The process once entailed NBA prospects shaking hands with executives. Then they performed in-person workouts before those same people. Before or after the workout, they dined while trying to show both their professionalism and their personality.
Leading up to this year's NBA draft on Nov. 18, however, the process has played out much differently. The routine has become similar to what most people have experienced since the coronavirus outbreak started.
"It’s been very, very unique with all the Zoom meetings," said Aaron Nesmith, a sophomore forward from Vanderbilt. "I never used Zoom before in my life. Now I use it almost every day."
So do NBA teams.
Larry Harris, the Golden State Warriors assistant general manager and director of player personnel, said the front office has interviewed about 160 prospects virtually ever since the NCAA canceled its tournament in mid-March. Presumably, the Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 1), Charlotte Hornets (No. 3), Chicago Bulls (No. 4) and Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 5) have been just as thorough.
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"There's no one to blame here, but it isn't what we normally would do," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "It makes it harder for everyone. It makes it harder for the players, agents, teams and medical personnel."
That is because there are numerous safety restrictions.
Teams can watch up to 10 in-person workouts in the prospect’s home market, but those teams have no influence over what the workouts will entail. Teams have also prioritized witnessing projected lottery picks complete their workouts over prospects projected to land later in the first or second round. Each team can bring up to four people to these workouts, three that work in basketball operations and one that works on the medical staff. Teams can collect the prospects’ medical records through the NBA. But they cannot do as much as they could if the full training staff had access to prospects.
Aaron Nesmith said he uses Zoom "almost every day" while preparing for the NBA draft. (Photo: Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel)
Although teams can interview and dine with prospects in person, they have to obey social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitary rules. They also lack game footage to study from the NCAA tournament, something Harris considered "significant."
"You get a chance to see the cream rising to the top. Some people separate themselves in the NCAA tournament," Harris told USA TODAY Sports. "And when you get a guy in your city, you can take him out to eat and you can spend some time with him. There’s just something more you get rather than just talking to him on a virtual call."
As for the prospects, some acknowledged the potential consequences of not having a chance to polish their résumé in the NCAA tournament. Or the chance to further show their personality in person during interviews.
Once the NCAA canceled the tournament in March, prospects spent the ensuing weeks in quarantine without a chance to train in an actual facility.
"That was probably the toughest thing," said Isaac Okoro, Auburn’s freshman forward. "I’m a guy who always likes to work out. If I’m not working out, I feel like I’m lacking or I’m slacking."
Since then, prospects have created a more consistent routine.
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