At NBA draft combine, interviews can be telling

Danny Ainge and his NBA colleagues will put prospects through their paces at the combine this week. AP Photo/Josh Reynolds
Josh Reynolds/AP
Danny Ainge and his NBA colleagues will put prospects through their paces at the combine this week.

CHICAGO — Approaches vary.

Some NBA teams believe in interrogation-like tactics, with the potential draftee seated at a round table, surrounded by officials firing tough questions from all angles.

Others prefer a relaxed setting, maybe a one-on-one interview on a couch — chill, as they say.


There are good-cop/bad-cop methods, including a table with a single light set up next to it, just as in your basic television police drama. And some forward-thinking clubs have psychologists lead the session, asking personal, probing queries.

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In the end, NBA teams at the league’s predraft combine, which began Wednesday and runs for four days, want to learn as much as possible during interviews with prospects, often by whatever means necessary.

About 60 prospects will attend the invitation-only combine, the league’s largest in advance of the June 26 draft, and teams are allowed to interview as many as 18, for up to 30 minutes.

Of course, interviews are only part of the combine, where prospects also will go through drills, and be measured and medically examined.

But some teams consider the interviews to be the most valuable part, especially as the combine no longer features five-on-five scrimmages.


“It’s all for the interviews,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “There’s nothing else to it.”

Said a Western Conference executive, “The important thing for me right now is the interview process with these guys, just getting to know them a little bit better, finding a little bit more about them, just adding a little bit more to the whole package, and then making your decision.”

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the interview is that agents go to great lengths to prep their clients, drilling them on exactly how to answer a wide range of questions.

“They’re machines, expecting what questions to answer,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “That usually lasts 5-10 minutes, and then you start throwing curveball questions and you really start to see who these kids are and you can kind of get them to open up.

“I just think it’s an interesting process and it’s a lot of fun.”


Naturally, prospects often face many of the same questions in every interview.

“Every team is asking the same thing,” the scout said. “Every team already knows the answers to most of the questions they’re asking.”

But Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes that even if the prospects are trained on what to say, it might not help.

“They don’t know what questions we’re going to ask,” he said.

The interview can also be a test of sorts, because teams have scouted many prospects all season long — in some cases, for years — so they know full well the player’s background.

“That’s one thing you can sometimes tell in an interview, if a kid is honest or not,” Ainge said.

To get honest answers, or something beyond scripted responses, teams use differing techniques.

“For me, it’s not important to be combative with the kid,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “I think it’s important to have a kid relaxed and he’ll show more of himself. That’s just the way I approach it.”

Said the Western Conference executive, “I try not to put them on the spot. I’ll occasionally ask them a difficult question if they’ve had anything happen in the past to see if they answer it truthfully.

“But these kids are nervous enough. You want to get a truthful answer out of them, so I put them at ease.”

League sources said some teams, including Dallas and Indiana, have used psychologists to lead their interviews with prospects.

“I don’t know which teams did that, but I know there was one team where, literally, the kid, he just introduced himself to the coach, GM, and scouts and then talked to the psychologists,” said an Eastern Conference scout.

Other teams can be more aggressive in “grilling” prospects, executives said, and the settings for those interviews can seem intense.

In general, one Eastern Conference scout said, putting prospects through a battery of interviews with different teams is “not an accurate evaluation of a young person.

“So let’s say someone at North Carolina graduated as a student in the business school and they went to go interview with IBM. They’re interviewing at IBM. They’re not interviewing for Google, Yahoo, Xerox, and Hewlett-Packard. They’re going in to interview with one business. They’re prepping for it that particular day, whereas with us, it’s a cattle call.”

The top dozen or so players who might be drafted in the lottery will also be interviewed by the national media.

“So that’s compounded,” the scout said. “So for 3-4 days, we’ve set up an unrealistic evaluating combine. But, look, at the end of the day, it’s a business, it’s entertainment, and the league uses the four days as a great advertising tool prior to the draft.”

Baxter Holmes can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.