How the Pacers prepared for the draft during the most unusual of times
"Our scouts have been awesome. We’ve studied this group of players more than any other group ever."
On Wednesday night, the Pacers front office will come together in a large room at the St. Vincent Center for the 2020 NBA Draft five months later than normal. At the front of that room will be a large screen for the draft broadcast, another for the rundown of selections made and their digitized draft board.
Less than 10 individuals are expected in the room, seated at tables with phones, monitors and plenty of electrical outlets to keep their devices charged.
So much about the Pacers’ process is the same, yet they’ve also had to adapt in many ways due the ongoing pandemic. Zoom has been a critical tool for so many businesses and organizations, including the Pacers. It’s how they’ve held a weekly company-wide town hall, it’s how they held frequent meetings leading up to and inside the bubble, and it’s how they interviewed more than 100 prospects.
On draft night, they’ll have multiple Zoom calls going at once inside the draft room, presumably one with scouts, in the United States and abroad, and another with the medical staff. Both are valuable for team president Kevin Pritchard, who will make the final call on their pick and any potential trades, to use as a resource.
Traditionally, the Pacers would host about seven different workouts with six players in each. That’s about 42 players. There’s the annual draft combine in Chicago and dozens of player workouts hosted by their agencies.
The Pacers, though, made the organizational decision not to travel to see individual player workouts. NBA teams are allowed up to 10 each, but they declined.
“Just with the COVID health issues and risk, we’ve chosen not to do that,” Ryan Carr, the VP of Player Personnel, said Monday on — yep, you guessed it — a Zoom call with reporters. “I feel like we’re in good (shape) up and down the draft board.”
By not being able to bring players in, they missed out on being able to do their medical tests and see how behave up close. After workouts, which traditionally are more difficult than most teams’, players would walk with select scouts and basketball ops staffers to a local restaurant for lunch. By design, it never included Larry Bird, the head coach, etc. They wanted to see how the players handled themselves in a low-key situation.
That said, Carr was pleasantly surprised by how well the remote interviews went this year and joked how guys were in their living rooms and with family around.
“That’s just how these guys and this generation communicates,” he said. “I ought to just pay attention to my 15-year-old kids because they’re used to talking in FaceTime, that’s how they communicate with people. And the interviews were actually very good and authentic and much better than I thought they’d be going into it.”
Players negatively impacted by this unusual schedule are those who could make a special run in conference and NCAA tournaments, as well as those who shine in pre-draft workouts.
This draft class has been scouted since the last draft, so at least 17 months. When scouts were pulled off the road in early March and games were canceled, they had little to do other than to watch more video while gathering intel on prospects. It’s fair to say this is the most over-analyzed class by front offices just because of the time between drafts.
“There’s really a little bit of everything,” Carr said. “I think what you just don’t have is maybe a lot of everything at the top. You have a handful of guys who are really talented whereas in a really strong draft, you have nine or ten guys that you could really hope, if everything go right, could really change a franchise.”
The draft will begin after 8:00 p.m. ET Wednesday and the Pacers have only one pick, No. 54. They included their first-rounder (24) in a deal to acquire Malcolm Brogdon last offseason from Milwaukee.
“If we can find a player that, even if it’s two or three years down the road, can be in our rotation and contribute in a way, that would be a home run with that pick,” Carr said.
Another difference for the front office is finding players for the new coaching staff. Carr often talks with new head coach Nate Bjorkgren about the types of players he likes and who would work well in the system he plans on coaching. It’s critical that they get to know his preferences.
“It’s been fun in those meetings,” said Carr. “The energy of what he talks about and how he wants to use players and the vision he has is energizing. I think he’s going to be a lot of fun to hear and see what he comes up with. He’s really creative. He’s definitely an out-of-the box thinker.”
The draft will originate from ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn. and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum will be there to make picks live — as opposed to commissioners announcing picks from their homes like we saw previously with the WNBA and NFL Drafts.
The date of this draft has been pushed back twice and there’s less certainty with where prospects will go, which informs team draft board and potential moves. Once the draft is over, the front office quickly phones agents about players who went undrafted, and players they want for camp and two-way contracts.
And then this year, it’s quickly on to free agency (Friday) and training camp (Dec. 1).
“We’re not going to have every piece of info that we normally do, but we’ve got as close to every piece of information as we normally do,” Carr said. “Our scouts have been awesome. We’ve studied this group of players more than any other group ever.”