7 Features NBA Scouts Look for Most in College Basketball Recruits

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2012

7 Features NBA Scouts Look for Most in College Basketball Recruits

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    NBA scouts and executives go through an exhaustingly thorough process while analyzing college basketball players, but there are a handful of key features they value greatest.

    Today's NBA places a premium on athleticism and precise jump-shooting, but those aren't the only aspects of the NCAA baller's game that evaluators notice.

    The intangibles are just as important, if not more important, than the physical or skill attributes of a recruit. But what exactly are those intangibles, and which ones are worth more in the eyes of a scout?

    Players who possess both the tangible traits and intangible qualities are the ones that stand out and climb the draft charts.

"Explosive" Athleticism

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    When NBA scouts and executives assess a prospect, above-average athleticism is always a plus. There are different types of explosive athleticism that help a recruit stand out.

    Vertical: Getting to the rim with ease isn't the only advantage of leaping ability. Players who can bounce can also release jump shots easier, rebound better and contest opponents' shots. 

    Lateral quickness: Athletes who have quick footwork and explosive lateral movement are able to play relentless defense if they actually take the effort to do it. The lateral quickness also helps players provide better help defense. This is especially handy for big men.

    Dribbling speed: Players who have a good first step with the ball (see: Austin Rivers) are extremely tough to guard, and players with breakaway speed (see: John Wall) are almost impossible to stop on the fast break.


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    Scouts can't immediately know a recruit's character, but there are several aspects to character that they can look for while doing their homework.

    Work Ethic: Is the player a gym rat? Does he continue to work on his skills as often as possible? Is he a student of the game? Can you tell he hits the weight room?

    Also included in the work ethic is how hard a player actually plays during games. NBA.com's David Aldridge talks about NCAA champion Michael-Kidd Gilchrist's advantage despite skill deficiencies:

    "...MKG is beloved by NBA scouts for a simple reason: he plays hard. His path to the pros is his relentlessness. Playing hard, as I'll say for the billionth time, is a skill.That gives MKG the nod among every NBA personnel person I spoke with over (Harrison) Barnes."

    Coachability: Some of the best players are the type of players who can absorb any kind of feedback, no matter the coaching style. Certain recruits are better than others when it comes to learning game strategy, and they also apply individual skill improvements better.

    Leadership: Not everyone is built to be a leader. Thus, players like Michigan State's Draymond Green get favorable looks because they show NBA leadership potential, even if they won't be the best athlete on the team. They possess a contagious positive attitude, good communication skills and serve as an extension of the coach.


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    Ambidexterity is the ability to use one's right and left hand equally well. From an individual skills perspective, players are deemed much more valuable if they can dribble, shoot and block shots with either hand. Let's break down all three phases:

    Dribbling: Ambidextrous ball-handling is crucial, especially for guards. For example, check out Kyrie Irving's Duke highlights. His ability to go right or left keeps the defense guessing and gives him so many opportunities on the court.

    Scoring: Players who can finish with either hand have a significant edge over those who can't. NBA scouts notice when a post player can shoot a baby hook or a short bank shot with either hand. Sacramento saw this kind of potential in DeMarcus Cousins, and this clip shows his ambidexterity.

    Shot-blocking: A player who can block shots with either hand is a bonus. The best recent example is Anthony Davis, who is primarily right-handed but can block shots with his left when he needs to.


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    Versatility is a buzzword we hear all the time, but only a few college basketball players are versatile. This gives them the inside track to getting drafted.

    What are some of the things that make a player a "versatile" prospect? Let's take a look at the most versatile college basketball products from the last five drafts, and why they were so valued:

    2008: UCLA forward Kevin Love was picked fifth because he possessed size, had great hands around the rim, and he could also step outside and hit jump shots.

    2009: In one of the least-versatile draft classes, Memphis dynamo Tyreke Evans was picked fourth, and a major reason for that was his ability to play point guard, shooting guard or small forward.

    2010: Ohio State standout Evan Turner went second overall due to his 6'7" frame and collection of ball-handling, shooting and power driving skills.

    2011: When Georgia Tech swingman Iman Shumpert was picked 17th overall, it raised some eyebrows. But the Knicks knew they had a versatile guard with offensive athleticism and elite defensive skills.

    2012: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 selection, was the most versatile prospect in the draft due to his defense, passing, rebounding and fast-break skills.

An Ideal Body Frame

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    College basketball players literally come in all shapes and sizes, and it's up to NBA scouts and executives to determine which ones have bodies with the potential to endure the rigors of the league. They look for wingspan (because a player's reach is more important than their height), and strength.

    Muscle-wise, body frames usually fall into one of three categories. They're either (1) NBA-ready because the young athlete has well-developed muscularity, (2) not ready but the frame is conducive to future muscle-building, or (3) not ready because of a wiry frame that's not conducive to muscle-building.

    Let's take three 2012 draftees as examples of each category:

    (1) Thomas Robinson, No. 5 overall: He has an NBA-ready body, which is part of the reason he was picked in the top five.

    (2) Meyers Leonard, No. 11 overall: NBADraft.net scout Tyler Ingle notes that he has "excellent length on a good frame that will be capable of supporting more muscle."

    (3) John Henson, No. 14 overall: Although highly-skilled in the post, Henson dropped to 14 because his narrow shoulders will prevent him from putting on a substantial amount of muscle without it adversely affecting his athleticism.

Jump Shot Potential

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    Prospects will always find their way to the NBA if they can develop an ultra-consistent jump shot.

    Scouts value a college basketball player who already has great range, smooth shooting form and a quick release. But they also keep their eye out for mediocre shooters who have the potential to develop their shot.

    The shorter a player is, the more important it is for him to have a quick, high release and advanced shot-creating skills. Think Jimmer Fredette.

    College players must also have the potential to increase their range, as the three-point line moves back a couple steps on an NBA court.

    For post players, NBA coaches aren't asking them to become snipers from three-point land. But they do want their big men to be able to nail an open mid-range jumper when the opportunity presents itself.

Instincts and Court Awareness

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    Something that's extremely difficult to teach is instincts and court awareness, which is why NBA executives and scouts value it so highly.

    Take 2012 draftee Kendall Marshall, for example. He's a left-hand dominant ball-handler who is an average shooter, a below-average finisher and a below-average athlete. But he was picked in the lottery by Phoenix because he has phenomenal court vision and passing skills.

    Instincts and court awareness aren't just important for point guards, though. Great instincts can help any player move without the ball, get open and find the soft spots in the defense. Court awareness results in better weak-side defense and team cohesion.

    And it also helps on the fast break, like knowing when to toss the alley-oop or just drive to the tin yourself.

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