The Scout Billy McKinney holds a degree in Education from Northwestern University. But in his own words, he is the one still learning every draft, every year. The current Director of Scouting for the Bucks knows the NBA: Prior to landing his current role in 2008, he played seven seasons in the NBA, served as the Assistant Vice President of Basketball Operations with the Bulls, became the first Director of Player Personnel of the Timberwolves, spent time as the Director of Players Personnel and Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Pistons, and was named Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Sonics. McKinney is also an expert of the college game, holding a critical role as a bridge of knowledge from college to the pros. After draft night this year, McKinney taught me a few things about the draft process, from who is involved in the discussion of ranking prospects within the organization to what he does the first day after the draft.
AB: People talk a lot about big boards. Do you (as a team) actually have a big board?BM: Absolutely. We have all of the teams and draft picks in order. And typically, we have the board blank with all of the name tags in order of the first round. Prior to draft night, we rank the players several times as a staff. We have gone up and down the board and ranked the players to determine, based on different scenarios that could occur throughout the draft, if certain players are available, whether we would take them. So we have all of the names laid out in front of us.
AB: Did this year’s big board go further than 14 (where the Bucks were slotted to pick)?BM: Yes, we did it for the entire first round.
AB: How do you rank the players? Do you average everyone’s individual rankings, or is it a discussion?BM: It is a discussion based on players that could be available at our pick. And once the player gets selected in the draft, we put the name on the board. So what would be left is the player that we would want to select based on who would be available at 14.
AB: Who has the discussion?BM: Dave Babcock (Director of Player Personnel), John Hammond (General Manager), Jeff Weltman (Assistant General Manager), Dave Dean (Director of Basketball Administration), Jon Nichols (Manager of Basketball Analytics), Jon Horst (Director of Basketball Operations), Scott Skiles (Head Coach), and I. So, it is really kind of the entire basketball staff.
AB: Who has the first contact with a new player, for example, with John Henson this year?BM: Dave Dean was in New York at the draft to make sure that as soon as we selected him, he was able to get a phone to him (Henson) so he could talk to John Hammond and Scott Skiles.
AB: When you are scouting a player, do you take more mental notes or written notes? And how do you gauge the players you are tracking?BM: Prior to the start of the year, what we do is we come up with a list of players that we say are the top, say, 30 players in the country, who we feel will be going in the first round. And we go out and watch games. The guys that really go out to the games the most are Dave Babcock, John Hammond, Jeff Weltman and I. We send written reports back to the office on our BlackBerrys or iPhones. So, we have a system that after each game we send the report on the player. And in that report, we have what happened in the game, and we talk about the talent level, other players that we be interested in the future, but also where we think this player might go in the draft. And if that player appeals to us as a player who we might be interested in drafting.
AB: When evaluating, do you read what others say and look at websites, or do you prefer to stay away from what others are saying about prospects?BM: I guess I have done this job for so long that one of the things that happens is that a lot scouts hear information when they are talking about players and evaluating players. But for me, I don’t like to share that much information about a player, because each scout has a different opinion of where that player fits in the league, and if he can play in the league. And that is based on years of experience. So, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And that is why there are always some surprises in the draft. Last year, New York took Iman Shumpert. And some people on our staff had different opinions about him, but New York felt like he had value at 17. So, I typically don’t read what other people say about the player or talk about the player. To me, there is always some type of vested interest about what someone is telling me about a player. So, I tend to rely on my expertise and experience.
AB: What do you do the first day after draft?BM: The first day after the draft, the players come in that morning for a press conference. And usually John Hammond or I will meet the players at the airport. And that is just kind of a first official greeting in Milwaukee. We talk to them first of all about how we feel about having them as a draft pick, with our team, and kind of put out the first initial impression for the team. After the press conference, we usually take them and their families to lunch to give a chance for everyone to get better acquainted with each other in a short time. At lunch, we talk about summer schedule and when they are expected to be back here for Summer League. Summer League starts on July 16, but all of the rookies and the guys who are coming in for Summer League will get in around July 6 to start getting ready for ready camp. The day after the draft, we typically spend most of the day with the player, either over lunch, giving a tour of the facility, introducing them to necessary people in the organization, including Skip Robinson, who is our Director of Player Development and Community Relations, who holds an important role in terms of getting the players involved in the community. So, we try to introduce them to as many people as possible on the first day.
AB: Did you get that opportunity with John (Henson) and Doron (Lamb)?BM: Yes, absolutely, with John and Doron. They both came in, their parents came in. They went to the press conference, and we had a big group at the Harbor House. We talk to their parents, to their agents who are in town, and talked about their expectations for the summer and getting ready for the season.
AB: How closely do you work with players after they drafted?BM: We work with them in different ways. Not so much on the court as much as helping them get acclimated to Milwaukee. In terms of places to eat, places to go, just different advice about what to expect during their rookie year. Once they physically get here, our coaches take over with getting them developed on the court. But we still maintain good relationships with the players, because typically we know the most about them, because we have watched them for, in some cases, a three-to-five year period.
AB: You have held many roles in the NBA. What do you like about your current role as Director of Scouting?BM: Identifying the talent that fits with your team. And the importance of that. And the fun about it is understanding that there are 60 players drafted, and we probably look at close to 100 players per year. What I have realized and understood over the years is that based on how you play, and the culture within your organization, starting with the head coach, there are only a handful of players that you get really what you are trying to do. To identify those players, to me, is the difference between being a good team or great team.
AB: Do you look at the current roster and try to fit someone within that roster, or look at an individual player independently?BM: Here is the phrase that we frequently use. When you are trading, you trade for need. When you draft, you are drafting for talent. So, this year for example, we were able to fill our need with a trade, to bring in Samuel Dalembert, a starting center. However, with the draft, while we had several power forwards on our team, we felt that John Henson was the best player. We expected him to go in the draft between five and nine. So he was the highest rated player on our board, one that we didn’t think would get to us. And I had even said that in a television interview after he worked out for us that I didn’t think there was any way Henson would get to us. But the draft changed. Michael Kidd-Gilchrest went second, and then Dion Waiters went fourth, and that upset the whole balance of the draft in terms of where players were drafted.
AB: Joe Dumars recently said that he knew about 20 % during the drafting of Darko Milicic of what he knows now when backgrounding/scouting a player. Do you feel like you know the prospects better now?BM: That is part of it. And part of it is just maturing in the job. That is one of the difficult transitions. Joe was a player, as was I. Becoming a general manager, every general manager, even the so-called best general mangers in the business face that different level of their career. But each guy goes through the drafting process – even after all the years I have been involved – to find out that you learn something more about the process itself and about identifying players. We do so much in addition to evaluating our players. There is a workout that our players go through when they come in. There are so many different ingredients that go into making that selection that you just learn a little more about refining the process each and every year.
AB: How much do you look at college stats? Do you think they are translatable? Or do you concentrate more on watching the players at games and on film?BM: We do look at stats. When the season is over, the truth is, as soon as the season is over, we start looking at film on the players over and over of games that we saw throughout the year. Because not everybody (on staff) watches the same games. We do use statistics as well. Some, like you said, can be transferred to the pros and others not so much. There are so many different elements. Even in terms of where someone goes to college, strength of schedule. Those are all things that considered at the draft.
AB: Do you find it more or less difficult to gauge players on big collegiate programs (versus teams from smaller conferences)?BM: Not necessarily. Because there are so many different venues now to watch these players before they go to these schools. So, for instance, we got a chance to watch John Henson at the Nike Hoops Summit, some of the postseason all-star games he has been involved with since high school. So we start watching these players at a relatively young age, before they get to their system.
My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.