A few weeks ago, we, at Envergure, decided to record a podcast to answer this gigantic question : how do you evaluate a player ? We talked with our guests for more than an hour and guess what : we  hardly talk about talent. To evaluate is one thing, to recruit, sign a player to your team, is another. We needed different points of views coming from different teams. Three wise men were kind enough to accept our invite. Julien Monclar is the general manager of ADA Blois, a second division team in France. Guillaume Vizade is the head coach of another second division team, based in Clermont-Ferrand. Nicola Alberani is the sports director of the SIG, Strasbourg's basketball club, a first division and BCL team. Romain Leroy, assistant coach for this Strasbourg team and a regular member of our podcast, was also here. We have decided not to script the entire podcast but tried to capture the big ideas. Hope you'll enjoy it and if so, share it. 


What is the recruiting process in your club ?


Julien Monclar (GM, ADA Blois) : we are a relatively small-sized organisation. When we sign a player, it's always a joint decision between the coach and myself. The president is updated, he signs contracts, but has no influence in the decision whatsoever. We don't have any scouts, we both work on it, the assistant coach sees a lot of games as well, we can consult him. It's important for us to take a decision together as a team, the coach and myself, there is a mutual trust which works pretty well. We can take advices from coaches we trust, coaches who can have and expertise on a league, on a team for instance. If the player we target play there, we can talk about that and use our well-filled adress book. It has to be someone we know, to trust his insights. My coach says : "we don't know anybody who's not tough on himself, everybody is", the real question is, to which degree they are and on which points. When we scout, we have to get facts, the most objectively possible. We know it's hard, but that's why I need a strong relationship with someone for him to have my attention for real. Agents can have a word, but with filters. The more we know them, the better we know how to adjust these filters.

Guillaume Vizade (coach, JAVCM) : I don't have any GM, like Julien, who makes the call to agents etc. I take this upon myself, we build the scouting with my assistant, who has a consulting role, then I select profiles which match the identity we want our team to have, I show them to David Melody a former Pro A player who is our executive director. Then we move toward the decision taking together. However, the negociation, I have to do it. It's easier for me, compared to a bigger team, to make the decision, because less people are involved. On the flip side, it is a big workload for me between two seasons.

Envergure : So how do you evaluate the players you then try to recruit ?

For each player it would be 3 or 4 games, but largely supported by the scouting tools we have : Intat, Synergy. I also look at advanced stats on Real GM for example. These tools are very useful and can save me a lot of time. On Instat, for example, I can select one area of the game. This summer I recruited a pointguard who was playing in Latvia and Estonia, I watched mostly the pick'n roll situations referenced during his season. It was something like 300-400 clips but it only took me the span of a one game and a half. Qualitatively, it's something else.

Envergure : Nicola, how do you work in a bigger club, in the first division ?

Nicola Alberani (Sports director, Strasbourg) : I scout all year long, I watch a lot of games myself, and I make a list of 60 - 70 players by spring. There are differents criterions I have, and it's a ten months job to cross names on the list. Then in april or may, I give the coach a choice between two or three players for each position. I like the coach to know that he has the last word, but he should not have to worry about the whole recruiting process. To me a coach should think in the present moment, not to worry about the future. So my daily job is to talk with scouts, others sports directors, coaches, assistants. My value is my network. And I like the assistants coach to be connected with us, everybody has to know if we are gonna take this center who can't play the short roll, this pointguard who has a little bit of tunnel vision. 


Can we be more specific about the criterions ? What's THE most important thing when you recruit ? This is the fit / talent question, yes.


Nicola Alberani : I don't consider myself as a scout. I look at the context. Why this player is performing in this specific context ? Why is he not in another one ? Who was with him on the court. The criterions are obvisouly the budget, the team's identity, the coach's personality, but most important is my idea of what basketball is. To me it's a sport based on mental toughness and intangibles. Beyond that, I am looking for informations about the player's character, everything you can't see on tape.  

Guillaume Vizade : Everybody thinks about this, the fit versus the talent. Sometimes it's settled by the financial aspect, especially in the second division. It's a subbtle balance but the decision, at the end of the day, is mostly about the human being. We are looking for informations, intels about the personnalities, and that's how you can make a choice betweek two or three names. Which type of personnality for which type of talent ? We are trying to create the team balance, or to think about it because until they're all together in a gym, it's just hypotethical. The personnality changes with the context, and that's why I think differently when I recruit a young french player and when I recruit a foreigner. The foreign player I try to recruit him to do a job on my team he has already done somewhere else : a leader, a starting pointguard. I want him to have had that role before. For french players, we are more likely to go for the upside, with an evolving role. These players can bring a real capital gain, and make the team "overperform" its preseason rankings or its budget.

Julien Monclar : We make the list because we know which positions we are going to recruit next year, then we make a short list. From there, with the coach, we are trying more and more to have interviews with the player. We don't want to sell our environnement, we want to worsen the picture. Before the team fit, before the context and the coach, the first synergy is the one between the club and the player. What we have to offer, is it in line with what he expects ? When a player goes wrong because his expectations are too high, it's a failure, it's not gonna work. So I have to make sure the player and us are on the same page on the workload, the working conditions, the context, everything. The role he will have ingame as well, but it's less important because we aren't really into special status in our team. 

Then, about the criterions, I think about three of them. The agressivity, the mobility, the versatility. At our levels, talent AND agressivity are a rare thing, so it has to be balanced on a team. The mobility is very important, whether it's pure quickness or lateral quickness. If we lack mobility on one position, we are going to fix it. And versatiliy has been a trend for a few years. We like to have interior players who can play both positions, we like to have tall players playing on the backcourt, for example.


Tell us one recruiting mistake you made, and what you have learned about it


Nicolas Alberani : Everything is better after the mistakes. Before all, you have to have an idea for the team you work for. I don't like "generalist" teams, I don't want to recruit the best pointguard, the best center, the best forward. In France, only LDLC-ASVEL (the only Euroleague team in France) can do this. For us, the others, we need to have an identity, an idea. For example, Nanterre, they play fast and they shoot a lot from the three point line. That is an identity. This will help you to get a DNA for your team. And then you have to balance your team, the complementarity is an issue. When I was in Rome, my last year there I did not have a lot of money. I built a team wtih too many young players. They were good, Melvin Ejim and others. But it wasn't working because there wasn't any experienced player with them, less talented but more experienced. You need to look for the complementarity on the court but on the locker room as well.

Julien Monclar : The main mistake, as Nicola said, is denying the team's identity. We built this team, in Blois, around this identitiy of sharing the ball, the responsabilities, the value of effort, a clean hierarchy between the players. We went up from division 3 to division 2, we remained with ease the year after, and then the year after we won the division 2. We were supposed to go up to division 1, that did not happen for different reasons (*), which was hard. During the summer, we did not know if the future was divison 1 or division 2, which is not the same thing when you try to recruit. I understood pretty quickly it was going to be division 2, so I recruited for another year in this league. But we did it being vengeful. We had a new arena, we had won the year before, so we had more money than the years before. We tried to sign the best player for each position, so we went for Joe Burton at the 5. Immensely talented offensively, not really in our values of effort defensively, and a lack of mobility. We believed in it, we had struggled the year before when facing strong defenses at this position, so we said ourselves : "why not, maybe we can make him another player, and add value to the center position". It failed. The team spirit was up and down, we won 19 games, which was good, but there were hard times. This made us realise we went the wrong path, and the year after (2019-2020) we made a team that looked like us, we had a huge solidarity in the locker room, and we won the league again.

Guillaume Vizade : In our leagues, with our budgets, taking the talent is always a risk, because the big talents are playing in division 1 or in other leagues in Europe. Somtimes we can get a player with a huge talent, but it's just a step for him to go higher, we can not build on him. I tried to go for the talent with a Dominican player, Gerardo Suero. We made a choice, we took a risk. I had a few feedbacks which could have made us think twice about him, but we took a chance on him. The talent was obvious on the court, he plays the 2 position, he was dominant in his local league and played for the national team. But this player, in Clermont-Ferrand, was rootless. He had never been to Europe, had a hard time to develop social relationships, to integrate the town, the club, even the style of play. By Christmas, he was asking if he could go back. So it wasn't even on the court, because he was producing (11 points in 20 minutes), but it was a "social" fit. Today I am attentive to this topic, more than before, when I recruit a player, when I interview him for example.


Let's talk about the players' psychology, which seems to be prevailing when you are recruiting. Nicola, you were talking about "mental toughness" before...


Nicola Alberani : This is the most difficult part of the job. Talent is easy to buy, on the market. But if you look at the teams, they are signing the guys that fit with their identity. A player who can score, who can take 15 shots a game, it is easy to find. To evaluate the mental toughness I'm looking for informations from people I trust and people who know me, who know how I work, my idea of basketball. I don't like to call everyone, everyone is not sincere, but if your network is large enough, then you can get the right informations, which are the hardest to get usually. 

Julien Monclar : The thing is, you have to go with your guts sometimes, and the psychology is really hard to evaluate. Some players are very good during interviews but are really just saying what we want to hear. So you separate them from the sincere ones with your instincts. Mental toughness is important, it's easier for us to evaluate french players, because during the interview - which is more like a talk - you can trick them, see how they react. At the end of the day, for us, it's not the most difficult thing to assess, but I can understand it is when you scout a lot of players, especially outside of your country. For us, the most difficult thing to appraise is the brain, how a player understand the game. Our playbook is thick, we have high expectations about the reads, the reactivity, it's harder to get for sure on tape than to know if a player can win a one on one, make shots, take rebonds. This is where sometimes you have to bet, it's the point of emphasis for me, trying to to assess better a player's basketball IQ. When it's there, you can go very high.

Guillaume Vizade : It is obviously the focus for me, the IQ. It's the reason why i'm a basketball coach, it's the thing I try to develop with every player, giving them options with my sets and teaching them the right read. We play up tempo, we take risk, my players take responsabilities. So obvisouly, it's important. The other thing I pay a lot of attention at is the versatility. More and more the sizes and weights are evening out, regardless of the positions on the court. So we have to have players with a great versatility, it's a trend that keep going on everytime a new coach enters the league. It is becoming almost mandatory today, having a guard who can post up, a five who can play the four to open differents sets. It gives us a breadther game. So we try, when we recruit, to think about that. I am signing player x to do this, because he knows how to, but i think he has the potential to do this other thing, maybe if I develop his mindset he can be something else and take a step in his carreer.

Envergure : It seems complicated to evalute

Guillaume Vizade : It can be. For example the depth of american basketball players is enormous, but there is one thing very difficult to know for sure, especially if they play in minor leagues in Europe, it's how they play off ball. Usually they have an enormous usage rate, too high probably, but if you want to play with versatility, you need to know that. Against teams that scouts you very well, you need to have different options. Can the guard play around offball screens, is his cutting game good, can he do something else than just play a high pick'n roll ? Defensively, it's the same thing, we switch a lot, even between bigs and guards. It's interesting to know if a small player can resist one, two, three second to a roll, can battle on an entry pass. It's not going to be the key skill we look at when we recruit, but it's definitely something we monitor. And here we are going back to the mental toughness : when a player is outside of his confort zone, how does he react ? It's important because it is the rare moment when you can SEE intangibles on film.

Nicola Alberani : the flexibility is obviously very important. I like to have players who can play two or three positions. In the same team, I like to have two pointguards who can play together, two power forwards who can play together, that is very important to me, especially for the small forwards. In Italy (où il travaillait avant), we are playing much smaller than in France, but we don't have that tradition of the pocket-sized pointguard. And I prefer it this way because when the game is on the line, I love to have a team that can switch it one through five. So I try to build a team with an identity, but this identity can present itself with different faces. We already had a strating five with no player taller than 1m95 (6'4").


What about the stats. When you recruit, which stats are you looking at the most. It can be often be a way to make a first selection...


Julien Monclar : I'll start with an old saying, my dad use to say this (**), so I still look at it for every player, it's the W/L column. It may seems odd but it's important for us, it's not an advanced stats, it's easy to find. It gives you a hint about the context, behind wins or losses you can have a guy playing in a favorable context, maybe over performing, or the opposite. Beyond this, I think we will all agree on that. We look at the 3P%, for the 4-position AND for the 1-position, because it's not our starting PG main strengh, and spacing is a key in today's game. Obviously you can't just look at the %, you need the volume, which is equally important. I prefer a player taking 4 three points a game and shooting 33% than player B who is shooting 36% on 1,6 attempts. Of course, we look at FT% as well, it is a huge disadvantage when your team does not shoot very well from there.

Guillaume Vizade : Same thing, we like to have players, especially on the key positions, who tend toward the 180 club (or 50-40-90). For the pointguards, I am looking at the typ of shots he takes, if it's off the dribble or spot up. I like to create around the pick'n roll, so you need spacing, so you need shooters, at every position. The other statistics i watch closely, it's rebounding %. I am more and more receptive to this stat, regardless of the position. With a point guard who can play the offensive rebound, it's easier to press full court. If a member of your backcourt is a strong defensive rebounder, it's easier to run in transition. A guard who is not taking enough rebounds may slide down our recruitment rankings. If you can contribute with these kind of actions, even on off nights, it can be a big thing for us. In Division 2, there are down times once or twice a half, and during these times, the better team is usually making steals, taking charges, and taking rebounds.

Nicola Alberani : I'm more of a team stats guy. If your pointguard is not really good at raining threes, you need to compensate. We need 40% of the roster who can shoot it very well. Otherwise, I look at free throws for my centers, you need to have one of your two centers who is good at FT, if not it's a problem to finish games. And one statistic I particularly like, it's the +/-, to me it's very effective especially for teams in the middle of the rankings. You can see one player's impact on a team.


You have a wild card to finish this podcast


Nicola Alberani : I like that we were asked about evaluating talent and that we haven't talked about talent. It proves a myriad of other things are important to us.

Julien Monclar : We talked about scouting but we have, I think, many talents in France, and our responsability in not just to evaluate them but also to develop them. We have to propose a path. We have to believe in our homegrown players, I believe in it.

Guillaume Vizade : The idea of recruiting, maybe, is starting from an ideal and going more and more toward a realistic situation. The DNA is important, we need, as clubs and coaches, to have a storytelling and to make people part of this story on a long-term basis. We need to put our trust in men maybe more than in basketball players, to build something with them outside of the 40 minutes on the court. 


* Blois was refused the right to climb up to the first division because its training academy wasn't approved by the French Sports Department. 

** Jacques Monclar, Julien's father, is a french basketball legend, he played a long and sucesseful carreer in the late 70's and 80's, he played 201 games for the French National Team and is now a star television commentator