November 17, 2020
A normal NBA season is long and winding, but there is certainty in the structure. The winter brings a trade deadline and All-Star Game, the spring kicks off the playoffs, the Finals end in mid-June, and the offseason gauntlet is run in the span of a couple of weeks mid-summer, with everyone getting some earned time off in August. The COVID-19 pandemic altered that timeline quite a bit.
The Sixers have more to juggle than the average team during the 2020 NBA Draft — a new President of Basketball Operations, a new head coach, new staffers, a new overall direction. But so far, VP of Scouting Vince Rozman says, they haven't had to worry about the new leaders fitting in.
"There’s not a newness. It kind of feels, as we’re arguing through concepts or players or what have you, it kind of feels like we’ve been in that room, and I guess we have been in the room a lot, but it seems we’ve been in the room together years already," Rozman said Monday. "I think Daryl’s very eager to learn from people and get their opinions and to help utilize the staff to form his own opinion. I think it’s been great, I’m excited going forward, I think the rapport has been awesome. It’s been a fun experience."
It would belittle the work it took to get to this point to call that step one of the process, but it's one of the most critical points in a long journey. Philadelphia's scouting department has been working on their board for this class longer than any other class prior, and not by their choice. And a lot has changed along the way — the Sixers went from a Brett Brown coached team run by Elton Brand (and a shadowy collaborative structure) to a Doc Rivers team with Daryl Morey as the undisputed leader atop the front office.
The biggest adjustment this time, Rozman says, has been less philosophical and more about the style of operation.
"I think the one thing that immediately comes though with Daryl is kind of the pace at which he works and trying to keep up with that," Rozman said Monday. "From a philosophical standpoint we still have a couple of days to go, it’s hard to say right now where exactly his head is and how he’s going to view those five picks."
Rozman is sort of used to this. Brought in toward the end of Billy King's tenure as Sixers, Philly's scouting lead has survived (and risen) in the organization through repeated changes in structure over the last 13 years. Over that time period, the Sixers have been fairly successful at plucking talent without often owning premium picks, in spite of shifts in philosophy and even unprecedented burner account scandals along the way.
One challenge they've had to combat this year? Overthinking and over-evaluating, if there is such a thing. Those are natural products of the increased time they've had to study the 2020 draft class, and Rozman said Monday it's a phenomenon they are aware of and try their best to unpack.
"The more you study a guy, you want to make sure you’re not chasing ghosts or overanalyzing any of this. I think as time goes by, if our group collectively starts to change our opinion on a guy or one specific member of our group has a new opinion on a guy, we just need to dig into why," Rozman said. "What specifically did you watch or read, or who did you talk to that altered your opinion for better or worse, and why? Can you stand by that if questioned on it?"
"We encourage everybody to change their opinions, I think that’s how you get to the right endpoint, but we just want to be really, really, really cautious to know we’re not falling victim to like, so and so rising on the draft board. If we think the guy is just a better shooter than we thought or a better playmaker or what have you than we thought, okay, provide the evidence and we’ll adjust to it. But we’ve talked about that a lot...let’s be cautious about this new schedule and this new six months or whatever we had to get ready for this draft, it’s certainly not normal."
From the sound of things, the Sixers have tried to combat those new factors and other things out of their control by sticking to the basics. Their primary goal, he told reporters Monday, is simply to have guys who are useful contributors at the NBA level three years down the road.
Whether that takes the form of a shooter, a playmaker, a defensive stopper, or a number of other archetypes mentioned on the call, goal No. 1 is to find as many contributors as possible. Last year, for example, Rozman says they probably would have gone in a totally different direction if they hadn't drafted Matisse Thybulle, a unique talent on the defensive end.
They've also learned to value tools they've had at their disposal for a long time and may have undervalued during the course of an NBA season. Rozman specifically pointed out an increased appreciation for video access, which became basically their only on-court evaluation tool once college basketball shut down. In a normal year, people lose time they could be using to actually evaluate players on things like travel. With everyone bunkered down and working from the same tape, the process was streamlined to a degree.
"We were able to get some more questions, like really targeted questions on guys," Rozman said. "This element of this player might really dictate how good of an NBA player he is, so let’s know it to the extent that it’s possible. So as many challenges as this process presented, I think it also presented a lot of unique opportunities, so much so that I think future pre-draft processes are going to continue to adopt things we learned through these last few months. I’m actually very curious to see what 'normal' looks like in the future."
What we didn't learn, of course, is exactly what the Sixers plan to do on draft night. That's the biggest way Daryl Morey changes the conversation for Philadelphia — he is one of the most active dealmakers in the league, and the Rockets haven't so much as owned a first-round pick since 2015. The job of the scouting department, in this case, is to prepare for every possible scenario, up, down, or out of the draft, just in case Morey and Co. decide to make moves.
The mantra, it seems, is that there are no excuses for the Sixers to get this wrong on the scouting side, regardless of personnel changes, roster concerns, or real-world issues. 17 months removed from their last draft night, it's past time to go again.
"I actually think we’re exceedingly prepared, the scouts have been on these guys in the draft for forever now," Rozman said. "We’ve been able to get deeper on guys than time has ever permitted before, and have the knowledge to be able to relay that to any new people that come in the building, and say, ‘Here we go, we’re ready.’"
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