Let’s Build It - Advance Scouting

Wolves assistant coach and advance scout Brent Haskins grew up with a basketball next to his blanket in the crib.

The son of Clem Haskins, he was never far away from the basketball court, and after going to Wayzata High School and attending (plus coaching at) the University of Minnesota. He's been with the Wolves for eight seasons, having already cultivated a reputation as one of the best at what he does.

Advance scouting - though oft unnoticed - is the first step towards a team's preparation for an opponent. We spoke to Haskins at length to elucidate his role with the organization, using the specific example of his scouting job on the Detroit Pistons prior to the April 1 game at Target Center.

Wolves Advance Scout Brent Haskins
Q: Your job is to look at other teams on the road before the Wolves play them, prepare a comprehensive report and get that to the assistant coaches, which they'll use to make a game plan. But that's way oversimplified.
Brent Haskins: In a nutshell. That's quickly stating what I do. It takes some time, and I also put together player personnel reports for the players that they use. So, the players get a condensed version of the same information that the coaches get, which is the whole thing, for all 82 games.

Q: All right. Let's go through the entire process for a specific game (vs. Detroit, April 1). The first thing you do is fly out ahead of the team and see the team a few times in person...
BH: Right. For Detroit, we hadn't played them yet at all - which is odd for this late in the season - so I had to do a report from scratch. I saw Detroit play in Washington two weeks ago on Easter Sunday, and I saw them play the next night in Detroit against Miami. On Sunday morning, the day of the game, I got to the airport for a 10 a.m. flight, got on the plane, and started watching Pistons game film.

Q: And you're not flying on a private charter like the team, you're going commercial...
BH: Yes, but sometimes Northwest shows me love. I have enough miles ... I'm pretty much platinum forever. So I get on the plane and watch as much Detroit game film as I can to start getting a preliminary report together. I have a form that I fill for every game, so as I'm watching game film, I get as much checked off on the form as I can so I know what I need to look for when I'm at game live - any specific sets that I don't recognize that they haven't run in the past, or tendencies that may me going on. You want to make sure that you do your homework and watch enough game film before you see them live, so you know exactly what you're looking for.

Q: How many games had you seen Detroit play before you got on that plane?
BH: Before I got on the plane, I had seen about one and a half. I watched another full game before and then in the afternoon at the airport and hotel, so when I got to the game that night, I had seen them play three games.

Q: Do you watch cut-down versions of games like assistant coaches sometimes do?
BH: No, I like to get the whole thing. I have a couple DVDs with me. I have the complete game, not broken down (into) offense/defense or anything. I did all that on the plane, took care of as much as I could in between people next to you on the plane asking a million questions. Then I got to the hotel that afternoon, continued watching game film, and working on my report. First of all, it's a hassle sometimes ... Washington isn't a city I rent a car in so I take a taxi to the hotel, try to get in grab some lunch, get situated and keep working.

Q: You don't have a lot of spare time.
BH: You're on the clock. The way we do it, the assistant coaches switch off games to cover, and whatever coach has that particular team (Jerry Sichting had the Pistons), they are going to want that information as soon as possible. The game might not be for a week or so, but once he's done with his last team he's looking forward to his next team. I don't have to be ahead of the team, but I have to be ahead of the coach who is preparing for that team. I have to be able to send him something, some sets, a preliminary report to get him started, even if it's before I send the final report and before I've seen a team for the last time. I have to make sure I'm covering those bases as well being prepared for getting him ready to do what he's got to do.

Q: All right. Let's track back to what you're actually writing down on the plane?
BH: Unfortunately, that's the thing: On the plane there's not much room to do whatever, so you can't work how you want to. I have my laptop out and I'll type right into my sheet if there's something in particular. For instance, if you see how they are covering pick and rolls or if you see how they are trapping in the post or how they are playing in the post, if they are playing a lot of zone - it's harder to get my offensive sets diagrammed because you need a little more space to be able to use your mouse and everything. But as far as filling out the report part, I can do that or things like team style of play or how they are playing right now. What good things they are doing, what bad things they are doing, what they are looking to do. I can put some of that in and add to it as I go along.

Q: Then you're landing, getting some work done at the hotel and making your way to the respective arena. In this case, Washington D.C.
BH: It was an 8 o'clock start that night, so luckily, it makes it so convenient when these cities have hotels five minutes from the arena. I try to get there about an hour early. They provide a meal for you in the press room. That night I remember there were other scouts from Miami, Portland and Utah. We all know each very well obviously so you walk into the media room and try and see who is going to be there that night. You sit down, have a meal with them and talk about who you are scouting that day. Myself and the scout from Miami were both scouting Detroit, and the other two scouts were scouting Washington. We talked about some things we saw on film, compared some notes, tried to help each other out as much as possible. Then, I go out into the game, and I have the same routine I follow: get my game notes prepared, find my seat ... Every team has to provide a scouting seat for you. Some places it's on the baseline, some it's on the scorer's table. Washington's happened to be on the baseline by the visiting team's bench.

Q: So you're taking some final notes and doing some final prep before tipoff:
BH: I go through, look at the game notes, trends, injuries, read everything I can about the team and everything that may help me with the report. Then it's game time. Right then, I'm trying to do the best I can to hear what, in this instance, (Pistons head coach) Flip Saunders is saying and plays he is calling to Chauncey (Billups) and what Chauncey is saying and what they are trying to do. That's really the reason to be there, so you can hear their play calls. You want to know what's coming, and hear any other adjustments they may be making or what they are saying as far as how they want to guard the pick-and-roll or defending a particular player. But they don't have a post player similar to Al (Jefferson) on Washington so it's hard to get a gauge on how they are going to guard our best player. Washington doesn't quite play like us, so it was a little bit trickier to know what Detroit is going to do.

Q: It makes your job easier if the opponent plays more like the Timberwolves.
BH: Right. If they're playing a team that is similar to us, it's a great benefit to (the advance scout), because you can say, "OK this is probably what they're going to do to AL." That just wasn't the case in Washington.

Q: At the game, you basically have a chart in which you document each and every play, in addition to your regular notes.
BH: Every trip down the court, I'm diagramming what Detroit did, with the exception of if it's a transition play that isn't set up. You mark that it's just transition, because at the end of the game you want to know how many times did they just come down and play out of transition or if they called a set play. Also, a lot of times, when they come down and it looks like transition, it's their early offense. They don't even call it out, but you can still see what's happening. With a team like Detroit, they've played together so much, that they just flow straight into their early offense. It's just automatic for them. A lot of times teams call sets after a made basket, when the coach calls it out and they walk it up, where as off a missed shot or steal, you look for the initial break or secondary offense. That's another trick of the trade that you just pick up ... When they're shooting the free throw, that's when you have to be watching the coach and the player to see what play they're calling, not when they're coming up the court. Each coach has his own tendencies, but after a while of doing it, you get seasoned and you know what to look for.

Q: That's when it helps to have grown up in basketball your whole life.
BH: Coming from a basketball background helps. A lot of people that watch basketball may just watch the ball, but I'm seeing everything that's going on off the ball from every player. You watch so much, that a team will run a play, and I will have known what everybody did off the ball ... If they set a wide screen, if they pinned down, if they came off a flex cut ... You have to see the whole action.

Q: Truly a family business...
BH: It's become almost a family business. My sister played in college and was an All-American, and she coached for several years. My dad ... you know about him ... It's what I've been around my whole life. It's almost natural for me to look at a play and know what's going on, because that's what I've always talked about with my dad, my family. I was an assistant for him, but even before that I was learning. I've been with the Wolves for eight years, but I'm 34 so I've been studying basketball for 34 years, I guess you could say.

Q: Let's move to what an advance scout does postgame, after you've charted the contest.
BH: It's back to the hotel to put in all my plays and diagrams into the computer. We have a system, coaches' tools, where we put the plays and calls that can be emailed out right away. After the next game, I sent (Sichting) the calls because he'd already started watching film, and then I sent him the full report in a couple of days.

Q: What are some of the differing sets?
BH: Side out of bounds, baseline out of bounds, early offense, zone offense, end-of-game plays, end-of-quarter plays, need plays (crunch plays, like down by two with five seconds left) or specialty (after timeouts). Some coaches diagram two new plays that we won't have in our book, like Mike Dunleavy with the Clippers. A lot of times, then, we'll decide to zone the Clippers after timeouts because they run good action and we need to take them out of it.

Q: Another thing to keep in mind is that while you're scouting the Pistons, the Wolves are playing someone else and preparing for someone else.
BH: Right. Sometimes teams start to mesh together. Jerry (Sichting) may be asking me about Detroit, while (assistant coach) Bob (Oceipka) is asking about the team we're playing that night. He may call me and ask me if I've seen this or that action, and I'll have to turn my brain back to that other team.

Q: It's kind of like when you're listening to a song and somebody asks you to say how another song goes.
BH: Exactly. You can't do it right away, you have to change the focus. You have to turn that song (Detroit) off so you can start thinking about another one (Charlotte).

Q: What does the actual report consist of?
BH: Everything. The first page has Detroit's starting lineup and depth chart (who's coming in for Billups). There is the general view of their offense and defense and how we've played them in the past. The next page will have offensive keys: boom, boom, boom one after another, maybe seven or eight things that they're doing offensively really well. Then I'll put in four or five keys to stopping their offense, and the next set is defense. How are they going to play us in the post? How are they going to defend high pick and rolls, side pick and rolls, elbow pick and rolls. Then it has zone defenses and press defenses. And so on.

Q: Every possible angle for everything basically. What about player breakdowns?
BH: There are detailed notes on each player: For Rasheed Wallace, it's how he likes to turn to his left shoulder for a hook on the left block, but on the right block he wants to turn baseline. Chauncey Billups likes to split pick and rolls, and if we're too wide on our show he's going to split us. He's a scorer coming off pick and rolls, where as some guys are passers looking to get other people involved. He's a pull up shooter. Richard Hamilton likes to play off the ball, is great coming off pin downs, likes to curl. We have to make sure we chase him. So all that's in the report.

Q: What's next?
BH: The postgame report from the time that we played them before, which we didn't have in this one because we hadn't played Detroit yet. After that comes the play diagrams and play calls.

Q: And after the report is done, you'll meet with or talk to the coaches to talk about it after they've gone through it?
BH: We'll have a meeting to go through it, talk about their plays, and so on. We put my report together with the video edit that (video coordinator) Mike (Lindahl) puts together, and watch it. I also list "Top Sets," or the five or so sets that teams run consistently. Some teams may only run 30 plays, but they run five consistently. Flip Saunders has over 100 plays - we could never cover every play he has in his playbook - but we know there are five or six that we're definitely going to see a higher volume of. We have to know how to deal with those.

Q: The next step is then presenting that information to the players at practice.
BH: Yep, we'll go downstairs for the walk-thru, and if I'm in town, I'll help out. My title's assistant coach and advance scout, so I'm there for assistance. Jerry (Sichting) or J.B. (Bickerstaff) or Bobby O (Ociepka) will handle the walk-thru, but I'm there to answer questions if I'm in town.

Q: Then it's on to the next opponent!
BH: Exactly. That day's over, I gotta move on to the next one.