There are limitations that come with trying to do draft prospect analysis as someone who spends most of the year firmly focused on the NBA, but fully understanding those constraints has been vital to my process of video and statistical scouting.
The key challenges can be summarized in two concepts: sample bias and context.
Simply put, I do not have enough time to watch every game of any prospect or even close to it, so a reasonable analyst needs to understand that there is a likelihood that what they watch is not necessarily reflective of the whole. It is possible to mitigate some of that by being diligent and proactive about choosing what to watch but awareness of that limitation is exceedingly important. Similarly, not following college basketball as actively all year can make it harder to fully understand potentially significant context like injuries or a change in coaching, strategy or mentality that means a portion of that prospect’s season is more or less reflective of what they will be as an NBA player than the rest. Some of those limitations can be mitigated as well but it takes work as those who follow the NCAA closely have internalized that context for months now and often do not include it in their work since it happened so long ago.
While it can change based on circumstance, this is my process for analyzing film and statistics for prospects with the goals of reducing sample bias and understanding context.
Preparation: Clearing the Mind
We are all fortunate that there are so many talented writers and analysts doing great work year-round on the draft right now, but that can create a challenge because their material provides background that can shift perspective when trying to break down a prospect. Over the years, I have learned that starting with expectations based on the work of others hurts my own analysis so I try to clear that out by treating every prospect as a clean slate for the first phase and that has genuinely helped.
Phase One: Preliminary Video Analysis
The primary challenge in the first stages is minimizing sample bias, as that can be hard to do even with so much video available. Those of us fortunate enough to have Synergy get an easy way to handle this by allowing for clips to be shown in a random order so picking a broad category like possessions + assists works well. If possible, it is great to spend about a half-hour just working through randomized clips and taking preliminary notes of things to watch for since more film will provide deeper context and reduce sample bias. A note: if highlight reels are all you have available for clips, wait on them until the next phase because highlights are deliberately not a random sample and can influence expectations, as those who remember Thon Maker’s high school sizzle reels understand well. It is good to watch both offensive and defensive clips during these 30 minutes and the balance shifts based on the position and role of the prospect. For perimeter players, I usually skew about 75% offense during this phase but move to around 50/50 or even 40/60 for centers since defense is more important for them.
These clips are also a great time to work on another trick that has helped my prospect analysis over the years: focus exclusively on that player. It is natural to watch the ball and keep track of the primary action but there are lots of possessions on both ends of the floor where any single player is either barely involved or not in it at all and those can be incredibly useful for determining whether a prospect is engaged and making the right reads. At this point in the process, my goal is to train my focus on that player while using the ball and primary actions (pick and roll, etc) to provide context. It may take time to be able to see both the player and the action so be ready to rewind if something does not make sense. That approach sticks through my entire process and can be extreme enough where I have watched the exact same game to analyze prospects at different positions and seen the action entirely differently.
From there, I watch a full game. The best place to start is one where the prospect matched up against NBA-caliber talent, especially if their counterpart is an elite athlete. While there are a slew of differences between college and the pros, the athleticism gap can produce some of the most significant correctable misses in analysis so it is a good place to start. Ideally try not to find out what happened in the game before watching and definitely do not pick out the game for this phase based on how that prospect performed because that can create problems. Again, take notes and try to see whether the insight from the randomized clip work matches the game tape because that can help reinforce analysis, though everything should be treated as far from final at this point.
Phase Two: Stats and Analysis
Having a base from game film provides greater context for statistics and the analysis of others, so this is a good time to be able to fit some of the pieces together. After all, it is much more helpful to understand what kind of three-pointers a player is taking before looking at their percentage because making 35% of open catch-and-shoot threes is very different from the same 35% on a diet of tough pull-ups.
At this early stage, it is best to stick with analysts you are familiar with because like players, context matters here too. Does that analyst have preferences or biases worth considering? Have they been consistently right or wrong on a specific type of prospect in the past? Possessing enough knowledge to answer those questions means that person is a good one to read and consider at this point. The goal of looking at other people’s work is to get a sense of whether they are seeing the same general things you are because differences of opinion can be a great focus point for the second stage of video work.
Phase Three: More Video
The deeper mix of clips, a full game, stats and analysis is a strong foundation for diving back into video. It is good to start with a smaller batch of random clips if possible to serve as an error check of sorts but then try to look at specific areas where reinforcement or clarification is needed. That could be seeing how they run or defend pick-and-rolls, guard isolations or even going through assists and turnovers to check out their court vision. Have a goal of answering the most pressing questions first and then work back to any key part of that player’s long-term role that seems fuzzy. If there is something the player did not do much in college but may expand in the NBA like spot ups or shooting off screens, try to key in on those but focus more on fundamentals like mechanics, footwork and positioning than results because those are the key building blocks for their future.
Once you have clarified your understanding of their game in terms of strengths, weaknesses and role, it is time to watch another full game. It is great if they have another contest against NBA-caliber opposition but it can also be good to find a relevant game that challenges your feelings to that point. If you have been disappointed by a highly touted prospect, find a game where they dominated and do the opposite for someone you were impressed by in phases one and two. This creates a more robust picture and can help clarify some of the best case/worst case scenarios that can be very useful later on. During that game, see what lines up with what you have seen to that point and if anything sticks out as meaningfully different because those disparities probably warrant more attention through video, stats or both.
Phase Three: Final Fine-Tuning
While it would be great to have more time on each prospect, the first two phases cover enough ground to have a pretty firm grasp of how that prospect fits in to the NBA and their draft class. From here, mix in analysis from new sources and be ready to go back to video and stats to address any areas that feel incomplete or inaccurate. It is probably best to stay away from the bigger draft models until completing this process with most if not all of the prospects you want to cover since that information can influence analysis on remaining players but they are valuable inputs at the right point.
There are many reasons why this process may not work for you from not having access to clips/Synergy to a lack of time but hopefully the mentality and order of research can be of use.