RaptorsHQ Exclusive - Interview With Draftexpress' Jonathan Givony - Part I

Howland:Obviously with the draft coming up you guys have been super busy. What have you been up to the past few weeks?

Givony:Past two weeks? Today is Saturday the 17th? Exactly two weeks ago I got in my car with our Director of NCAA Scouting Jonathan Waters and we drove to Orlando for the start off of our pre-draft coverage. On Sunday we went out to watch Alexander Johnson, Guillermo Diaz and Jeremy Kelly work out and then on Sunday we were at IMG to watch Patrick O’Bryant, Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Lowry and Cedric Simmons. Then the pre-draft camp. Coverage there, and I’ve been home since working the phones and going back and forth with some people trying to get as much info as I can and relay to others. Been following the trade stuff, and breaking down a lot of tape; we have a cool tool now we can use now where if you want to study every move that say Tyrus Thomas has ever made, every isolation or post move this season, or any move he’s made on the perimeter, it breaks it down for you into about a three minute stretch. So we have been looking at that a lot which helps us break down some isolated things you can’t see on tape as much. And that is pretty much what we do, watch a lot of tape, talk to a lot of people, etc.
The thing is, we did most of our work in November, December, January, February and March and now we tighten the screws a little bit. We still have a little more tape to break down, but we have done most of our work already. In terms of analyzing the prospects, the pre-draft camp I don’t think really swayed me any way, or the work-outs. The games are what decide how good these guys are going to be as NBA players in my mind.

Howland: We have checked out your site for a long time and really enjoy it. When did you start this?

Givony: We started in December 2003, I believe. It had a couple of different names. It started off as NBADraftZone, and after about two days we thought it would be a bad idea to use the word “NBA” in our name, and then it went to Draftcity, we did that for about a year and a half, and then the shit hit the fan, so we switched to Draftexpress with most of our old staff members, and it has done well. Just looking at our traffic we have about three times as many people today as we had at the same point last year, and about fifty times what we had two years ago. With all the interviews we get, the tapes we acquire and the great contacts we have we are pretty well established at this point I feel. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are doing well for ourselves so far, far better than I ever imagined at least.

Howland: So when you decided to do this, what was the thought process? Was it simply thinking “I love ball, I love the draft, so let’s do a site?”

Givony: The thought process was, we looked at what was out there at the time and thought “This is not really an accurate assessment” and we really didn’t like what was out there. So instead of complaining about it we decided to do something on our own. We really felt that a lot of bad messages were being sent out about certain kids rising to the top five in one week and in the second round the next. I know for a fact that all the players visit the site, all the family members. I felt like a bad message was being sent and we kinda wanted to be a balancing force in this and bring a little bit more level headedness to the process...and it blew up more than we ever thought it would. We thought we would just be a couple of hacks ya know, but it turned into something a lot more professional very soon, which forced us to become much more professional as well, as you’ve seen. We got into the pre-draft camp on our first year, and we were the only NBA Draft site there, as well as last year. It has been going pretty good and we are pretty pleased with it.

Howland: Yeah, that is sorta the same thing we did. We were very disappointed at the type of coverage the Raptors were receiving, in particular from the local media and wanted to provide fans with something more in-depth.

Anyways, you've gotten to see some great prospects workout including Patrick O’Bryant. How was that?

Givony: I saw him work out twice. It was fun. He is an impressive guy to watch in a setting like that. He’s got some tools, I can tell you that…

Howland: So when you go to these workouts do people recognize you now?

Givony: Well we’re usually invited there. A lot of times what will happen is we will be talking to their representatives, or maybe even someone in their family, and they will tell us “We think this guy is a lot better than what you think, a better ball handler than you give him credit for” or “He’s a much better shooter”...or just “You have to come see how good this guy is.” So we ask whether we can go and watch them work-out. We did that a few times and it went well and people liked the reports and now we are pretty much invited to a lot of workouts that we even have to turn down. With O’Bryant it was specifically IMG...we have been going there for a couple of years, and they were pretty happy with the objective coverage, and they did not have a problem with us coming in again, and taking a look. You know exposure is what this business is all about, and people understand that we are not just going to give favorable reviews before we walk into the gym. People respect that and they value our professional opinion and that is why we are invited back. People can’t fault you if you make the extra effort to come see a guy. No one can question you if you put the legwork in.

Howland: So how many site visitors do you get in a day?

Givony: About 100,000 visitors these days. This is our peak time and it rises every day. We usually break our traffic record every day now. There is a lot of interest, we have done a lot of interviews with some big papers, like the LA Times, the Washington Post, and I do a half a dozen radio interviews a day or more in some really big cities, but most of it really is word of mouth. People love the draft and they want more detailed coverage on it and that is why the word spreads.

Howland: Now, have you ever been asked specifically by an GM or a scout for an opinion at a work out?

Givony: Absolutely. It happens all the time. Everyone wants to know what other people think and compare it with what they think and it’s just a back and forth. Especially during the middle of the year that happens a lot, now people are a little more tight-lipped about their opinions on prospects. During the season I will make my top 100 list of prospects, sorted by position, and send it out to NBA teams that ask me for it. So they do their own homework but I feel that they respect what we do, we bring a bit of a fresh perspective because we have been doing this for so long and they respect what we have to say. It doesn’t mean they listen, but again, we are out there watching as many games and tapes as they do, so at least our opinions are well-founded.

Howland: Ok, so we only have a short period of time between now and the draft. So what is the next week like for you? You said it’s down time, but are there more workouts to go to?

Givony: No more workouts, because most are now private workouts with specific NBA teams over the next 10 days, and it will mostly be working the phone, watching tape and finalizing scouting reports, and making sure we are in the loop...analysis, articles, and just try and keep it going. For us this is kind of a dead time. I’m much happier in February and March when there are a lot of games going on, and I prefer writing about basketball...there are some times when we have to be more journalists than scouts, and that’s fine, but now is more the journalism part of the business, investigative reporting, and keeping guys in the loop and trying to sort out what’s real and what not. DraftExpress is the middle-ground between being a journalist and a scout, and at this time of the year there is more journalism than I’d probably prefer. Put me frontrow at a Euroleague or SEC game and I’m the happiest guy in the world, the other stuff not as much, but it’s part of the business and we enjoy that too.

Howland: You obviously watch a ton of NCAA, but how do you cover all the Euros? Do you get tape from over there? Dish?

Givony: Well we have Luis Fernandez who lives in Spain, we have a guy in Croatia, Greece, Italy, France....so these guys do great coverage for us, and we also trade a lot of tape. Having people who actually live and are from the countries these guys play in is a huge plus that even NBA teams don’t have, and it gives us a perspective that you normally wouldn’t get. There are also a lot of people in Europe who have great interest in college basketball players who are not going to make the NBA, so we will record games for them and then trade tape, they will record games for us and we trade it back and forth. Luis has been great about taping a lot of games, and sending DVDs, and the internet is great because it is not that hard to put video up online and people share that way. So it takes a couple of hours to download an Andrea Bargnani game and that is how I have 10 of them now. We have a lot of tape, the problem is finding enough time to watch it. We have tape on every prospect in the draft....all the international guys, the problem is actually finding time to watch. It is a little more difficult to evaluate European prospects then NCAA, because the style of play is so different than what you are going to see in the NBA. Often these guys only play 10-15 minutes and they are the fifth option on their team so it is a little more difficult and requires more experience. This is where our outstanding International scouts come in.

Howland: So let’s get some overview and your thoughts in general on the draft. Everyone says there is no Tim Duncan or Lebron James, which the haters keep bringing up, but how do you compare this years draft to say the past two or three?

Givony: I think it compares pretty well to last years draft. Last year there really wasn’t a sure fire no-brainer number one pick. Andrew Bogut pretty much became the consensus number one guy but that was more for a lack of other superstar players, and people were afraid to think outside the box a little bit with Chris Paul, because you never take a PG who is six feet tall #1, but in hindsight that was erroneous, but I think it is a good draft. People are underrating it a little bit, I felt like it was a much deeper draft before I went to the pre-draft camp, where guys who I thought were going to be NBA players ended up looking horrible, I mean that’s just one small part of it, but you did kinda get the feeling that there is more room for some European guys who you can store overseas. But I think it’s a good draft, it’s probably the craziest draft I can remember, and I have been following the draft for as long as I can remember, and I don’t remember a year where we have no idea who is going to go #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and we are ten days before the draft. (Editor's note - Five now and still no closer it seems!) I mean last year we pretty much had the top four figured out at this point and this year we are not even close.

Howland: So how disappointing was the draft camp in Orlando?

Givony: Well I thought what was most disappointing was the fact that there was so little energy in the building, the atmosphere, and we were kinda stuck behind the basket...it wasn’t really the nosebleeds because we had a pretty good view, but I felt that Chicago was a lot more intimate and we were just right there courtside, right in the middle and we could get a much better feel for the players and there was a sense from the players...you could see the disappointment, in how the games were being conducted. The level, I thought, was just as good as last year, last year was a little disappointing too, a few years ago was probably the best with players like Tony Allen, Delonte West, and Beno Udrih. All in all it was a little disapointing, but for us it is just a great experience and a great time to go up and meet a lot of NBA guys who are sitting right next to you and wearing the Draftexpress shirt...and you just get approached by so many people saying, “You guys do a great job, we read you every day,” and that validates, what we do, all the hard work we put in.

Howland: So when you guys go to Chicago do you bankroll it yourself?

Givony: I pay for it off the banners that we have. Advertising pays the hosting costs, and a little bit of travel. No one is ever going to get rich off of doing something like this but the advertising money is enough to get by if you are in a position like ours...as long as you are not trying to finance a house or a family. There really isn’t any money in this, but I like at this as an investment in my future, which has paid off very nicely so far.

Howland: Ok, back to this years draft. Say you are an expansion team now, and you have to take one guy to build a franchise around...who do you take?

Givony: That’s a real tough question. I would probably take Adam Morrison, I mean, just looking at it from a complete picture...in terms of getting fans excited, getting a guy who is ready to play right now, getting someone that is charismatic, and that will have a great work ethic in practice, passion to win, leadership skills and all those things, and being a really damn good player besides the fact, I think Adam Morrison is that guy...

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