Interview: Dave Babcock of the Milwaukee Bucks

Interview: Dave Babcock of the Milwaukee Bucks
Apr 25, 2006, 02:27 am
Milwaukee Bucks Director of Player Personnel Dave Babcock took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with DraftExpress Columnist Charlie Bury. Before being promoted to his current position last June, Babcock served as the Bucks director of scouting for seven years. Babcock has also held scouting positions with the New Jersey Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, and Denver Nuggets.

Charlie Bury: I want to start by getting a little background from you. How did you break into the NBA?

Dave Babcock: I was a college coach for 15, 16 years and the last couple years I was a head coach at a junior college in Arizona. My goal was to become a Division 1 head coach and I just missed on a couple jobs. Both my brothers were in the NBA so at that point I just started looking at scouting jobs, and a friend of mine got a New Jersey job so I thought about taking a scouting job like that.

Charlie Bury: Can you describe what your role is now as Director of Player Personnel?

Dave Babcock: Well I wear many different hats. I pretty much cover all over the World really, player wise and scouting. I assist the general manager in salary cap issues, trade issues.

Charlie Bury: How does your job change in the months leading up to the draft?

Dave Babcock: Probably at this time of year I step up the film work. I’m watching more film. On the phone a lot, with agents and coaches and doing a lot of background on players.

Charlie Bury: Even though you’ve known all year that the Bucks only have one second round pick in the upcoming draft, do you still scout the LaMarcus Aldridges and the Tyrus Thomas’ and other top lottery guys even though the chances of the Bucks getting them are slim?

Dave Babcock: Yeah you still have to scout them; you probably don’t do it as intensely. But you still have to know the players, because what if you make a trade, or what if you get lucky? I mean obviously we couldn’t this year, but last year we got the number one pick. You have to be prepared just in case, but you don’t go at it as intense as you would if you knew you were in the lottery.

Charlie Bury: Does that mean you put twice as much effort into scouting guys ranked 20-200?

Dave Babcock: (Laughs) I mean…that’s where our focus is so I make sure I isolate and really prioritize the players I think would be available at that range. I don’t know about 200.

Charlie Bury: How do you actually rank prospects? Is there a big board or a draft board that you use through out the year?

Dave Babcock: Yeah I have a board in my office and we have a database where we do it also. We update it probably weekly or every two weeks.

Charlie Bury: Lets say you have one player ranked maybe 20 on your draft board and another player ranked 21st. When your pick rolls around both players are available. What are some of the factors you look at in deciding who to pick between those similarly ranked players?

Dave Babcock: Well, you have to look at it first as who is that best player, who has the most talent. If that’s equal than you your looking at upside, who has the best upside. Also who fits our team the best would be a factor.

Charlie Bury: What is your definition of upside?

Dave Babcock: Potential to be better in the next few years, say next two to five years.

Charlie Bury: If there was one thing you could change about the whole draft process in terms of bringing in players for workouts, and evaluating them at the pre-draft camps, what would it be?

Dave Babcock: I’m not a big fan of the workouts, bringing players in for workouts. I’ve always felt that can sort of confuse the situation, because you have your coaches see guys workout and if they see a great workout and the guys really not that good a player that makes things hard. I think sometimes you…you spend all this money to scout these players over a one or two or three year period and then you’re going to bring them in for an individual workout and change your whole thinking? I’ve never been a big fan of that. I like the idea of bringing guys in and taking them to dinner and getting to know them as individuals. I like to get to know them as individuals, see how they act, get into conversations.

One of the things I really like to do, and it’s easy for us in Milwaukee because of the proximity of the airport, I like to pick guys up myself at the airport instead of getting a limo driver or having one of the interns pick him up. When I was a college coach recruiting it seems like you got in the best conversations with players when you’re in the car by yourself. Sometimes they open up a little more and they don’t feel pressured. It sounds like a little thing, but its something that I like to do. It takes a little more effort. In a lot of cities you wouldn’t be able to do that just because it’s so hard, but our airport is only ten minutes from our office and it works out so well.

The workout thing…you know certain guys have been picked high off big workouts…and maybe they will end up being players but right you’d say the workout sort of was deceiving. It’s scary.

Charlie Bury: I want to ask you about a guy the Bucks drafted, Ersan Ilyasova. How do you go about scouting a player like Ersan who doesn’t really get any playing time over in Europe? Do you have to rely solely on junior tournaments?

Dave Babcock: Well what happened with him is two years ago, almost three years now, I saw him at a junior tournament in Spain, and he was just tremendous. I mean at his age he was the best player in the world in my opinion from what I saw. Later that year he hurts his ankle bad, and so he’s injured for a year and a half. But I tracked him; I kept track of what he was doing. I went to watch him practice even though he wasn’t 100%. And basically you know, that’s why you go out and scout a lot of players just to see them because you never know what happens down the road. When he was available in the second round, and there were other good players available to us, but his talent and our doctors said they thought he could be healthy with good therapy and time, so we took him and so far we've been really pleased.

Charlie Bury: Is there ever a sense among scouts when you get off a plane after flying halfway around the world to Lithuania or Turkey, do you ever say to yourself “Damn this guy better be good or else I just flew to Lithuania for nothing!”?

Dave Babcock: Yeah, I mean I used to do that in recruiting too. You know, you make a trip and sometimes you end up loving guys and other times you’re disappointed, that’s just the way it is.

Charlie Bury: Do you think that’s maybe why certain teams fall in love with foreign players that they invest so much time and money scouting that really don’t pan out as NBA players?

Dave Babcock: It could be. You grow to like a guy; yeah there could be some of that. And you know workouts some of those guys do look great in workouts

Charlie Bury: The Bucks were one of the first teams to take advantage of the new rules regarding the D-League when you sent Ilyasova down there for the season. What are your opinions of the league and how did it workout for Ersan?

Dave Babcock: Well one thing we were fortunate that everybody with Tulsa was great to work with. Joey Meyer (Tulsa 66er Head Coach) I’ve know for years and that made it easier. It was tough on Ersan, because you know here’s a kid that got drafted by an NBA team and even though he was the youngest guy there was still a little bit of a psychological thing he had to get over to go down there and play. But it turned out great for him. When he went down, there he improved so much over the year. But we put a lot of time and effort in it. We hired a personal trainer, and I was down there at least once or twice a month and several of our other guys went down. By the end of the year he had just really progressed.

Charlie Bury: I actually spoke with Coach Meyer in the middle of the season, and he seemed really impressed.

Dave Babcock: Yeah considering he just turns 19 this next month. And when he came back, he’s with us now, when he came back our coaches and our players, they just went nuts on how much he had improved. And we got him a tutor so his English is a lot better, which you know that makes playing a lot easier for him.

Charlie Bury: With a guy like Ersan and I know you’ve had this issue in the past with Zaza Pachulia, the actual age of the player is in question. How do you get an accurate read on how old a guy really is?

Dave Babcock: Well (laughs) I’m not sure you, do but you know what, I think Ersan’s age is accurate. I think that was just something put out there by someone that wanted to hide him or something. I’m pretty sure he is what he’s supposed to be. And I know Zaza they say that and maybe he is a little older, but you know what he’s a heck of a player whether he’s a year or two older or not. I mean they said that about Mutumbo for years and he’s still in the league so…

Charlie Bury: That’s true. Nobody knows exactly how old he is…

Dave Babcock: I mean some of these eastern block countries and African countries there’s no way you can really confirm (a player’s age). I know this that our doctors think Ersan is about 18 or 19.

Charlie Bury: You mentioned someone maybe put a rumor about Ersan’s age in an attempt to hide him or something like that. Do you believe in smokescreens, and maybe using the media as deception to fool other teams?

Dave Babcock: Yeah I think that happens, I think that happens.

Charlie Bury: Do NBA teams ever share information with each other?

Dave Babcock: Yeah that happens too. But I would say it doesn’t happen a lot. You know if there’s a relationship between two guys with two different NBA teams they may share a little bit. They probably wouldn’t share enough to where they think its hurting their team, but if they’re going to help a friend I could see that.

Charlie Bury: Do ever use your players to get information or background about other players? For example do you ever pull Andrew Bogut aside and say “What can you tell me about this Brad Newley kid?”

Dave Babcock: Yeah Andrew and I have talked about Brad Newley ever since last summer. I mean if I see a kid…like I saw Brad Newley in Argentina and the first time I talked to Andrew when I got back to the states, we talked for about a half an hour about the guy. Yeah that’s a natural (thing to do). I’m not allowed to comment on Brad Newley, but yeah Andrew likes him.

Charlie Bury: What role do agents play in the Draft process? How important is it to have a good relationship with an agent?

Dave Babcock: They affect it very much. The big thing is when we are trying to get players in to meet with, agents really control that heavily. We took Ersan in the second round and we never had him in on a workout or a visit. If he had been healthy, he’d have been a first round pick. If he was in this draft and he was healthy, he’d be a mid first round pick.

Charlie Bury: How important is it for players to find that right situation where they can really appeal to NBA teams?

Dave Babcock. I think it’s very important. I think that’s why over the years you’ve seen some of the top high school guards go to say…Arizona because Lute Olson has had great success in putting his players in a position to succeed. Like Damon Studamire to be a scorer but also be a point guard and be ready for the NBA. So it’s very important. I mean you get a player that gets in a certain program that gets overshadowed and doesn’t get to really show his talents. That happens.

Charlie Bury: The Bucks in particular have been one team that went the route of signing free agents who have really played well at the European level. You struck gold with Charlie Bell, and you signed Daniel Santiago a few years back. Do you see that as a trend among NBA teams now, with players like Bell and Nocioni having success?

Dave Babcock: If it’s not a trend, it should be because they are good players. I think before teams were a little leery, asking “would these players be able to make the adjustment to the NBA?” that kind of thing. I think that now it is becoming much easier for teams to commit to (those players).

Charlie Bury: One of the things Andrew Bogut said before the Draft was that he was happy to come to Milwaukee because of the large city’s Croatian population. I know Milwaukee and Chicago both have large Croatian and Serbian populations. Is that something you guys ever think about as players from those countries maybe fitting in well in Milwaukee?

Dave Babcock: Yeah I think there is some thought to that. For sure. I don’t think that’s the reason we took him (Bogut) but it definitely helps the situation.

Charlie Bury: What would you consider your biggest accomplishment to be in terms of a player you projected?

Dave Babcock: To say just individually I don’t know if I could go there. From a team standpoint something that I was heavily involved with was Michael Redd. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, especially with second rounders. We’ve got Michael Redd. We drafted Rafer Alston who’s still in the league, Jason Hart still in the league, Dan Gadzuric in the league. I’m pretty proud of that. All those things, that wasn’t just me individually but I was involved in all of them

Charlie Bury: Do you ever visit a site like Draftexpress?

Dave Babcock: I visit all those sites just to see what opinions are. I look to see where you’re putting guys, and who you’re putting in there.

Charlie Bury: If someone really wants to be an NBA scout, how do they go about becoming one?

Dave Babcock: It’s not easy. Actually there are two avenues. One is to be a coach in college and try to work that way which is not easy. The other one is as you’re getting out of college, try to volunteer and be an intern for an NBA team and work your way up the ladder.

Charlie Bury: If you didn’t have much time but you had the choice between watching three games on tape, or one game in person what would you choose?

Dave Babcock: If I have never seen the player before, in person by far. Now if I’ve seen the player and I know him pretty well, those three games on tape can be very valuable. But seeing players in person--there’s no substitute for that

Charlie Bury: Do you find yourself in Milwaukee-- and maybe this might be a better question for Larry Harris, but do you find yourself having to sell Milwaukee as a city and an organization a lot more than a Miami or a Las Angeles?

Dave Babcock: Probably so. I’ll tell you this; you ask most of our players they’ll tell you they like it here. But there is a little of that, you know we’re a smaller market, were in colder weather. I think you have to portray it…because it is a great city and the people are great here. So you definitely have to put those positives out there just like any other city would. It really is a great place, and I grew up in Phoenix so its not like I’m used to the cold, but it is a nice city. From this point of the year to October it’s beautiful, and the weather’s not that big a deal, it’s not that bad.

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