The Miami Heat balcony box had enough tablets and notepads to look like a nuclear reactor control room, but it was full of NBA scouts and had no physicist in sight.
The difference was we weren’t making salaries for nuclear reactor technicians, an average of $19,000 less. In the United States, the median NBA scout’s salary is just under $44,500. Considering the age of most NBA scouts, that isn’t a high salary.
Spectacular and shrewd scouts pick up a more respectable rate, at around $83,000 a year. They might get even more though, continue reading to see how.
Is Scouting A Full-Time Job?
Teams need a wide range of staff in their scouting departments; the hands-on and the IT sides work in tandem to shape the squad.
NBA teams need full-time scouts, but only a few. The Dallas Mavericks employ six, The New York Knicks have four and a scouting manager, and the Golden State Warriors seem to only have two scouts on the payroll this year. There are also part-time jobs, but in my experience, those were as common as buzzer-beaters before Steph Curry joined the NBA.
One of Golden State’s scouts is fittingly named Reggie Rankin. When he left ESPN to take the scouting job back in 2007, he said, “This is a dream come true for me and my family.”
Was it a dream, Mr. Rankin, or perhaps the plan from the beginning?
The Stresses of Basketball Scouting
The public sees ex-players, coaches, and managers in suits at games, seemingly enjoying a pretty relaxing career. You don’t see the hundreds of days on the road, flights that get re-routed, or the absence of family time.
COVID-19 broke the backboard when it dunked on professional sports leagues around the globe. The impact wasn’t as bad for the athletes, who were protected like North Korean dictators eating a late afternoon lunch. My flights were canceled, plans unraveled, and we tried to adapt digitally.
Travel expenses annoy me the most. Despite my team covering almost every cost, I still lose part of my salary abroad. Some of these airports want $5 for a bottle of water, and the amount of incorrect gym addresses I am given is infuriating.
My bills won’t stop while I analyze the future NBA wrist flickers. There’s my mortgage, electricity bill, and insurance payments to make, whether I’m there or abroad.
NBA Scout Perks
The whole job might be one humungous perk if you like basketball enough. I often forget that I am working.
1. Free Tickets
Think of all of the free games you will see! Tickets cost hundreds of dollars, but you can put your warm leather wallet back in your jeans because your team has this expense covered. Thousands of dollars in free NBA tickets, usually from great seats with clear views of the action.
Even with the wave of new tech and analytic programs, travel is still a big part of being a professional NBA scout. Video and stats can’t tell you about a player’s mindset, and you’re sure to see things clearly by watching them play first hand.
Sometimes you’ll be courtside in states or countries you’ve never been to. International scouts can watch basketball games in places most people never even think to visit. You’ll have to adjust to each new city, but that’s part of the fun.
3. Exposure to NBA Talent
Will you get starstruck beside some of the NBA’s biggest names and shoes? You’ll have to keep your composure around these giants because you’ll be at their practices, in their locker rooms, plus interviewing the lofty legends. Some people would probably scout for free for that kind of exposure!
How Much Do NBA Scouts Make?
You’ve got to set yourself apart from the other pencil pushers if you want the top spot with a matching salary, competition is high, and positions are limited.
There is much room to negotiate here since your hard skills are less valuable than your perceived skill. The average salary for an NBA scout is roughly $21, or $44,500 per year, and you will have to hand 22% of that to Uncle Sam, so you will end up with around $39,000 when the chalk settles.
That’s the average; now let’s talk about the highs and lows.
Top NBA Scout Salaries
There are many scouting jobs available online, but you won’t find many posts from NBA teams. Top NBA scouts usually hold on to the position for a long time, getting better each year like a bottle of whiskey.
The contracts that NBA teams make with elite scouts are all made behind oak doors, in rooms full of leather and large books. We know that top talent gets nearly $72,000, but that number might inflate with each year and each astute acquisition.
The bad news is scouts don’t change careers too often, and the demand isn’t high. Because of this, networking and promoting yourself are even more crucial on your trudge to the top of Mount Salary. Your next job offer might land in your lap if you have the right connections.
Lowest NBA Scout Salaries
Some of us think about the NBA full-time, but we can’t make a full-time commitment for other reasons. I actually support the idea of scouts working two jobs; the low salary and the travel don’t leave much room for balance.
For those starting out or in their first few years of scouting, you can get $30,000 or more. That’s with the right qualifications, but you can likely get a higher salary than that. I looked at some job sites and found universities hiring for scouting positions offering up to $52,000, which is closer to the average salary for NBA scouts.
The Four Main Kinds Of NBA Scouts
1. University and College Basketball Scouts
How good are you at predicting the future? If you answered “very good” or “decent,” you can use those clairvoyant abilities as a university or college basketball scout. These scouts need to predict the future trajectory of a player in the NBA; that’s no easy task. When scouting Florida universities, I looked for these factors to evaluate a player’s athleticism.
- Jumping ability
- Physical strength
- Straight-line speed
Athleticism metrics must be compared, and then we must look at a player’s potential. Take out the crystal ball and peer into the young athlete’s future. You can easily miscalculate a basketball player’s potential, but you won’t know it for several years, if ever. A very well-educated guess is the best we can do.
2. Professional Basketball Personnel Scouts
These scouts are responsible for an extensive range of information, and being savvy with statistics is an essential requirement. You’ll need to keep track of injury reports, trades, team dynamics, and free agents, just to name a few responsibilities. Personnel scouts work tirelessly during trade deadlines and drafts.
3. Advance Basketball Scouts
If James Bond had to find a career in the NBA, he would be an advanced scout. You’ll be traveling around the country and building a dossier of data on your opponents. Knowing how your opponents have been playing for the past few games is invaluable; you can exploit weaknesses and prepare your squad.
Check out this 10-second clip; advance scouts will see this and commit the exploitable hand signal to memory.
4. International Basketball Scouts
These scouts enjoy the most variety and change of scenery; they circle the globe in search of rising talent. The NBA is becoming increasingly global; for the 2022-2023 season, 120 international players from 40 countries and six continents are scattered throughout the teams. Those players were scouted and subsequently acquired based on an international scout’s opinion.
The amount of travel is pretty unappealing to most people but part of the allure for others.
5. Basketball Analytics and Video Scouts
It might not seem like scouting, but it qualifies. The IT side of scouting doesn’t get parades or fanfare, but coaches and teams rely on them heavily. The analysis is time-consuming, though things have progressed due to technology. NBA teams need scouts with keen eyes to develop future considerations, break down team footage, and do draft rankings. These backroom heroes also prepare footage for the coaches to use during practice, such as play breakdowns.
Now you know all about NBA scouts’ salaries
Do you think the average $44,500 salary is a slam dunk or a foul? If you read the article and felt inspired, check out some available scouting jobs here and here. Most of them might not be within the NBA, but you need a stepping stone before you make it to the big leagues.
I’m going to include some helpful resources here, which I wish someone had done for me when I was a hopeful scout-to-be.
Check out some courses on NBA scouting here and here.
This Youtube interview delivers valuable insight from a former scout.
Check out the other Champ Lair article about how to become an NBA scout here.
Thanks for reading, and as always, stay healthy