Austin Ainge Details Uniqueness of This Year's Pre-Draft Process
BOSTON – This year’s pre-Draft process has been unlike any other for scouting staffs across the NBA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were fewer college games from which to draw information, there were limited in-person meetings and workouts with prospects, and there has been an unprecedented eight-month gap from the last time most of these prospects have played in a competitive basketball game.
For the Boston Celtics’ basketball operations staff, such changes have required several adjustments to be made leading into Wednesday night’s Draft, of which assistant general manager Austin Ainge detailed Monday afternoon during a Zoom teleconference call with the media.
The most notable difference for Ainge and the rest of the crew has been the lack of in-person meetings. Typically, the team hosts several dozen prospects for workouts and interviews, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, each team has only been allowed 10 such meetings.
Adding onto that limitation was the fact that all 10 of those meetings and workouts operated on an individual basis, as opposed to a normal draft workout which allows several prospects of the same position to battle it out against each other.
“It helps to have guys in and put them in situations that we didn’t get to see in college,” Ainge said of the importance of the pre-draft workout process. “If a guy is not a great shooter, we have him shoot a lot. If a guy is not great at running pick-and-rolls, we put him in a lot of pick-and-rolls. If a guy, we’re worried about his closeouts, we put him in closeout drills. These types of things are helpful to get a little more info and we weren’t able to do that this year.”
As a result, the basketball operations team has resorted to watching hours upon hours of film. In some ways, this has been a positive from a scouting standpoint, because the long lay-off actually allowed scouts to dive far deeper into film reels than ever before.
What that film does not include, however, is the prospects’ off-court personality traits and ethics.
In-person meetings hold great value to the Celtics, as it allows the basketball operations staff to take players out to lunch or dinner and get to know them more on a personal level. Austin’s father and boss, Danny Ainge, has said that he never would have acquired Rajon Rondo during the 2006 Draft had he not met face-to-face with the Kentucky product. Their in-person meeting allowed Ainge to dissect Rondo’s character, of which Ainge obviously approved to the point where he felt that the point guard was a must-have in that year’s Draft.
Since each team was only allowed to physically meet with 10 prospects leading into this year’s Draft, the basketball ops staff had to be extra strategic in the selection process. The rest of the meetings were done over Zoom.
“It was hard to be honest,” the younger Ainge said of that process. “Everyone on my staff saw some guys more than others. Due to the limits of personal time and travel, there’s one guy I saw only twice and wanted to see again, and others Mike Zarren saw five times and didn’t get to see another guy. It was hard to balance all those things. We did the best we could and picked some guys we didn’t see as much as a staff, or we thought might have had more potential to improve over an eight-month layoff in some cases.”
Despite all of the obstacles they faced this year throughout the pre-Draft process, the Celtics feel confident heading into Wednesday night knowing that they did everything in their power to learn as much about this year’s draft class as possible.
“We'll do the best we can,” Danny Ainge said last Wednesday afternoon. “That's why we scout all year, and watch players throughout the course of the season, and try to prepare for this moment.”