Skills And Qualities NBA Scouts Really Look For In Prospects

Basketball | 10/16/19

Getting into a university Division 1 sports program is hard, but making it to the National Basketball Association is even harder. The NBA only takes a handful of athletes each year, and they look for specific skills and attitudes during the scouting process.

In the time where scandals are plentiful, and the public is more interested in drama instead of someone’s shooting statistics, executives and coaches need to be mindful of the type of players they are recruiting to their team, as well as the public eye. We’re talking about physical traits as well as personality qualities. Player’s who posses both are the ones who make it to the big time.

NBA Scouts Are Hired By The Franchise

NBA Scouts Are Hired By The Franchise
Ales Fevzer/Euroleague Basketball/Getty Images
Ales Fevzer/Euroleague Basketball/Getty Images

NBA scouts are hired to evaluate player talent or opposing team preparation or strategies. A prospect scout looks at younger players with potential, usually college athletes, or existing players whose rights may be available through free agency or trade. Scouts travel extensively and will attend basketball games to do proper player evaluations.

Many factors go into the evaluation. There are basic projections of the players’ height, weight, wingspan, and age. Then there is the skill set, including shooting, ball handling, passing, defensive playing, etc. Lastly, the scout will try and take note of the players’ character –they’re leadership skills and coachability.

Scouts Do Their Homework

Scouts Do Their Homework
Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

NBA scouts do their homework. It’s not like they draft anyone into the big leagues! “The fall is your first glimpse. I think it’s crucial,” says one NBA scout. Those early sessions are usually when scouts have the opportunity to cross-reference the reports the team already has on file.

A scout says, “I think it’s a missed opportunity if you’re not at practices. It’s so intimate, and you get to watch how players interact with their teammates and how they approach drills.” Even though they have long reports and character references written out by the prospects coaches, scouts still have a list of qualities they look for in recruits.

Scouts Consider A Few Different Things

Scouts Consider A Few Different Things
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

A good NBA scout will consider the team in which they are recruiting for. They’ll want to make sure the player can work with a team. This includes their teammates as well as the coaching staff. Prospects want to show that they can play in harmony on and off the court.

A player will need to have a well-rounded skill-set to be considered for recruitment. Scouts will look for shot selection versus passing opportunities, rebounds and recoveries, dribbling skills, defensive capabilities, and ball handling. Aside from all of the physical skills, scouts look at a persons’ character and how well they know the game.

Basketball IQ Is An Important Skill

Basketball IQ Is An Important Skill
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

It goes without saying, you can’t excel at a game if you’re not aware of rules, strategies, or how to work well with a team. The best teams know how to limit the number of mistakes they make on the court, so scouts will look to see if a potential recruit knows the game inside and out.

It’s almost like a sixth sense, these types of players can take whatever the game throws at them and use it to their advantage. Aside from being able to strategize at a moment’s notice, prospects need to be able to show a certain skill set.

Athleticism And The Vertical

Athleticism And The Vertical
Focus on Sport via Getty Images
Focus on Sport via Getty Images

First and foremost, NBA scouts are going to look at a player’s athleticism. This is a game, after all, and teams need to have the best of the best if they want to win. So what do they look for exactly?

The “vertical.” Scouts will look to see if a player can easily get to the rim. Not to mention if they’re able to jump high enough to shoot over an opponent from the paint and rebound the ball if necessary. That being said, jumping vertically means nothing if you don’t have the lateral moves to go with it.

Lateral Quickness Is Key

Lateral Quickness Is Key
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The problem is, a player is never getting to the basket if they don’t have the lateral quickness to get there. This means they can’t be one of those people who trip over air pockets on the sidewalk. NBA scouts will look for quick footwork and explosive lateral movement.

For a game that’s all about running up and down a court, players better hope they have strong ankles. Scouts will look to see if a player is able to switch directions at a moment’s notice, and if they have the ball they best hope their dribbling can keep up with their feet!

Dribbling Speed Is Key To Breakaways

Dribbling Speed Is Key To Breakaways
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Speaking of dribbling speed, scouts are going to look at who has a good first step with the ball and who has fast breakaway speed. This is why lateral quickness is so important. To move with purpose while handling the ball, a player needs to be mindful of their footwork.

Players who have a good first step with the ball are extremely hard to guard because they can easily spin around the defense, while players with fast breakaway speeds are just impossible to stop. That’s where a player’s vertical skills come in — breakaways usually result in a dunk!

Ambidexterity Allows A Player To Be Diverse

Ambidexterity Allows A Player To Be Diverse
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Being ambidextrous in any sport gives a player an upper hand. In basketball it allows players to dribble, score, and block-shots with either their left or right hand, no matter which one is their dominate. NBA scouts will look to see if potential recruits are able to use each hand equally as well, as it’s an important skill to have in order to master the game.

In order to understand each aspect of ambidexterity, we need to dive into each one by itself. Why is it important? And why do NBA scouts specifically look for it?

Dribbling

GettyImages-692362072
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ambidextrous ball-handling is a critical skill for all players to have, especially guards. To be able to go left or right at any given time will keep the defense guessing and allow the offense to make stellar plays that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to accomplish.

NBA scouts will be looking for players who are able to hone in on duel ball-handling, as not every player can do it and some players are better at it than others. If you need some Ambidextrous ball-handling inspiration, look no further than Kyrie Irving’s Duke highlights. His ball-handling skills are exactly what NBA scouts look for.

Scoring Is A Must!

Scoring Is A Must!
Jason Szenes – Pool/Getty Images
Jason Szenes – Pool/Getty Images

Considering the highest scoring team wins the game, this skill is one that scouts are going to take note of from the get-go. Scouts will always be impressed by players who are able to score with either hand. They’ll take notice when a player puts up a right-handed hook one shot and then a left-handed layup the next.

It will always be advantageous for a team to recruit players who are confident about going to the hole with either of their hands. Sometimes they don’t have a choice, and scouts have been in the game long enough to know players who aren’t comfortable using their non-dominate hand.

Jump Shot Potential Is Key To A High Scoring Game

Jump Shot Potential Is Key To A High Scoring Game
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Prospects will find their way into a scouts sights if they have an ultra-consistent jump shot. Scouts will take note if a player has great range and smooth shooting form with a quick release. That being said, they will also keep their eye on players that have room to develop their shot.

A big part of watching someone’s shot is seeing if they have the potential to increase their range, as the three-point line moves back a couple of steps on an NBA court. We’re not saying all players need to be able to sink a three-pointer, a jump shot from the paint is equally as important!

Vertical Is Nothing If A Player Can’t Block Shots

Vertical Is Nothing If A Player Can't Block Shots
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Obviously shot blocking can be done with both hands at the same time, but scouts will take notice if a player is able to block shots using one hand or the other with the same ease. Of course, ambidexterity doesn’t come naturally to most people, and therefore if you are looking to be scouted you should keep in mind to practice using both of your hands.

If a player is able to block a shot, that’s great, but what they do after is another skill set that scouts look for. If the opponent thinks the block was dirty, scouts want to see how a player handles a potential fight.

Show Good Character On And Off The Court

Show Good Character On And Off The Court
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

While physical skills are very important to NBA scouts (pretty much the reason they’re looking at certain people), they’re also going to be looking at a player’s character. This part of the recruiting process is a bit more challenging, as it’s not an outward trait, such as dribbling skills. Scouts do look for specific personality traits while watching a player on the court.

Unfortunately, who people are on and off the court are two entirely different matters. Just look at all the drama that has been written up about Tristan Thompson! It’s something of a gamble for these scouts.

Like Most Things, Have A Strong Work Ethic

Like Most Things, Have A Strong Work Ethic
Harry Aaron/Getty Images
Harry Aaron/Getty Images

While talking about NCAA champion Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, NBA.com’s David Aldridge says it best, “MGK is beloved by NBA scouts for a simple reason: he plays hard. his path to the pros is relentless. Playing hard, as I’ll say for the billionth time, is a skill.”

Scouts look to see if a player has a strong work ethic. Are they a gym rat? Can they tell that the player hits the weight room on a regular basis? Does the player continue to work on their skills, making sure that they practice as often as possible to become the best?

A Player Must Be Coachable

A Player Must Be Coachable
Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Some of the best players are those who are able to absorb any type of feedback and constructive criticism. Scouts will be sure to look at how coachable a player is because there is nothing worse then a player who thinks they know everything.

That being said, scouts have to keep in mind different coaching styles, and if their recruit is flexible enough to apply their skills no matter who is at the front of the helm. Players need to be able to let go of their control to improve their overall performance, something that does not come easily to all people.

Leadership Means Being An Extension Of The Coach

Leadership Means Being An Extension Of The Coach
Rob Foldy/Getty Images
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Letting go of control doesn’t mean sitting around and waiting to be told what to do. NBA prospects are leaders, meaning they possess a contagious positive attitude, good communication skills, and are able to be seen as an extension of the coach.

Not everyone is built to be a leader, but those who are able to boost team morale and explain specific strategies in a non-condescending way will get favorable looks from NBA scouts. For example, Michigan State’s Draymond Green received favorable looks because he showed NBA leadership potential, even if he’snot the best athlete on the team.

Great Athletes Are Cool Under Pressure

Great Athletes Are Cool Under Pressure
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Sportsmanship is a quality that all coaches look for in their athletes. No one likes to have a hot head on the team. Scouts tend to look for players that keep their cool during high-pressure situations, someone who is able to focus on the game even though a bad call might have been made.

Scouts like to see an athlete handle themselves with dignity and composure because great athletes eliminate anything that keep them from doing what needs to be done for their team. That includes getting into arguments with referees as well as the opposing team and their coaching staff.

Instincts And Court Awareness

Instincts And Court Awareness
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Something that can’t be taught is instincts and court awareness, which is why it is something that NBA scouts look for while recruiting. This means getting open, finding soft spots in the defense, and being able to flawlessly move without the ball. Pretty much doing what your point guard wants without them actually telling you.

Take 2012 draftee Kendell Marshall. He’s a left-handed ball-handler who has an average shot, below-average finish and is said to be a below-average athlete in general. Even with all of that, he was picked up by Pheonix because of his court vision and passing skills.

Scouts Look At Wingspan Before Height

Scouts Look At Wingspan Before Height
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

College players come in all shapes and sizes, so it is up to the NBA scouts to determine who is cut out to endure the rigors that come with playing in the big leagues. Contrary to popular belief, scouts look for wingspan, more so than they do a player’s height, and strength.

Scouts will also look for three specific muscle-types. The first is NBA-ready, meaning the athlete has well-developed muscle and is ready to go. The second type isn’t ready, but their frame allows for future muscle building. And the third is not ready because the athlete has a wiry frame that won’t allow for muscle building.

Don’t Lose The Fun

Don't Lose The Fun
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Even if a player is planning on making basketball their career it is important that they don’t lose the fun of the game. Scouts will be able to tell if someone starts to think of basketball as more of a hardship “grind,” and when that happens players will get lazy and tend to not care as much.

If a player loses the joy the game brings, it’s difficult to get it back. Prospects need to keep in mind that while they might be shooting 300-500 baskets a day during two-a-day practices, they should organize a few pick-up games with friends. Never make basketball a “job.”