I had a few minutes last week to talk to Mike Born, Trail Blazers Director of NBA Scouting, who was in Las Vegas scouting the summer league. Born had been at the Orlando summer league before that and was leaving to attend the Rocky Mountain Review after Vegas. Here's what he had to say about the Trail Blazers' performance, his schedule and how it's easy to get a false impression of a player.
What are your goals in regards to scouting the teams at summer league?
I’m going to try to go through and see every team in the summer league, which is 29 of the 30. Boston is the only team, I think, that does have a summer league team. Trying to go through and see every team play two to three times if possible. You’re watching the progression of the players, whether it’s guys that just came into the draft this year, a Robin Lopez or a Brook Lopez, just to see how they’re doing. But also following some guys, like a Corey Brewer, that played last year, played in the NBA, just to kind of track their progress.
We’re looking at every player because we have to know all of them. If anybody comes up in a potential trade, we have to know who they are and how they’re developing and progressing. The biggest thing for me is to try and see every team a couple of times, that way I’m obviously seeing the players as much as I can.
From a scouting standpoint, what are the benefits of seeing players in a setting like the Orlando or Las Vegas summer leagues?
Most of these guys are coming out, and they’ve practiced for three or four days with their teams and they’ve put in some sets, so you’re getting a chance to see these guys run through some NBA stuff, seeing if they’re able to pick that stuff up, because you can kind of tell when guys are lost out there, not in the right position. It allows these guys to be relaxed and just play.
Another thing to is you’re getting a chance to see -- for example in this game, D.J. Strawberry -- some of these guys play significant minutes. Where if you go watch some of these guys play in an NBA game or a preseason game you’re not going to see them in the same situation.
We say this: The summer league is summer league. It’s nice to see guys play well but what happens here, whether it’s good or bad, isn’t really going to determine whether a guy is going to be a good NBA player. Marco Belinelli came in last year and was the talk of the summer league. He goes to Golden State and doesn’t hardly play.
But I also think that there are positives that can come out of watching these guys play. I still think Belinelli is a really good player even though he might not have played this past year. He’s playing well here again, so for some of these guys, they’re going to go and they may play really well here and they may go into a situation with their team where they just can’t get minutes. Maybe they’re going to play for Houston or San Antonio, and they’re a really good player here, but they’re going to go to their real team and they’re just not going to get the opportunity because there are better players there. But it’s still good to see those guys.
So if a Donte Green comes in here and plays pretty well, he maybe doesn’t get the minutes this year, and then next year you come back and watch him again and you’re like, ‘He’s really gotten better.’ We may not have seen that during the season because he just didn’t get the minutes. But we’re able to still track the progression of these guys. Some of these guys might be going into their third year in the NBA and you still try to follow their progress.
You can also do that with some of these minor league guys. I cover the minor leagues for us, so it’s a good chance to follow a Clay Tucker, a Will Conroy, some of these guys that have been in the D-League, just to see those guys making progress. Some of these guys you may watch for two or three summers and just be like, ‘They’re not good enough to play in the NBA.’ He’s a good player, he could be a good player in the D-League, he might be a good player in Europe, but he’s not going to be good enough for the NBA. Again, stuff comes up and if we want to make a call up for a 10 day contract, guys in the D-League, I can say, ‘I just don’t think he’s good enough, I would rather take this guy.’
Which players and performances were you impressed by during summer league?
There’s been a lot of guys that I’ve been impressed with. A lot of the lottery guys have been pretty good. I saw Westbrook, he played well. Michael Beasley played well. The Lopez twins have both been pretty good. Obviously Jerryd Bayless has been pretty good for us.
Because I did so much NBA stuff early on this year -- I did a lot of NBA stuff basically through the trade deadline -- so once I got into the college mode I was trying to catch up a little bit. There were some guys that I didn’t get a chance to see, like an Anthony Merrill that played at Georgia Tech. He played pretty well when I saw him down in Orlando and he’s a guy that I was like, “Man, he’s not a bad player.” I had seen him play -- he had a really good sophomore year -- but it’s good to kind of track those guys.
If all the sudden his name comes up or he’s in Golden State or he’s somewhere else and he’s in a vets camp and he’s playing well, you’re not surprised by it because you’ve seen him and you’ve seen him play pretty well in Orlando and you understand that the kid’s not a bad player. I think he’s a guy they had down in Orlando, I think he was with New Jersey, but he ended up having a pretty good showing in the three days I was there. He’s one of those guys that I’m sure has helped himself because there’s a lot of NBA teams watching those guys play. He’s maybe helped himself have a chance in the NBA this year, maybe getting into a vets camp. There’s six teams down there so they’ve all seen him play. And there’s a lot of international scouts that will come to these summer leagues looking for guys to add to their teams. So I think he’s helped himself in that capacity as well.
How satisfied have you been with the performances of Jerryd Bayless, Petteri Koponen and Nicolas Batum?
The whole summer league purpose for us is to help our guys get better. That’s the No. 1 thing. It’s also a chance for us to get a look at guys on our team that would be considered free agents, whether it’s a J.R. Pinnock or an Aleks Maric.
I think our three guys have all done a pretty good job. Koponen has played pretty well. Jerryd Bayless has been pretty darn good. And for Nicolas, he probably hasn’t played as well as he’d like to but for me, I’m o.k. with that because he’s a young kid. I’m sure he wants to come out here and do well. Are we all concerned about Batum? Not really, just because this could be an experience that he could come away from saying, ‘Man, I really understand now how difficult it is to play in the NBA. I understand I have to get stronger, more aggressive. I need to continue working on my shooting.’
I know when Tim Duncan came right out of school he had a terrible summer league. Obviously Tim Duncan turned out to be a pretty good player. Again, it’s nice for guys to play well but at the end of the day, we just want our guys to come out here and work really hard, make sure they’re being coachable with our guys. So far I think it’s gone pretty good.
Do you look for anything different during summer league than you would in, say, a college game?
Not really. Again, we try to follow the progress that these guys are making. We want to watch these guys. When you go to a summer league or an individual workout, these guys know they’re on a stage and they know there’s a ton of NBA people in here so they’re going to play their tails off. I think if you go to a college practice guys play pretty hard but if a player knows that he’s a practice and maybe there’s a chance that an NBA scout is in there watching them, they’re still going to practice pretty hard. But if you told them in advance that we’re going to practice today and there’s going to be 30 NBA teams in here, the level is going to rise on that particular practice just because they know there’s so much at stake.
I go through and I see the D-League games and I see a bunch of these guys playing the D-League games. Then I see them playing in summer league and for a lot of these guys you feel like the level is way up for them because you’ve seen them in a D-League environment. And again, it’s not that they’re not playing hard, but there’s just so much at stake for these guys here because, again, they know there are people in the building. And for some of these guys you feel like their level of so raised up, their intensity level and the focus level, and that one of the things that we have to be careful of. I’ll have people come through and they might say this particular guy is playing really well and I may have seen him in the D-League for the past two years, and I might think he is playing really well. But I still wouldn’t add him to our team and it would still be hard for me to recommend him to somebody else, maybe overseas or in the D-League, because I’ve seen him and I know he hasn’t been very good on a lot of night’s too.
You come out here and you have five games and you play pretty well in three of them and people might have a perception that, ‘This kid is a pretty good player.’ Obviously more times you see a player, the better feel you’re going to have for who they are. If I’ve seen a guy play twice and he plays well both times I may think that he’s a great player. But if you see him play eight times, and you see a couple really good games and a couple of really bad games and some games in the middle, you have a better barometer on who he really is. I think that’s real big for us: to see these guys as many times as we can because the more times you see guys, the better fell you have for who they are and it allows you to, hopefully, make less mistakes.
What’s next for you? Do you get some time off after the summer league ends?
This year I was doing all the NBA stuff through the trade deadline. As soon as the trade deadline hit at the end of February I kind of went right into draft mode. We do that through the end of June. As soon as that was done I went right into putting our summer league team together. Summer league team goes to practice, practice comes to (Las Vegas), so we’ll be done here on the 20th.
What I’ll try to do is take a couple weeks and go back to Iowa, just kind of be with my family. I run a youth basketball camp, I’m going to go back and do that. Then I’m actually going to go over the Olympics for about 10 days, go over and watch Rudy Fernandez play and also go over there just to keep following the international guys. That’s something we look to do as you see some of the international Europeans that are coming over here that are playing, that are pretty good players, so we want to have that covered as well.
So I come back from that on the 20th, then basically I’ll spend September back in Portland, kind of getting ready for vets camp. Hopefully a lot of our guys will come in like last year, first part of September, get our guys together and start playing in-house for the month of September. You don’t get a bunch of huge breaks in there. At least I get a little one, because I know that Kevin and Nate, they don’t get much of a break at all. Nate’s gone from our team to the draft to Team USA then in Beijing. It never really slows up, but that’s o.k. We like it that way.