NBA Draft 2011 Preview: Interview with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake

I recently spoke with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake about the upcoming draft (June 23). He wouldn’t comment on the potential lockout that looms over the league, but he did share his thoughts on the abundance of point guards, questionable decisions by early entries, and sleeper players, among other things.

This year, 69 underclassmen and 20 international players declared for the NBA Draft. Remember, there are only two rounds—a total of 60 selections—so when you factor in the seniors expected to be chosen you’re left with a lot of kids who should have stayed in school. “It’s been the case for quite some time,” Blake said. “The numbers don’t work out. I try to get the information out to the media because people forget all those guys who came out who didn’t make it. I sort of feel like the grand papa who wants to protect the players who may be making mistakes, but sometimes you can’t do it. These guys are going to do what they want. The guys that are pulled into the draft by advisors who want a piece of them and they get burned and don’t get to live out their dreams, that’s when it hits the heart.

“I’m a percentage guy. You want to create the most opportunities to get that guaranteed money by getting drafted in the first round. On the other hand, it only takes one team to like you.”

And teams often seem to fall in love with players at pre-draft workouts. Instead of taking into account a college career—even if it was just one season—scouts and GMs place too much weight on individual workouts. Blake, though, said that is just part of the evaluation process. “Everything is a circle graph and there are little pieces of the pie that go into any decision. When you get into a team’s war room you’re going to have several scouts and everyone is going to have their own opinion.”

Some scouts/teams are better at evaluating international players, of which there are several that could go in this year’s lottery. “San Antonio has done a good job drafting international players,” Blake said, and guys like Tony Parker (28th pick in 2001) and Manu Ginobli (57th, 1999) come to mind. “Many of these players are under contract, but NBA teams don’t have to offer a buyout. They can store the players and let the foreign teams develop them. If you’re drafting late or have multiple picks, that’s a perfect opportunity to take an international player that is already under contract. It’s an investment that doesn’t cost you anything.”

Many of the international players in this draft are big men, while an unusually large number of the college hopefuls are point guards. Blake thinks some of the underclassmen point guards may have been wise to return to school, as they are not just competing against other early entries but also talented senior point guards like Norris Cole and Nolan Smith. “I think some teams are going to say, ‘I need someone in there who has the proven experience that can come off the bench,’” Blake said.

One of those underclassman point guards is Michigan’s Darius Morris (6’4, 190 pounds), who had an incredible sophomore season (15 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio) in leading the Wolverines to a surprise appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Morris does have a glaring weakness, however. “He can’t even find the rim outside of 20 feet,” says Blake, a fact corroborated by Morris’ 25 percent mark on three-pointers. Blake did say Morris does a lot of things well, calling him a “lock-down defender” and a “proven floor general.” But he questions if, without a reliable jumper, Morris has the quickness to get by NBA defenders. Think of Rajon Rondo without his quickness: Is that someone you’d want on the court?

Can Darius Morris drive past NBA defenders, too? (Credit: joshuak8)

Texas freshman Cory Joseph (6’3, 185) is another player in the same realm as Morris, according to Blake. “He can penetrate, he can finish, and he’s a pretty good shooter, but he’s more of a combo guard than a point. If a team is playing small ball at times and using two point guards on the floor, he could fit.” Still, given his unimpressive college numbers (10 points, 3 assists), he’s certainly a risk.

Josh Selby (6’2, 183) will likely get taken before either of these players. A top-ranked player coming of out high school, Selby never blossomed during his one year at Kansas, making him an intriguing prospect. In fact, Selby would have been much better off without the NBA age requirement, as he likely would have been a lottery pick in last year’s draft. Now, he could go anywhere from the middle of the first round to the second round.

Blake had a lot of positive things to say about Selby—athletic, attacks the rim, good body, good range on his jumper—but did say he is more of a combo than a true point and that he can get selfish. “You do have those concerns. His assist-to-turnover ratio wasn’t good and he played for a very good team, so he should have done better in that regard. He’s out because he’s got to get out [Selby left school to prepare for the draft shortly after the season ended and didn’t attend classes this past semester], so we hope for the best for him.”

Like Selby, it’s hard to predict exactly where Boston College junior Reggie Jackson (6’3, 208) will be selected. There aren’t too many points guards with a 7’ wingspan, and Jackson’s jumper did improve quite a bit this past season (50 percent from the field; 42 percent from deep), but Blake said he “needs improvement on his shot selection and while he can play both guard spots he still needs work to become point at the NBA level. His breakout year yields confidence—can he continue to supply this evidence in workouts?”

Moving into lottery-pick talents, Blake, like most everyone, is high on BYU senior point guard Jimmer Fredette (6’2, 195). Blake compared Fredette’s anticipatory skills to Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. “He was relied on to score so much and had the bull’s eye on his back and was still able to score—and it wasn’t running off screens, it was with the ball in his hands. The concern that a lot of people talk about is his defense. In going over tapes, his lateral quickness has to become better, but a lot of times he is just trying to stay out of foul trouble which I think he was instructed to do. So he came from behind screens and didn’t hedge.”

Fredette’s lateral quickness raises concerns, but Blake’s theory on his poor defense certainly has merit—Fredette was simply too valuable to his team to sit on the bench with foul trouble, even if it meant conceding a basket or two on the defensive end. As for whether The Jimmer can star at the next level, Blake reminds us that aside from a very special few, “it rarely happens that a player comes in and is the go-to guy. But he can be a contributor. If he is chosen by a veteran team with a veteran point guard, then he’s got a mentor. Do I think he can make an impact by the end of the year, which is what any team wants to have? Yes, and the sky is the limit after that.”

Another potential lottery pick from the Mountain West Conference is San Diego State sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (6’7, 225), a high-energy guy who plays hard every possession and was the best player on a very strong San Diego State team. “The guy has a great work ethic. You can never look into a guy’s heart, but you can at least try to gauge it, and it seems Leonard has that going for him.”

Can Kawhi Leonard soar into the lottery? (Credit: SD Dirk)

Blake also highlighted some under-the-radar players who he feels will be chosen in the second round or go undrafted, but will likely make, and contribute to, an NBA team. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all of the players he mentioned are seniors. Among them are:

Diante Garrett (6’4, 190), a point guard from Iowa State. “He played extremely well at the Portsmouth Invitational. He’s an elite athlete with a lot of quickness who can come off the bench and run a team.”

Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (6’7, 220), a small forward who Blake believes can be the Landry Fields or Wesley Matthews of this draft class.

Andrew Goudelock (6’2, 200), a point guard from Charleston, who has shown in workouts that he has a great shooting touch. “He’d be a perfect guy to come off the bench. He’s got great athleticism and was unbelievable at Portsmouth.”

Purdue power forward JaJuan Johnson (6’10, 221), who “nobody is talking about even though he was Big Ten player of the year. He has improved so much every year and although he is thin he can spread defenses.”

Blake also mentioned Leonard’s frontcourt teammate Malcolm Thomas (6’9, 220) and Florida power forward Vernon Macklin (6’10, 245).

As noted earlier, Blake would not comment on the lockout situation. However, with the NBA summer league already cancelled, it is certainly possible that some players returned to school fearing there may be no NBA season next year. Scanning the list of stars who returned—Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones, John Henson, Harrison Barnes, to name five who may have been lottery picks—and you have to wonder if they caught wind of a lockout. On the flipside, this left vacant slots in the draft for other players previously considered questionable candidates.

3 thoughts on “NBA Draft 2011 Preview: Interview with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake”

  1. Good piece. I would love to see a follow-up piece including Blake's take on the seeming discrepancy, year after year, to the average fan, between college performance and draft status – Jimmer might provide the framework for that convo. I think you hint at it when you talk about the weight on the pre-draft camp, but there still seems to be an inexplicable disconnect at times.

  2. Thanks, Ryan. I hope to do another post as we get closer to the draft. I agree with you about college performance and the draft — Jimmer should ease your doubts as he is a college star (and a senior, no less) who should get drafted in the lottery. But in general, teams seem to draft more on "upside" and "potential" than anything else. That is good, as you want players who can improve, but I'd rather have a guy who can at least contribute from Day One.The NFL is guilty of this, too. Teams fall in love with players who have great 40-yard-dash times or can jump really high instead of analyzing the 40 or so games they played at the college level.

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