Q & A With Hawks Director Of Player Personnel Dave Pendergraft

Q & A With Dave Pendergraft

While Hawks GM Rick Sund has the final say on all team-related transactions, he has plenty of help in the Hawks front office. One of his main contributors is Director of Player Personnel Dave Pendergraft, who is in charge of the Hawks scouting and player-evaluation department, and who has worked with Sund for many years going back to their time in Seattle. With just a few days until the Hawks are on the clock, we sat down with Pendergraft to talk about all things draft-related:

Hawks.com: This is your first draft (the Hawks had no picks in 2008) in Atlanta. What is your basic strategy coming into Thursday night, holding the 19th and 49th pick?

Dave Pendergraft: This is an interesting year for us. As much as fans are talking about the draft, and as important as the draft process is (and it is), free agency will have a much larger impact on the future of our club. Unfortunately, we won't know about the status of all our free agents before the draft, so that can sort of throw your priorities a little bit up into the air.  We are approaching this draft as if everyone is returning, even if that doesn't end up being the case.

 What we are hoping to get in this draft is a player who can help us. If a guy in our rotation goes down with an injury, you'd like to get someone who can maybe pick up some of those minutes. We were a playoff team last year, and we think we'll be a playoff team next year. So another option is to get a guy who has the potential to be a starter in 2-3 years. If you can get someone who accomplishes both of those tasks, then you've really done well.

Hawks.com: How reasonable is it to expect that from the #19th pick in the draft?

DP: What you hope to get is an asset. If you can do that in the later part of a draft, you'd consider that a success. Now sometimes a guy falls down further in the draft and ends up being a starter, and if you are fortunate to get one of those guys, it's icing on the cake. But you can't assume each player will be able to do that.

Hawks.com: When you look at the guys who have been drafted late and gone on to become starters (Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, etc) - is there something those players have in common?

DP: We have information on all the previous drafts and how players performed. Each player is like part of a case study, and you try to figure out which players were more successful than others. But nothing is certain. You look at a guy like Hakim Warrick, who played more minutes as a rookie than David West did. But then David West got Chris Paul, and Warrick didn't. So the situation plays a large role in success. You can reference history and see what type of player where you are picking has played a little bit quicker, but in the end it really goes to player comparisons within that given draft year.

Hawks.com: You guys have been working players out at Philips Arena over the last week, and you've seen many others at the draft combines. How important are workouts to the overall draft process?

DP: I think the workouts are more for the coaches. Myself, the scouting department, we've seen all these guys. Most of them we've been following for several years, so there is very little a prospect could do that would surprise or disappoint me in a workout. But the coaches aren't as familiar with many of them, so it's a chance for them to size them up and make a first impression.

The workouts to me are validation, confirming what you already thought about a player. They are definitely are less important than the body of work that a player brings in. But I do like them because you get the guys in front of you, and you get to see what they are like as a person. That's what I like about the workout process.

Hawks.com: How much do other teams and what they are doing play a role in what you do on draft night?

DP: It plays a role. I have had conversations with other teams over the past few days about players, rumors, etc. You may ask, what are you hearing about this team, what are you hearing about that team - you hope it can help you figure out how the night is going to go down. I think we can safely say there are about 11 guys we know will be gone when we pick at 19. But then there is another group of 8-9 after that where you just don't know. Any information you can get helps - what is Detroit going to do? What is Philadelphia going to do? What about Phoenix? And you try to get some information, and you have to give out a little info as well, and hopefully by the start of draft day you have a pretty good idea of how it will play out.

Some years you can call it pretty easily, one pick after another. This year I don't think that's the case. I think this is going to be a tough year. I don't think this is a draft where you're going to turn your franchise around other than maybe 1 or 2 guys, but I do think this is a deep draft. I talked about assets, and I do think you'll be able to get assets late, but at this point it's hard to pigeon-hole a certain player to a certain team.

We're a good example of that, no one really knows what we're going to do. If we return our core, we don't really have a lot of spots for a guy to get minutes, so there's no real outside consensus on what we'll do on draft night.

Hawks.com: There has been a big trend in baseball towards statistical analysis (the so-called Moneyball movement) - how important is that in evaluating draft talent for the NBA?

DP: It's another tool. It's all about comparisons. Just like you look at the physical differences between players, you look at the statistical differences as well. You have to use your feel as well - I don't think one should outweigh the other. It's a little bit easier to use that stuff in baseball, which is way more conducive to meaningful statistics. In basketball there are more moving parts, so it makes it a little bit harder. It's definitely a useful tool though.

Hawks.com: Are there any stats that help you translate a player's performance from college to the pros, or for International players to the pros?

DP: There are some things that translate. Rebounding translates, always. If you get a guy who rebounds in college, you can be pretty sure he's going to rebound in the pros. Conversely, players improve their shooting in the pros versus what a player may have done in college or abroad. If you have a player with a  good shooting stroke, a technically sound stroke, but maybe didn't have the percentages you'd want to see, you don't worry about that as much.

Hawks.com: Is there anything players can do to really elevate their draft status in these workout settings?

DP: Sure. You see it happen all the time.  You fall in love with a guy in summer league, but he's not playing against top-caliber NBA talent. If you see a guy having a phenomenal workout experience, nailing 3's you didn't think he could make in the past, anything that makes you rethink what you've seen from him in the past.

You'd think with all the time and money we spend on scouting players it wouldn't happen, but then a guy has an amazing workout one day and it can distort your decision-making process. So you have to be very careful not to let that happen.

Hawks.com: Are there any lessons you've learned from past drafts that help you as you approach making this year's selection?

DP: There are always new lessons. Personally, I think we've learned in the past to be careful swinging for the fences instead of getting a player who can play every night. You can try for a home run pick, but sometimes it's more important to get on base, and I think that's what we need right now. I think that's what I've learned.

Having said that, sometimes it makes sense to take a risk. Sometimes it pays to be conservative. There's a balance there, and it's delicate. But we've learned not to fall in love with a player because of summer league play or how they work out. You have to apply the whole case study and then make the best decision.