after he and the rest of the management team got done watching Rudy Fernandez and DKV Joventut dismantle Granada 118-68 on Thursday, but we didn't talk much about Fernandez out of respect to his team and their staff. They're still in the thick of their season, so talking about Rudy's potential departure, while certainly interesting to Blazer fans, isn't necessarily fair to Joventut's players, management or fans.
Nonetheless, Born did have some interesting things to say about what they've seen so far, the Euroleague final four, the importance of scouting all players, Petterri Koponen and Joel Freeland. If you've got any questions, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments.
What else do you plan on seeing, and what have your general thoughts been of the trip so far?
Born: We’re heading to the Euroleague final four tomorrow to see two really good games. I think we’re also going catch a junior tournament that has a young prospect that could be in the 2009 or 2010 draft. So we’re going to go and start doing our homework on him, trying to start building a book on him. Jason has seen him, but I’m not sure Kevin has and I know I haven’t seen him so it’s a good opportunity for us to check out one or two junior games and start getting a feel for some of these young prospects that, two or three years from now, could potentially be pretty good players and maybe first round picks. So you start building the book on them.
How much scouting are you doing for the future? Are you looking more down the road right now?
Born: I mean, it’s not like it’s a focus for us or that we’re targeting those players right now. It’s just like anything else: if you can go and see multiple players that are playing in the same city at the same time obviously we want to try to do that just to be resourceful. We’re here, we’re going to be in Madrid, so if some kid is playing and we don’t have a game at the same time, we’ll do everything in our power to try and get to the game. I think there’s a junior game at 1 p.m. and one at 3 and then the final four games are at 6 and 9, so we’ll probably go and potentially see both the junior games and then see the two final four games at night. It makes for some long days sometimes, but we all love what we’re doing.
Anytime you can see multiple players, and obviously we’re going to do that whether it’s in the states or in Europe. Anytime you can get a chance to see even one guy, you can start building a book on a particular player, especially when they’re young. It’s a little bit easier over here because we can watch them at a little bit younger age than we could in the states just because we can’t see the high school kids unless it’s some sort of all-star format.
Are you expecting to see guys who will eventually be in the NBA at the Euroleague final four?
Born: For me personally it’s a really good event to see because it’s a mix of different players. Now there won’t be a lot of high-profile draft guys in the final four because it’s the best four teams in Europe. So what you get is a mix of some really good foreign players and you also get a mix of some really good players from the United States.
So for me it’s nice because you’re looking at the four best teams, so there might be potentially five to seven guys from every team that I can watch who we might consider for summer league. And also for some of these European players who the next year, the following year, three years from now, four years from now where we might be looking to add in a European vet or a European kid that’s maybe not considered a vet but who has played four or five years in Europe that might be 25. If we’ve seen these guys play for Maccabi or Sienna, again, you’re building the book. The final four here in Europe is really no different than if you were going to the Final Four in college. You’re going to watch Florida play UCLA, and there are so many different prospects in those games and you get to seem them play at a high level. It’s a great chance to evaluate them and (again) start building a book on some of these guys.
I’m not over here like Jason Filippi is; he sees these guys a lot more often than I do. For my purpose being the Director of NBA Scouting, even though I’m not in charge of the international stuff, we still may look at adding some of these guys to a summer league team so we can get a look at them under our roof. So I’m excited to go see this because it’s going to be really good basketball played at a high level. You get to see guys react in real pressure situations. It should be a really good two games.
You mentioned that a lot of the best teams have lifelong European players, so I’m wondering if it’s hard to get a sense of the younger European players that you might be interested in considering that they don’t get as much playing time?
Born: I think it’s a good point, but what you have to try to read through as well is, let’s say that Maccabi has a mix of different players. They’ve got Yotom Halperin who actually has his right owned by the Seattle SuperSonics. So there are actually some guys that are even on these teams that have their rights owned by NBA teams. David Andersen, who plays for CSKA, has his rights owned by Atlanta. So there are so many different guys that you’re getting a chance to keep track. Using those guys for example, if we were to make a trade and you’re looking at moving players or pieces or picks or whatever, you can also have the rights of those players included. So if we were to make a trade, if we know a team has rights to a particular player, and maybe we like the deal, but to equal things up we’d ask for that player to be included in the trade as well. So the fact that we’ve been over here and seen those guys, there’s little things like that can help you add another piece to your team.
But in reference to your question, we try to judge when we’re looking at a player -- especially a young player -- if a kid is 21 or 22 or 23 and he’s playing at a high level and he’s playing for Maccabi or CSKA or whatever, we understand that if he is a young player, just that fact that he’s on a CSKA team and he’s playing against those guys everyday and even if he’s getting six, eight, ten minutes a game, that’s still important to us because just the fact that he’s on that team. Even getting ten minutes is impressive for a young player. And especially in Europe, it’s really tough over here with the really good teams because they want to play their veterans. That’s how they feel like they win, so it’s very rare that we see a guy even like Rudy Fernandez get a chance to play just because you usually don’t see young guys get a chance to play with veteran teams very often.
It’s part of what we have to judge. But again, just the fact that those guys are on teams and they’ve made that team and if they’re getting six to 12 minutes a game, maybe we can’t evaluate them like we could if they were playing 30, but those guys have figured out how to be a part of a winning team and they can play a role and be a piece of a team. Obviously as they get older their responsibilities grow, and we track that as well.
I see that Maccabi has two players who have declared themselves eligible for this year’s draft.
Born: Exactly. So now there’s a chance for us to watch those guys for this years draft. So again, now we’re getting to watch guys for the draft, we’re watching guys for summer league, we’re watching guys that we may try to add two or three years down the road that would be European veterans or even American veterans. There are some really good American’s that are playing. And then you’re looking at guys like Halperin or David Andersen that have their rights owned by NBA teams. So when you’re going into it, I think you can see that there’s all sort of different dynamics that you get to evaluate guys under to add them to your team. One guy we may try to add through a summer league. One guy we may try to add through a draft. We may try to get the rights to another guy and it may be five years before he’s even a part of the picture. It’s a constant rotation of players that you’re trying to build a book on.
Have you guys had a chance to see Joel Freeland or Petteri Koponen since you’ve been in Europe? And do you think leaving players to mature in Europe has worked for the Blazers?
Born: How we kind of evaluate those guys -- and I think this comes from Kevin -- is after every season, we’re going to sit back and evaluate the progress that those guys have made to see if they’re ready to come and play for us. I think the way Kevin leaves it with the players and their agents is when your season is done, we’re not going to guarantee that we’re bringing you to the team this year. If we feel like you’re ready or maybe there’s a certain spot on our roster that’s open, that’s something that we’re constantly looking at.
I’ve seen video of both guys this year but I have not seen either one in person. But I think both of them have had good seasons. Koponen has had a really good season. The league that he’s playing in isn’t as strong as the league that Rudy Fernandez plays in. He’s not playing in Italy or Spain or Russia or some of those countries, but he’s with a good team and a terrific coach and that was part of the reason that we left him with Honka. We just felt like he was going to have the chance to prove and get better under his coach because he really takes care of him and he’s a good coach and he’s a hard worker. So we knew Koponen was going to improve under him. And we also knew that he was going to get minutes with this team, so he’s probably playing 30 to 35 minutes a night, he’s starting. He’s having a chance to play.
Joel’s in a different situation where he’s not … he’s playing for a different team and he’s just not getting the kind of minutes that Koponen is right now, but he’s also playing in a league with better teams. It almost goes back a little bit to what you said about trying to evaluate guys who don’t get playing time. Joel’s playing for a better team that’s playing against better teams, so the minutes for him just aren’t available like they are for Koponen, and part of that is, again, the team that he’s on is a bit better. They’ve got more money so they had an American come in this year. I think early on Joel was playing some decent minutes then they signed an American that came in playing in his spot so it cut into his minutes. He hasn’t had the chance, the opportunity that Koponen has.
We knew when we drafted those guys that both kids were hard workers and good team players. We’re hoping those guys can just continue to make progress. We drafted both of them really young and we liked what we saw as far as the type of talent they had, the fact we knew they were good workers and good people so you’re just hoping those guys continue to make progress with the particular teams they’re playing with.
Without speaking about specific players or teams, have you seen anyone since you’ve been there who wasn’t on your radar?
Born: Not really. We’ve only seen three games and we’ve been kind of locking in on particular guys we’re looking at for the draft. In the particular games that we’ve happened to see the guys we’re going to see have been the best players there. No there are some other guys who are pretty comparable, but it’s not like you’re going to see one guy and all the sudden two other guys from another team jump out at you and you’re amazed that they slipped through the cracks. We haven’t seen that.
I think when you’re looking at the European final four, obviously there are going to be more guys per team to track, but part of this is just us doing our due diligence with these teams. I sat down with Jason Filippi just yesterday. He and I do a European ranking for guys for summer league, guys that we want to look at potentially adding to our team down the road, so you’re constantly talking about players. We virtually talked about every player in Europe, American and European. We’ve talked about summer league guys. We’ve talked about guys that we need to keep track of who are young guys right now. European vets that are from Europe.
One of the things that I would say most scouts try to pride themselves on is you try to never be surprised. We went through every guy that we felt was a halfway decent player in Europe, whether it was an American player or a European player, whether he was young or old. So when you go into these games it’s not like we’re shocked, and part of that is because Jason Filippi does a really good job of making sure we’re always prepared. So if we go to a game tonight or two days ago, he’s seen these teams. He knows who can play on these teams. If we don’t necessarily know he’ll say ‘Hey, keep an eye on this kid.’ This is only my fourth year, but Kevin has been doing it longer than I have and Tom Penn’s been doing it a long time. As you get out there and you start doing it, a lot of the same guys are just moving from one team to the next or playing on the same teams. You get some new guys that add in every year, but there are a lot of these guys that we’ve seen plenty of times. We try not to be too surprised. But this game tomorrow at this junior tournament, there will be a bunch of guys there that we’ve never seen but Jason will know who the elite guys are. We try to make this a team effort where everybody is trying to help each other be prepared. We as a management team want to make sure we’re doing the right thing: being prepared, being ready to look at everybody.
Have you cemented your thoughts on the guys you’ve seen since you’ve been in Europe?
Born: I don’t know if it’s say cemented because we still go through the process, and I think that’s something that Kevin always stresses to us. Obviously every time you see a player you get a better feel for that particular player and you start to form a better opinion on him. So by seeing these guys it definitely helps us continue to form our opinion but the practice still needs to continue to play. We’ll try to bring in these guys to see them in a workout. We’ll continue to do our intel on these guys, so I don’t know if cemented would be the proper word. I think we’re further along in the process by seeing those guys but yet we still feel like we’ve still got more work to do because we’re going to do our work on anybody that we’re looking at potentially drafting. We’re going to do our work all the way up until draft night to try and be prepared. By us being here and seeing these guys play and talking to people in the gym, you start to build a book on a player and you get more comfortable with who they are, whether you like them or don’t like them, whether they sway you one way or another. Maybe we’ll bring him in for a workout and maybe that adds a little too it as well. You get a chance to sit and talk with him at a workout and that adds a little bit too it. There are still things that we need to continue to do before we get to the conclusion. It’s definitely been a good trip so far. I would say that, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see these two final four games and see this young kid play. All in all when everything is said and done, I think this will have been a very good trip for us.