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Nets European Scouting Director: Difficult to find hidden gems anymore

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In an interview with Sportando, the Italian sports site, on Friday, the Nets European scouting director Simone Casali says finding a hidden gem in European backwaters is extremely rare, that with technology, “everything is already discovered.”

“In the last decade, it’s no longer necessary to find someone that others don’t know about,” said Casali, a former Euroleague GM with Olimpio Milano in Italy. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re working on players who everyone already knows about. The goal at that point is having as much info as possible and coming up with a complete picture.

“The talent scout that discovers a player outside the cities no longer exists. If there is a boy in Armenia, it comes out. Then it’s our job to find out if he’s worth it or not,” Casali told Sportando’s Cantieri Aperti 365 show.

Casali has been with the Nets since 2017, working with the team’s longtime European scout Danko Cvjeticanin, an Olympic teammate of Drazen Petrovic. Last year, the Nets hired J.R. Holden, a former Euroleague star who’s based out of Detroit, as their director of player personnel, also a scouting position. All three had previous NBA scouting experience, Casali with the Rockets, Cvjeticanin with the 76ers and Holden with the 76ers and Pistons. Tiago Splitter, a Nets assistant coach who works primarily in player development, has also been employed to scout players in South America as well as the U.S.

Casali says the three alternate scouting players, both draft picks and potential free agents, who he describes as “those already evolved.” On occasion, he, Cvjeticanin and Holden will attend big events together as they did last September for the ABA Super Cup played in Zagreb, Croatia. No information on who they were looking at but among those who played were Borisa Simanic, a Serbian 7-foot who could wind up in the second round, and Rashawn Thomas, a 6’8” forward who the Nets worked out in 2017 but went undrafted.

In describing the process that leads up to a prospect getting drafted, Casali, who has a degree in statistics, said scouting the player is just one part of it. “You don’t just take a player to win two more games,” he said. Unlike European teams, Casali said NBA teams have a long timeline when assessing a player.

“The concept in the NBA is that you really work on the long run with time frame of four to five years,” he noted, adding that once a player is chosen, “Nothing is left to chance. There is a person for everything because there are millions of dollars behind every decision. Every decision can change a franchise if you hit it or not.”

“There is great collaboration between all the (team) offices,” he adding, noting that prospects are looked by the the scouting department but are also assessed by Nets analytics team, the coaching staff before the GM makes the final decision on Draft Night.

The Nets, like other NBA teams, have an extensive database on individual prospects that includes video clips, research into the player’s character and analytics. This year, with the worldwide shutdown in sports will be more difficult, Casali told Sportando.

Much more video work is required than normal, he said, adding that the “worst part is not having players in your gym. It will be a problem for everyone, even the kids. They will lose the experience of it.”

He also noted that the shutdown came just before the NCAA and European leagues’ tournament, noting that some players could have “exalted themselves” under the spotlight of a Final Four.

The same of course is true of the Nets domestic scouting staff which has college scouts scattered around the U.S., in Colorado, California, Ohio, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania as well as Brooklyn. As of now, the Draft is scheduled for June 25 at Barclays Center, but that date is almost certain to be moved.