How To Become A Basketball Scout For The NBA?

Justin D. Johnson
Justin D. Johnson

I confidently gazed out over the full-sized NBA court, my hawk-like eyes analyzing every detail. My line of work is mysterious, and a lot of people ask me how to become a basketball scout in the NBA.

The impacts of my decisions are felt later on, like bravely ordering a spicy array of curries. NBA Scouts are mythical, secretive beings, like Jedi Knights, we wield an unseen power. You don’t need a ton of qualifications or degrees to become an NBA scout, some other factors are more important.

With the right skill set and experience, you can turn yourself into one of the NBA’s many revered scouts. My article will show you how to scout prospective players, as well as professional basketballers within the NBA, for trades between teams.

The Importance Of Good NBA Scouting

Make no mistake, nothing happens overnight for NBA scouts. The four different kinds of scouting affect everything, including game results, and the NBA teams need all four factions to function flawlessly.

Incomplete or incorrect scouting reports can be the difference between a win or a loss, but they can also decide the strength of a future NBA squad. NBA scouts have to correctly assess trades, college prospects, international players, and opponents. 

All aspects of an athlete’s game need to be converted into actionable data, which technology has made easier these days. They don’t always get it right, crystal balls and shamans unfortunately have no power in this dynamic industry, though I’m sure some have tried.

How To Become An NBA Scout

Chalk up your hands, here we go. There is not a clear-cut road to becoming an NBA scout, but I’ve seen countless come and go around me, and I know what’s required.

Here’s what you need to get started in the world of scouting, in no particular order.

1. Experience And Passion

Being immersed in the world of basketball at all levels is what will propel you into a scouting career. This isn’t like working at Arby’s or Home Depot, I’ve interviewed countless hopeful applicants who seem to think that this is a career where you can clock in and out each day.

Scouts live and work in this basketball world, and you can’t afford to be out of touch. You need your fingers on the pulse of the sport.

2. Education

Build yourself into an asset for an NBA team by getting a related qualification, such as sports or business management. I love to see this on applicants’ CVs, it shows intent and commitment to the craft of scouting. Some diplomas and courses are more specifically aimed at NBA scouting, like this 8-week course from one institution.

These kinds of qualifications aren’t mandatory, but I urge you to be as competitive as you can and build up your education if you can. You wouldn’t want to come in second place when you get compared to a slightly more educated candidate.

3. Networking

The NBA scouts are a closely-knit bunch, and they keep their circles small. This ties into what I said earlier about passion, surround yourself with basketball fanatics and industry insiders. Connections in this sport will open doors for you all over the world.

4. Repeat Step #1

If you aren’t passionate, you’re going to be passed over. I’m like a truffle pig when I’m interviewing for scouting positions, I’m going to sniff out your dedication, and there had better be a lot of it. I need to feel like you go to sleep watching game footage, and reading player stats with your morning coffee.

The Salary Of An NBA Scout

Scouts sometimes have other pursuits or part-time occupations, because the salary at the lower end isn’t exactly a slam dunk.

Salaries vary, just like experience and qualifications. The bottom 10% of professional scouts earn around $18,000 yearly, while the most successful scouts can fortune-tell their way to a cool $70,000 or more. If your professional opinion is in demand, NBA teams want to pay for that. Even if fans don’t truly understand the impact of a team’s scouts, the managers and coaches do.

Not all schedules are created equal, there’s traveling and lots of behind-the-scenes work. My schedule left no room for sleep sometimes, but it all depends on which kind of scouting you are doing.

The 4 Main Kinds Of Scouting

NBA scouts have their eyes on everything, but they specialize in one area of their field. Each area has different requirements, and scouting in the US is vastly different from scouting in Europe or other overseas nations.

1. College and University Scouting

Ask an NBA fan what they think a scout does, and they will probably dream up an image of someone holding a clipboard on the sidelines of a college basketball game. Scouting might start on the university courts, but it doesn’t end there.

It’s a crucially important stage of the scouting process because you might discover the next Lebron James or Michael Jordan. It’s also slightly more complex than the other kinds of scouting, because of the prediction and inference element that’s required. You need to watch a player and extrapolate, and you won’t be right 100% of the time.

2. Pro Scouting

They already play on NBA teams, so why would I scout professional players?

A top-level NBA squad is like a Lego house, it’s lost a few pieces along the way to become what it is today. Just like Lego, trades need to be made each season to hone your roster. Perhaps you are lacking a competent point guard, or you need to upgrade your power forward, pro scouts will tell you which players you should bring onto an NBA team. It goes deeper than statistics, a player’s mindset is equally important, because acquiring a player that doesn’t mesh will only hamper your playoff run.

3. International Scouting

You’d better have room in your passport to be an international scout for the NBA.

You’ll be traveling the globe, staying for a few games, then clearing customs for the next flight. Networking skills are ultra-valuable for these scouts, as they will encounter a range of cultures, and different methodologies. They do things differently overseas, but a scout still needs to collect all of the data they need, despite being in a foreign country.

4. Advance Scouting

Advance scouting means much the same thing as it did centuries ago when armies would dispatch soldiers to examine the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. I think of advance scouting as a form of legal sporting espionage.

For this variety, you’ll be assessing opposing teams for at least 3 or 4 games before a scheduled meet. You’re essentially telling your general about chinks in the armor you’ve seen, as well as areas of fortitude. You’ll be traveling within the country, but your schedule is going to be demanding, so keep that in mind.

NBA Scouting Disasters

Scouts have to predict the future occasionally, with mixed results. It surprises nobody that some of the stars of the NBA these days were downplayed and overlooked by my fellow courtside fortune-tellers.

Dwayne Wade

Scouts were concerned that the Miami Heat monster wasn’t tall enough for his position, and they considered him a mid-range shooter at best. 

Dwayne defied the scouts and became one of the best players of all time, a member of the 75th NBA Anniversary Team, an All-Star MVP, and a gold medalist.

Kyrie Irving

Nothing special, just “safe and solid”, they said. NBA scouts couldn’t have been more wrong as they labeled Irving a low-scoring, deliberate player.

Irving went on to win gold medals at the 2016 Olympics, a good enough success metric for any scouter. The seven-time All-Star obviously didn’t care to read his scouting report.

Michael Beasley

Wrong decisions can bloom into unseen potential, or spiral down after overblown hype. Currently playing for the Shanghai Sharks, Michael Beasley was touted as a well-rounded and dominant baller as he left Kansas State.

Things developed in the opposite direction, Beasley often made clueless defensive decisions and hopeless shots. He still lasted 11 years in the NBA, but never reached the heights the scouts had hoped for.

Think you can control the fate of an NBA team?

NBA scouts pull the strings of NBA teams, from trades and acquisitions, to draft day picks. It’s not an armchair occupation, you have to love this sport or you’ll find yourself benched.

Take a critical look at your qualifications. You’ll need experience, passion, and relevant education to catch my eye. This industry is getting more advanced every day, and the introduction of machine learning and AI programs are ushering in a new era of precise predictions. If you’re able to stay on top of new developments, you’ll rise to the top.

I’m off to New York to catch a Knicks game, but it will be one of the last games that I attend as a scout. I’ll be retiring soon, and I can’t wait to step back and watch this beautiful game as a fan. This is a fantastic career, and I hope that you make the first steps toward being a professional scout.

Justin D. Johnson
Justin D. Johnson
Justin is a PhD student at Stanford University and has been a basketball youth coach for over ten years. He is passionate about sports, cinema, astronomy, and sharing knowledge.