Behind L.A.'s Scouting Staff
Lakers scouting coordinator Jesse Buss details the ins and outs of an NBA scouting staff.
The youngest sibling of the first family of Los Angeles basketball is Jesse Buss, 24, the Lakers Scouting Coordinator and D-Fenders Director of Scouting.
Buss joined us to describe his role for the team his father Dr. Jerry Buss bought in 1979, and has led to the playoffs in all but two seasons while earning 10 NBA championships. Jesse detailed the intricate scouting process he oversees, showed us how he uses an iPad application to organize the operation, explained what he and the organization looks for in prospects and more:
MT: How would you describe your role with the organization?
Buss: With the Lakers, my role is to watch prospects, send reports in to (Executive VP of Player Personnel) Jim (Buss), (GM) Mitch (Kupchak) and (Director of Scouting/Consultant) Bill Bertka and so on. It's also a job of mine to help schedule our scouting staff, and make sure we see all the prospects we hope to see. There's a group of about 10-11 people in basketball ops who scout college and international games regularly — and are in the war room for the Draft — so I help organize the schedules for our college scouts in addition to scouting players myself. With the D-Fenders, I help coordinate the draft along with (Lakers Assistant GM, D-Fenders GM) Glenn Carraro, (D-Fenders CEO) Joey (Buss), (D-Fenders) Coach Musselman and his staff. I also help with trades and waiver pick ups for the D-Fenders.
MT: How do you go about coordinating everything to make sure you as a staff are seeing every prospect?
Buss: It's definitely a whole process. There are several early season tournaments that we divy up between our front office. Since the teams participating in these tournaments are often traveling away from where they normally play, it's a good chance for someone like Irving Thomas, who lives in Miami, to see schools from the west in a tournament like the Puerto Rico tip-off. We go where the prospects are. During the season it gets a little tougher when conference play opens. I try to make it as efficient of a trip as possible when our scouts are on the road. What I mean by that is that I want our guys seeing the best possible games with the most prospects. We'll try to have five to seven day trips where we'll see several teams. Sometimes we drive from school to school in a trip where every day we are driving for several hours to get to our next stop. Other times our scouts will take five or six flights in one trip. What we try to ensure is we are seeing the best games possible and that we don't have the same guys at the same games. Efficiency is the key.
MT: To ask a simple question about what must be a complicated answer, how do you keep track of everything?
Buss: If I were a geography major it'd certainly help. But I have different tools that I use. I actually have an app that on my Ipad that has a map of where every university or college is located. It also has a feature that allows you to select a university and see how close it is to surrounding universities. I made it color coordinated depending on how important it is for us to see that school. For example, a red colored school would be classified as MUST SEE, a blue school would be one to keep an eye on, etc. Ultimately a key for me is to have every one of our scouts see all the prospects that we need to see and travel all around the country rather than just staying in a certain region. Chaz might go scout in Kansas City/Midwest area and be in New York the next week. Ryan and I spend a lot of time in the midwest/south/west coast and occasionally go to the east coast as well. It's just about figuring out what works for our scouts and if they feel like these are games of high importance.
MT: What is the main directive or point of emphasis for you when you're scouting prospects?
Buss: The question I like to ask myself is 'Will this prospect play in the NBA?' And if so, what does he project to be? In one year? Five years? Ten Years? He could be an All-star all the way down to the 15th man on the roster. Sometimes a late first round pick is a 15th guy on your roster, sometimes he's an All-Star. Every team is different on what they need, of course, and talent evaluators look for different things. Some teams want players who can play right away, some are rebuilding and want a guy to develop for down the road. Still others draft to fill in a hole at a position. And even that changes year-by-year with free agency and potential trades, and influences what you're looking for when scouting.
Editor's Note: As an example of what Buss does in his role as scouting coordinator, he took out a chart that showed how many players in each draft class dating back to 1996 remained in the NBA, year by year. So for the 2005 draft class, it showed the following: 2005-06 – 48 in the NBA for that season; 2006-07: 48; 2007-08: 39; 2008-09: 38; 2009-10: 34; 2010-11:35; 2011-12: 32.
MT: What have you learned from growing up in a basketball family, particularly from your father and older siblings?
Buss: I've been going to Laker games since before I can remember. I loved playing as a kid, and my dad would let me play at the practice facility and at the Forum when he owned it. Fast forward to when I first started working for the team, when I was about to turn 19, and Jimmy really took me under his wing. He told me what I should look for in players. I've also been lucky to have Bill Bertka and Mitch Kupchak helping me along the way. Bertka gave me the advice that you should never try to stretch on any player or force the issue with a guy; sometimes you just don't see what you need to see. Don't fake it. Glenn Carraro has also been a big help. I started as a basketball ops assistant doing projects for Glenn on statistical analysis and things like that. But as far as family goes, my father and I used to watch the games growing up and he'd always have things to say. It's been more Jimmy – through several scouting trips and in general – who took me under his wing since I've become a professional.
MT: If you see a player you like, what's the process like to get that information up the ladder to Kupchak and Jim?
Buss: We fill out our scouting reports and every time we come back from a trip, we may have 40 or 50 of them to enter into a database. First and foremost, Mitch will look at our reports, and maybe he'll see something that stands out. We then can pull the prospects up in meetings when we all discuss players.
MT: What is the most difficult thing about scouting? The most fun?
Buss: The travel is difficult, but I enjoy traveling so it doesn't bother me as much. It's certainly a lot of fun to attend some of the best college basketball games in the country, especially in the arenas with great atmospheres. With that said, evaluating the prospects is definitely a tricky thing. Nobody is 100% right every time. Jerry West used to say that if you get even half of your picks right you're doing a great job. Picking late in the second round - as we have typically done – is difficult, unless someone falls to you, in terms of finding guys that have the ability to play legit minutes.
MT: Any good stories about travel struggles?
Buss: Someone in basketball personnel told me that they were going to watch a player in Europe, and they had to take two flights to get to a small city in Italy, then drive two hours to get to a gym in the middle of nowhere. The guy ended up not playing in the game, so they literally only saw him warm up. Stuff like that happens. I was going to Oklahoma a few years back to see Blake Griffin, and he ended up having a concussion, so I missed him.
MT: And you have all the games to watch on TV as well…
Buss: Of course, I'm constantly recording games on my DVR to watch, and we use Synergy as one of our main tools as well so we can watch players on our laptops either before or after the game. I like to watch tape on a player both before and after the game to first know what I'm watching for, and then re–watch to make sure I recognize what is in front of me.
MT: What's a limiting factor for you that occurs while scouting?
Buss: It's hard to watch how good a defender is on the ball sometimes because of how many teams play zone. Syracuse for example: it's hard to see everything the individual players can do on D. And they're not playing against NBA offenses.
MT: How much do you rely on statistical evaluation compared with seeing players on film or in person?
Buss: Stats help in the sense that they confirm what you're watching. There are places where stats and scouting conflict, however, where if a guy has an ugly stroke and is shooting 40 percent from three, is it a fluke? But certain things stand out, like if you're seven feet tall and only average a few rebounds per game. Or if you are a point guard and only average two assists a game, or a lengthy center that doesn't block shots. Efficiency also comes into play in terms of shooting percentages and turnovers. Two of the most important statistics I look are are games played and minutes played. It really depends on how much a player is bringing to the floor to help contribute. Obviously, numbers can look ugly when a guy only plays ten minutes a game, but if he's doing really well in those ten minutes you start to think, 'Well what would he do if he played 36?' So I definitely use stats, but I never let any single thing govern my decisions one way or another.
MT: How many flights do you average per year to scout players? What's your favorite place to go?
Buss: I'll take about six flights a month during the season (Nov. - June), and probably about 40-50 flights a year. There are a lot of short flights to places like UNLV or (schools in Northern California). North Carolina was probably my favorite trip, with the chance to scout UNC, NC State, Duke and Wake Forest. Those crowds are wild, especially at Cameron Indoor and Dean Smith Center. At UNC, they have names on the bricks when you're walking into the arena, and I took a picture of Mitch's.
MT: We have to get that on Lakers.com. Thanks for the time, Jesse.
Buss: My pleasure.