Las Vegas Summer League is nothing short of surreal. You look to your right and there is “The Logo”, NBA legend Jerry West sitting in the stands. You look to your left and Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl is passing in front of your media table. It is a basketball junkie’s paradise.
When the Houston Rockets trotted out Donatas Motiejunas, the Lithuanian center taken with the 20th pick of the 2011 NBA draft, he looked much bigger than his profile suggested. Because it’s Summer League, I decided to consult an expert. Sitting on the right baseline was 13-year NBA veteran, 7’2 Lithuanian center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. While he agreed that his fellow countryman looked like he added bulk, his expert opinion was that Motiejunas was no bigger than his listed seven-foot height.
It’s summer league, people. NBA legends are everywhere. Once you’re inside the media ropes, the access is nothing short of amazing.
There are very few people in the Kings world that I have not spoken to. Geoff Petrie? Check. Basketball legend Pete Carril? Check. Jerry Reynolds? I sat next to him during the first half of the Kings/Lakers Summer League contest on Saturday, just talking hoops, so check.
There is one person, however, that is elusive. Besides seeing him through the media glass, long-time scout extraordinaire Scotty Stirling is as close to a ghost you’ll find. For 25 years, Stirling has been part of the Kings’ braintrust and for the last 22 years, he has been the Director of Scouting, where he is responsible for coordinating the club’s collegiate scouting efforts.
This is Summer League. Anything is possible, including a one-on-one interview with a basketball legend. JH: What are your first impressions so far on Thomas Robinson. What are you seeing that you like?
SS: Well I’ve seen, what we’ve seen since when he was at Kansas – he can run the floor, he’s got great hands, he’s very athletic. His great strength is facing the basket at about 15 or 16 feet, driving to the basket and passing. He’s an exceptional passer and that’s what we saw in Kansas and in our little camp, that is what we saw. And early in the game (the Kings first game of LVSL) when he was facing up, he drove it a couple of times, so that’s where he’s most comfortable, I think.
JH: How do you see him fitting in with DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson?
SS: Well, we’ll have to see. You have to go through a training camp and see how they fit with each other and Keith Smart is going to have to figure out the best way to play them as a combination. The speed of Thompson and Robinson is pretty much the same, so you’ll have to figure that. Cousins, of course, is more of a back to the basket player down there, so we’ll see, it’s something we have to work out.
JH: We’re seeing Jimmer out here in Summer league running the point, how do you think he’s progressing?
SS: Well, it’s a little early yet. We’ve seen him in one half. The things you know about him is that he’s really a good passer. He sees the floor. You can see that tonight where he advances the ball right away. He’s more dangerous if shots are going down, which they weren’t in the first half. If his shots are going down, then they have to get up on him and while he doesn’t have great quickness, if you’re up on him, he’ll get by you. So we’ll see how he does as a point, but he sees the floor and he can pass it.
JH: Do you think his natural position at the NBA level is going to be the point?
SS: Oh, I think it almost has to be. He’s not big enough to be a two guard, although he shoots like a two guard. He’s very good off the ball because he goes without it. He reads picks real well, but he can be effective as a point guard.
JH: Do you see him as kind of a Mike Bibby-type point guard? More of a shooter than a pure distributor.
SS: Well, probably, there are some similarities there. Jimmer is a little bit bigger. They’re about equal defensively. Jimmer’s a better passer at this point and I think Mike’s a little better shooter. I mean, Jimmer has great range, but he’s not a great percentage shooter.
JH: You guys decided not to bring Isaiah Thomas to Summer League. I know he has a lot of other things going on. But, whose idea was it to take Isaiah and how impressed are you by the way he was able to transition his college game directly to the pro game?
SS: Well, because he played at Washington, we saw him a lot in Pac 10 games, so we knew what he was. The Pac 10 has been down as a conference in recent years, so a lot of the scouts from the east, they didn’t get out here. And the games are on so late that they didn’t see him. But the last time I saw him in then (a) college game, he got 30 against California, which was a really good defensive team. He’s quick, he can shoot it, he’s courageous, he’ll guard anybody and he’s doing a very important thing this summer – he’s in summer school. He lacks about four hours for his degree, so we were okay with that.
JH: Let’s talk about another Pac 10 guy in Tyler Honeycutt. He has some very unique tools. I know he’s a great passer, he can block some shots and he is extremely athletic. Where do you see him as a prospect right now?
SS: There are things he has to work on. He needs to shoot the ball better and he needs to stay focused for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, he’s hurt right now. This summer league would have been good for him. He has worked hard in the weight room this summer. His body is a lot bigger, which is good. And he’s always been a hell of a defender at UCLA and we think he can be that up here, too.
JH: Let’s stick with the young guys for a minute. Hassan Whiteside, two years ago, you guys took a flier on him in the second round. He is, again, like Honeycutt, a player that has played very sparingly. Do you see him catching onto the pro game? (Editorial note, this interview was conducted before the Kings waived Hassan Whiteside).
SS: He could. It takes some guys longer than others. He only played a year plus in college. He has some incredible skills. He’s a great shot blocker. He has a good hook shot and he can make facing shots to about 15 feet. He needs to get better of course, but our front court, especially now with Robinson, it’s tough to break in there. So, it’s up to him. He has to keep working hard and improve those areas that he needs to improve, but there’s not too many guys that will block shots like he will.
JH: You guys have a great draft history. Just lately, you’ve drafted Tyreke (Evans), DeMarcus (Cousins) and Thomas Robinson this year, but even in the past, you guys are known as a great drafting front office. How much of that is a team effort and who are the decision makers that make the final choice?
SS: It’s absolutely a team effort. We have five or six people that scout. General Manager Geoff Petrie gets out a lot, the assistant general manager Wayne Cooper gets out a lot. We all go where the players are and we see the players we need to see. We have a tape system that we subscribe to, so we get tape. Six weeks before the draft, we start meeting everyday with that tape. We have sessions where we talk about players. Geoff Petrie is great. He listens to everyone’s input and we have discussions on draft day and the days leading up to it. Geoff will ultimately make the decision, but he listens to everybody’s opinions on players and its worked out pretty good. Sometimes those meetings get hot and heavy, because guys have different opinions and all of the opinions are good ones because their based on guys having seen players and doing a lot of work with the tape.
JH: In this particular draft, you guys chose maybe a player of luxury that had incredible upside as opposed to a player of need like Harrison Barnes. Was there something specific that stuck out to you in this draft or was Thomas Robinson just too good to pass up on?
SS: The only team that has the luxury of drafting for need, is the guy with the first pick, because he can pick anybody he wants. So the general rule that we follow is, you take the best player that is there, you don’t worry about whether you have a guy in that position or not. If he’s the best player, you take him and Robinson was there. I think we had him at No. 2 on our board and he came to five, so that was great for us. We’re very happy with that.
JH: How long have you been doing this with the Kings now?
SS: 25 years.
JH: How long do you think you’re going to do this?
SS: Another 25.
JH: You love it that much?
SS: Sure! They pay me to watch basketball games.
Below is Stirling’s bio from Kings.com. If you don’t know him, you should. He is a true legend in the sporting industry.
A veteran of the professional basketball ranks for more than three decades, Scotty Stirling brings a wealth of NBA knowledge and professional sports expertise to the Kings’ basketball operations staff. Having worked in the Kings organization for the past 25 years, Stirling is in his 23rd season as the club’s director of scouting. In his current role, Stirling is responsible for coordinating the club’s collegiate scouting efforts. Prior to joining the Kings, Stirling served as vice president and general manager of the New York Knicks from January 1986 through May 1987. For three seasons (1982-85) he held the position of vice president of operations with the NBA where he supervised referees, administered rule implementation, supervised game scheduling and headed the league’s collegiate scouting service. From 1976 through 1982, Stirling was the assistant to the president of the Golden State Warriors, responsible for the club’s day-to-day operation and player personnel decisions. He also was the general manager of the Oakland Oaks of the American Basketball Association when the team won the 1968 ABA title. Stirling’s pro sports experience includes five seasons with the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League, first as the club’s assistant general manager, then as the general manager, working closely with current Raiders owner Al Davis. In his final year with the club, the Raiders won the AFL Championship and met Green Bay in Super Bowl II. A graduate of the University of San Francisco, Stirling earned a master’s degree from Adelphi University. Stirling resides in Newark, California, with his wife, Pam.