We sat down with Lakers Director of Scouting Jesse Buss to get a closer look the team's process of scouting and evaluating talent ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft.
MT: How has your position evolved over the years from the time you started working for the Lakers while you were attending college?
Jesse Buss: I began working for the Lakers in 2006 as a basketball operations assistant mainly doing statistical work and other projects under (assistant GM) Glenn Carraro. I was also scouting at the time, but my focus was mainly on games that were local. I transitioned into a full time scout in 2009. I was given the opportunity to become scouting coordinator in 2011, and eventually director of scouting in 2013. My job now is to make sure everything in our scouting department runs smoothly, with the main focus on having our department see every basketball prospect in the world and knowing their ins and outs as players. I trust in my scouting staff and that we are the best in the business. We all work closely together in our evaluations to make sure we draft the best players possible. I'm glad to be able to contribute in bringing the group together and making educated decisions together.
MT: Can you describe your primary focus when you’re out on the road scouting players?
Buss: There are a variety of factors that I look for, and it's tough to pinpoint everything specifically. I would say physical attributes, skill level, instincts and character are the basic principles of what I'm looking for in a player.
MT: What makes for a good NBA scout?
Buss: I would say the most important thing for a scout would be the ability to bring a perspective to the table that others might not bring. It's very important to not have a closed mind while evaluating players. The game has and continues to evolve, so scouts must be able to recognize the importance in finding players who will be able to sustain a level of success in the league for a long time.
MT: You grew up with the Lakers, whom your father owned before you were born. Who has been your biggest influence to this point?
Buss: I would say my Dad has been the biggest influence on me. He was the person who put me in this position and gave me the ability to learn from some of the best minds in all of basketball my entire life. There are far too many figures to name but I have picked up things from many people, and it's all because my Dad put me in the position to learn from them.
MT: There was a Bleacher Report article recently pointing to your dad’s ability to read character in prospects, as he did so well with people in general. How would you summarize what you’ve learned about people and how that transfers to a basketball franchise?
Buss: I would say a player’s character on and off the court is just as important as any skill set they may have. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you're not willing to continue to work at your craft, it may be potential that isn't realized.
MT: If you don't mind a few more questions about your dad ... How often do you think about him? Are there any memories of the Lakers in your time with him that stand out among what must be many? Most of us know him as the best and most successful owner in team sports, but what was he like as a father?
Buss: There's never a moment that goes by where I don't think about him or miss him, whether it's at home, in the office, at a game or pretty much anywhere. The best memories I have of him around the team are the times I got to spend with him when we won multiple championships. Those were his favorite moments; he would be glowing for a long time afterwards. During those times we shared some of the best moments relating to the team. He was a caring, compassionate, loving, and just all-around amazing father. I absolutely couldn't ever ask for anything more from him. All the time I spent with him and the joy that he brought me is insurmountable. Everything that I learned from him I will cherish for the rest of my life. I really couldn't ask for more out of him as a father because having him as mine was that surreal.
MT: Getting back to the business, since it appeared early in the season that the Lakers might have a high lottery pick especially as the injuries mounted last season, I know you spent a lot of time watching some of the top prospects. Do you look for different characteristics for the No. 2 pick for a second rounder?
Buss: I wouldn't necessarily say I look for anything different, wherever our draft position may be. Things change quickly in this league and you want to make sure you know every single player in the draft just in case the scenario changes for the team. Whenever we draft players, we want to draft an individual who we believe can be what we define as a Laker. We want someone who is willing to put in the work and make winning the priority, while making our fans proud. I personally want to draft someone who will be a Laker for life.
MT: I know you in particular were really high on All-Rookie First Teamer Jordan Clarkson. You scouted him several times in person in 2013-14 when he was at Missouri. What did you see in him that made you think he’d be a good pro?
Buss: Just from a talent standpoint I believed that he was someone who would go much higher in the draft than he did. I'm very happy that we were able to purchase another draft pick (from Washington) to select him. In the games that I saw he showcased great athleticism, particularly speed and explosiveness, and the ability to really get to the basket. He had the ability to blow by players and finish above the rim. I thought his speed with the ball was near the top of the draft. He was an unselfish player and had solid court vision/passing ability that wasn't really discussed as much because of his scoring prowess. I believe he was given the label as more of a two guard, but I thought he had the ability to play either position in the backcourt, which made him more intriguing because of his versatility. It seemed to me that he improved every time that he stepped on the court. The credit really goes to him because he's an extremely hard worker and he's getting better everyday. He was put in a position where our coaches had trust for him this season and he took off with it. I believe he will continue to grow and the sky is the limit for him.
MT: How did the process go by which the Lakers purchased a draft pick to select Clarkson at No. 46? And did he exceed even your expectations?
Buss: I would say before the draft we discussed purchasing an additional pick if it was possible. On draft night as the first round was coming to a close, it looked more promising that we were going to be able to acquire another pick. Mitch was on the phone looking to purchase a pick from anyone who was willing to sell one. When we are drafting players we each have our own opinions on players and usually we hammer it out during the process of preparing for the draft. Usually at a certain point these rankings get meshed together and it creates our consensus thought. Jordan was ranked much higher on our big board than where we selected him. I personally was shocked that he was not a first round pick. I wouldn't say necessarily he exceeded my expectations this season because from day one when he was drafted and started working out in our gym, I knew he was going to be a good player.
MT: How much of an impact can Julius Randle make? Are we forgetting the kind of player he can be in this league?
Buss: I think Julius will definitely turn some heads this season and showcase his talent that has gotten him this far. When we drafted Julius we were definitely looking at him as a player who we envision being here for a long time. Unfortunately, we live in a world where it's more of a "what have you done for me lately," but that's ok because I believe he's very eager to show people that he's going to be a good player in this league.
MT: You’ve gotten to know Clarkson and Randle off the court especially in this offseason. Does anything about their personalities off the court inform you about what they’ll be like on the court moving forward?
Buss: Jordan and Julius are both extremely hard workers. They're very knowledgable about the game and they're passionate about it. Off the court they are great guys and very down to earth. It's fun to be able to hang out with them and speak about different things outside of basketball. But at the end of the day, I know that we are all on the same page as far as wanting to win. It makes me feel confident in their futures and the future of the team as long as we can grow together and build that culture. Plain and simple, they love the game of basketball and I believe they represent everything anybody could want from Lakers.