All those flights. All those rental cars. All those hotel rooms. And yes, all those games. And practices. Not to mention all those hours and hours spent on the telephone. All of it in an effort to collect every possible crumb of information that will be baked into the cake that gets served up this week. The final result is two or three decisions that everyone agrees are part of a woefully inexact science.
This is what it's like to be Finch. Your whole life is built around one big guessing game.
And this is your big week. On Thursday night, the NBA will hold the 2013 draft in Brooklyn. The overwhelming consensus is that this is the weakest crop of college prospects the league has seen in a long time, maybe ever. Even the international guys have generated one big shrug. But don't think for a second that Finch isn't feeling the same amount of pressure he always feels this time of year.
Regular readers know all about Finch. He is an amalgam of five NBA scouts whom I talked to in recent weeks to get their insights into the main college prospects in this year's draft. Since NBA teams don't like to give away secrets (as if there are any), the scouts spoke with me on the condition that I would grant them anonymity. This also allowed them to tell me what they really think. I'll warn you now: It isn't always pretty.
(Incidentally, I must give credit as always to my colleague Alex Wolff for coming up with the pseudonym Finch. Several years ago, he assigned it to an anonymous scout whom he followed for several months for an SI magazine story. Alex, he of the literary bent, chose the name because it was the character Scout's surname in To Kill A Mockingbird.)
I cherry picked the highlights of what the scouts had to say and gathered them as if they were said by a single person named Finch. Can you feel the draft? Good. Here's what Finch had to say about this year's crop. It's everything you need to know from A (Adams) to Z (Zeller):
Steven Adams, 7-foot center, Pittsburgh: "You see him work out and he does some things athletically at that size that are impressive. He's a funny kid. Different personality than we're used to dealing with. He had no clue how to play. Remember, he's from New Zealand. It's not like he came from Lithuania, where the culture centers around basketball. He grew up on a surfboard."
Anthony Bennett, 6-8 forward, UNLV: "He got soft as the year went on. Why? His desire to play defense is another question. He's a good athlete but not a great one. He's going to be a better player in the pros than he was in college, because when he was in college he played with selfish teammates."
Vander Blue, 6-5 guard, Marquette: "He's a really good athlete, but I'm not sure what position he is. He's a little on the small side to be a two-guard. But he's a really good defender, and he's a tough kid, which most Marquette kids are."
Lorenzo Brown, 6-5 point guard, N.C. State: "He's a converted point guard, so that's where we have him slotted. He has done OK in his workouts. Didn't shoot it extremely well. He's a little wild, a little inconsistent. I like Pierre Jackson more."
Reggie Bullock, 6-7 guard, North Carolina: "He can really stroke it. Just an OK athlete. OK defensively. I'll tell you what else he does is he rebounds. When they had that run after Roy Williams went small, he averaged like nine rebounds a game. He doesn't pass it much, but he doesn't turn it over, either. We interviewed him, and he was not very good."
Trey Burke, 6-1 point guard, Michigan: "I like Burke because he's a winner, he's tough, and he can score. He's got some D.J. Augustin in him. He loves to prove people wrong. We like our guards big, but look at guys like Chris Paul and Tony Parker. I think Burke is a solid point guard but I don't see the all-star level."
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 6-6 guard, Georgia: "He takes tough shots, but he makes a lot of 'em. He can score in a multitude of ways. He scores really high in our analytical projections. His weight is a concern because he'll have to defend some of the stronger two guards, but that's about it. He's a great kid, just a southern nice guy, not overwhelmed by the process."
Michael Carter-Williams, 6-6 point guard, Syracuse: "I like him, but don't love him. He's turnover prone. I think he's a year-and-a-half away from making an impact. If he can shoot, he can be a starter, but right now he's a bad shooter. But that's one thing you can get better at if you work at it. He's going to get you steals -- he is really good in those passing lanes -- but defensively Syracuse players are definitely less prepared for the NBA because they play that zone. In the end he's not going to fall out of the top 10 because he's a point guard with size."
Isaiah Canaan, 6-foot guard, Murray State: "I'm still trying to figure him out. He's one of the best shooters in the draft, but is he a small two, or is he a converted point guard? I almost see him as too nice. He's not really a killer. For as strong as he is he doesn't really play a physical kind of game. He's not that quick, but scouts have a saying: You automatically become quicker when you can make shots, because people have to guard you out there."
Allen Crabbe, 6-6 guard, California: "He can really shoot. Smarter player than he's probably gotten credit for. Strength and mental toughness is a little bit of a concern. He has been disappointing in workouts. He looks great as long as he doesn't have to compete."
DeWayne Dedmon, 7-foot center, USC: "He's another one who should have stayed in school because he's so young in terms of basketball experience. He's not a bad shooter for his size, but he lacks strength. Maybe he gets drafted, but I don't see him being a roster guy."
Gorgui Dieng, 6-11 center, Louisville: "He's smart. You can play through him. He can make a 15-foot jump shot. People compare him to Roy Hibbert, but Hibbert is bigger and was more of a scorer in college. He has to become a better free throw shooter."
Jamaal Franklin, 6-5 guard, San Diego State: "Right now, he's not a good enough shooter to be an NBA two-guard. It's tough to get on the court at that position if you're not a great shooter or a great defender. He's got freak athleticism and he can pass better than people know. He works so hard I think he can become a better shooter. Remember, Kawhi Leonard didn't hit threes in college, either."
Archie Goodwin, 6-5 guard, Kentucky: "He's a good athlete who handles the ball well. Calipari tried to play him at the point but he doesn't have that mentality. I don't see him contributing right away. He's not John Jenkins, he's not Orlando Johnson, he's not Jeffery Taylor. You have to remember, he's just turning 19. He's a D League guy, but he was a McDonald's All-American who was recruited by Kentucky. Let's look back in a few years and see what we have."
Erick Green, 6-3 guard, Virginia Tech: "He's a scorer, but he's not a great athlete, he doesn't play defense, and he doesn't have an aggressive personality. He's going to have to get stronger. He's OK for me. He's an undersized two guard, and he's not a special athlete. I don't know if he's a first rounder."
Solomon Hill, 6-7 forward, Arizona: "He was one of the most impressive kids we interviewed. He was extremely serious, articulate, very thoughtful with some of the questions we asked. But I'm not sure what you do with him. I don't know how athletic he is. He's a second rounder at best."
Tim Hardaway, Jr., 6-6 guard, Michigan: "He has shown improvement because he's an extremely hard worker. Defensively he's just average. He needs to become a better shooter, especially off the dribble. He's a better athlete than Bullock. If I'm picking late teens or early 20s and he's available, I would take him. His problem is the position he plays at the next level is really hard."
Pierre Jackson, 5-11 point guard, Baylor: "The main concern obviously is his size. He is really little. Now Nate Robinson overcame that, Muggsy Bogues overcame that, so he can overcome it too because he's got strength and athleticism. He was great in that run they had in the NIT. He is one confident dude. I don't think he can get into the first round, but I think he plays in our league."
Grant Jerrett, 6-10 forward, Arizona: "He's young, but he's a really good outside shooter. He could be a good stretch four. He's almost seven feet, so if he gets stronger and bigger maybe he could play the five. He's doing really well in his workouts, but he's a project. He can shoot but he has a bad body. His body fat is really high. He'll probably get drafted and end up in the D League for a while."
Myck Kabongo, 6-3 point guard, Texas: "I'm not feeling him. Never have. He probably should have gone back to Texas, although I don't know if they wanted him back. He's one of the fastest guys in the draft so he's intriguing, but his outside shooting and decision making are concerns. I think he's a project."
Ryan Kelly, 6-11 forward, Duke: "He does nothing for me. He's broken physically. He can shoot it some. He's a typical stretch four and he knows how to play. He may be a tough one for teams to take because he's had the same injury twice, and it's in the foot. The injury and his lack of strength may impede him from being drafted."
Shane Larkin, 6-foot point guard, Miami: "Stud athlete, stud kid. His size is never going to change, so the question is whether your coach can live with that. He had a 44-inch vertical at the combine. He's gonna be pretty damn good, man. If you have talented pieces around him, he's going to be really good because he likes to get others involved. He's an off-the-charts kid. He is truly about the team."
Ricardo Ledo, 6-6 guard, Providence: "I saw him in practice. He is very talented. He can slash, shoot the jump shot, pass the ball. He's got a chance to be special if he can play the point, but I don't know if he can think the game at that level. He's had a really tough life. He did a great job in our interview. Talked about some of the other guys in the draft, and he really nailed it."
Alex Len, 7-1 center, Maryland: "You see someone his size who is talented offensively, but you look up and he averages 11 and 9 and you're like, what the hell is going on? When he wanted to do well, like against Nerlens Noel or Mason Plumlee, he did it, but why wasn't that there every night? He's young and he's still becoming Americanized. The coaches at Maryland swear he's a special shooter, but special shooters don't shoot 68 percent from the foul line."
C.J. Leslie, 6-9 forward, N.C. State: "I'm not a fan. I know he's a great athlete, but he's undersized, turnover prone, and he doesn't shoot. He'll dazzle you every now and then but he's not real consistent. He got nothing done there in three years."
Trevor Mbakwe, 6-8 forward, Minnesota: "On the court I think he can contribute, but the off-court stuff has to be cause for concern. I think he makes a roster. He's undersized. Maybe he could make it as a Reggie Evans or Paul Millsap type, but he's not as good as either of those guys."
Ray McCallum, 6-2 point guard, Detroit: "He's an NBA player. He was one of the top point guards in the country coming out of high school, and I don't think he has gotten worse. He's a great athlete for his position, which is an attack point guard. We're getting more of those kinds of point guards in our league. He has to become a better outside shooter and finish better around the basket, but he's a gym rat, a coach's son, and he understands how to play the game. He's athletic, but he doesn't use it enough. I would love to see him go through traffic and dunk on somebody."
C.J. McCollum, 6-3 guard, Lehigh: "Love the kid. Has intelligence and a little bit of toughness. He's not a true point guard, but he can play a little combo. He gets his own shot a lot for someone who doesn't look like he's blowing by people. His foot injury is no concern."
Ben McLemore, 6-5 guard, Kansas: "He's not very good off the bounce and he's not great at creating his own shot, but he's the best shooter in the draft. Lack of killer instinct is certainly a question, but the fact that he's humble helps him. I think he'll be a better pro than Nerlens. He's got growth in his game."
Tony Mitchell, 6-9 forward, North Texas: "I think he's Shawn Marion. He's that good of an athlete. The problem is he falls in line with the Royce Whites of the world where they think they have everything under control. I mean, if you're the only NBA player in the Sun Belt, how is your team one of the worst in the league? Overall intelligence is a question, too. That's something we're digging into. You don't have to be a rocket scientist, but you have to have some innate intelligence. He just didn't have a good year."
Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6 forward, UCLA: "He takes a lot of criticism for a guy who scored 18 a game as a freshman in the Pac-12. He was very forthright in his interview, didn't shy away from answering any questions. He had 27 assists for the whole year. When I saw that, I thought it was a misprint. What I want to know is, for a guy who is known to work out hard and train, and he has supposedly been trained by some of the best trainers on the west coast, why the hell doesn't he have a right hand? I think he's gonna slide, I really do."
Erik Murphy, 6-10 forward, Florida: "He's a good shooter, but he really needs space. He can't put the ball on the floor. I don't think he's an NBA player, but he'll be able to play overseas."
Mike Muscala, 6-11 forward, Bucknell: "He has a tremendous amount of talent, but he's really soft. He wants nothing to do with any physicality down low, and I don't think he has enough stuff off the bounce to be Byron Mullens. At Bucknell, they have one strength coach for all their sports. When he does this for a living, he could get bigger and stronger. But at the end of the day I just don't think he's good enough."
Nerlens Noel, 7-foot center, Kentucky: "His knee injury shouldn't be a concern. Guys come back from that pretty readily. He's a game changer at the defensive end, but I don't ever see him being a 16-plus-a-night scorer. But Tyson Chandler was the second best player on a title winning team, and he can't score either. His camp seems to be focused on getting him hooked up with Hollywood. He's going to be a solid pro, but he's not going to be your standard No. 1 pick. He's got a little waist and rounded shoulders."
Victor Oladipo, 6-4 guard, Indiana: "Love his makeup. Great worker. On defense he plays like Tony Allen. He took very limited attempts to get that high (three-point) percentage. My question is, has he had his big jump already of improvement? The fact that he's a top five pick is an indictment of this draft."
Kelly Olynyk, 7-foot forward, Gonzaga: "He's a big bastard, man. He shoots it. You have to hope you can get an average defender out of him. I'm not sure he wants any kind of contact, and I'm not sure about his mental toughness. He had good numbers this year, but when you look deeper, you ask what bigs did he play against? He was a great interview. Really good dude. I enjoyed talking to him as much as anybody we've met with."
Mason Plumlee, 7-foot center, Duke: "He's 23-and-a-half and he still doesn't have any skill. I don't ever see him becoming a pick-and-pop guy. He can run the court and his post defense is good. He's going to be a solid backup guy but I'm not effusive about him. He's going to have to play center. He has tiny hips. He's not going to get all that much bigger physically."
Otto Porter, 6-9 forward, Georgetown: "He just knows how to play. He does a little bit of everything. He has come really far. I saw him in high school. He weighed about 45 pounds. The one thing that concerns me about him is he's not an elite athlete, and he has to guard at his position. It scared me that he played so poorly against Florida Gulf Coast, but he's really smart, so I think he'll figure it out."
Phil Pressey, 6-foot point guard, Missouri: "He didn't have a great year. He's a streaky outside shooter, and his decision making at times is not good. Whether he makes it in the NBA depends on which team drafts him, but he may have to pick the minor league route to make his way into the league. I think Jacob Pullen is a better shooter, scorer and leader, and Pullen is not in the league."
Glen Rice Jr., 6-6 forward, Michigan/NBDL: "Great bloodlines. Not as good a shooter as his dad, but still one of the better shooters in this draft. He has played the NBA game for a full year so he is slightly ahead of the college guys. I worry that he thinks he's better than he is and he disrupts the game for other people. He still settles too much for his jump shot. Someone could pull the trigger on him in the first round."
Peyton Siva, 6-1 point guard, Louisville: "He brings you energy and defense. It's just a matter of can he knock down open threes. He can guard a little bit, he's really athletic and strong. Because of his pedigree and Pitino's influence, maybe he gets a year. I can't get over the hump with him. Some guys are just very good college players."
Tony Snell, 6-7 forward, New Mexico: "He's a really good shooter. Long and lean. He relies too much on the jump shot and not his ability to put it on the floor and create. His motor needs to be a lot higher. I think he plays at his own pace. Some of our guys like him more than I do."
James Southerland, 6-8 forward, Syracuse: "He's not as good a shooter as I thought he would be. [He] really moves kind of stiff."
Adonis Thomas, 6-6 forward, Memphis: "He has a great body, but he hasn't produced the numbers we all expected when he came out of high school. He relies too much on his jump shot instead of punishing people going to the basket or posting up. The fact that he wants to be Joe Johnson is borderline ridiculous. He's a four, we're debating whether he can be a three, yet he calls himself a two."
Deshaun Thomas, 6-7 forward, Ohio State: "He's going to struggle. He has been a mismatch in college because he had the advantage in size and quickness, but that won't be the case in the NBA. He has always been a scorer, but he's too small to be a four, and that's where he played his whole career at Ohio State. He's not athletic or quick enough to create or guard the three, and he's not big enough to play the four. So he's your classic tweener."
Jeff Withey, 7-foot center, Kansas: "He can be a good shot blocker in the NBA. He can also affect and alter shots around the basket because of his length. He has no upside, but he's really good at what he does. He shot about 70 percent from the foul line, so if he can make a 12-footer and be a pick-and-pop guy, that will make a huge difference."
Nate Wolters, 6-5 point guard, South Dakota State: "An extremely smart basketball player. He has improved his shot and has a good runner. My main concern is whether he can guard a quick guard. He has a chance to make it in the NBA depending on which team he is with. If you look at his stats this year before he hurt his ankle, he shot like 48 percent from three. I'm not saying he'll be great, but he's definitely an NBA player. His first step is quicker than people realize."
Khalif Wyatt, 6-4 guard, Temple: "He has an extremely old man's game, where it's dribble-dribble-back-you-in and take a shot over you. He needs some coach to put him out there and let him do his thing, but who's going to give him that type of freedom? I don't know if he can guard anybody. I'm not sure he's a draftable player. I would pass."
B.J. Young, 6-4 point guard, Arkansas: "I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole. He just goes on his natural talent. I don't think he really knows how to play. I've heard he doesn't work real hard during the summer. He can't shoot and he's wild."
Cody Zeller, 7-foot forward, Indiana: "The best running big man in the draft. He's a better face-up player than we were shown in college. He has to get stronger on his post-ups, but he handles the ball well for a guy his size. If he develops a jump shot, that will give him more space to drive. I think he has great upside. When you talk to him, you see he's an elite human being. He really gets it, and physically he's an elite athlete."