How to review game footage like a scout – I learnt the hard way

Back in the 2006 – 2007 NBA season, The Nuggets front office was buzzing. The season began very fast and just my second season with the organization. The few weeks prior to the season with the draft-room and other stuff had been a whirlwind of activity, rookies coming in the changes and the challenges of the veterans was interesting to witness. At a point I had found myself so deep into the video room I was hooked on the footage. Nate (Anderson) gave me a set of keys and access to the footage for the previous season as well as all incoming players to review.

One afternoon, a knock on the video room door and Jamahl (Mosley) bargged in and said “we are watching all the rookie footage ASAP!” I downloaded all the footage and accessed the synergy stuff we just had gotten.

Mosley, is the silent scout type… he took awesome notes and than usually shared amazing insight during meetings. I was more of the guy taking care of the technical stuff for him during those days. Playback, cut, re-ajdust stuff was most of it. The cool bit was if I had any question he usually stated that “the stupidest thing you can do is not to ask anything… we all need to learn and asking is the best way…” with this in mind I asked any and all small nuances when I needed to.

So oddly enough it was eye-opening. I got the chance to see what he did and learnt from someone who had been around the game for as long as he did.

My involvement with the remaining staff minimal yet effective and it opened me up to the logic and provided similar opportunities later on. I would sit in on most meetings, and learn from what they discussed and debated, diagrammed on the board, and when I needed to find anything out ask, ask, ask. But I learned the most from the film review.

In a meeting close to the All-Star game in the season when it was apparent just how much I was going to learn in these meetings. One of the coaches had pulled a clip of our offense that ended in a tough midrange pull-up jump shot. “Bad shot selection,” I thought to myself as we all watched silently. But when one of the assistant coaches mentioned it again I double checked it. He had Nate rewind the play. The set called for a cut off a screen by one of our fowards to start the play, but instead of sprinting off the cut, the player just went through the motions. I hadn’t even noticed that cut till than. It happened a while before the eventual shot and seemed like the kind of cut NBA players make so casually tons of times per season.

My fortunate situation came from the fact that I played pro-ball before and it allowed me to understand the player’s mind well. Before I was in the NBA, my NCAA and Euro-struggles allowed me to learn X’s and O’s hence to understand scouting, to see the game the way those inside the game saw it. Now I was inside the NBA game. I could sit with those who had been studying basketball for the longest time and learn from them.

These days with so many people showing interest very few people get that opportunity. What about them? How can someone outside the game learn to watch basketball the way a professional does?

The most important piece of advice I can give on this topic is explained by this short video. See if you can pass the test:

The human eye is not apt to watch everything in one go. You cannot physically see and process all players on the court plus the ball in one go, in real time. And if you can’t do that, you can’t analyze the game and understand what happened, or scout a player effectively. That’s true for even the greatest basketball minds.

Rudy T. after a playoff loss, said the same thing… “Until I watch the film, I really don’t know”…I just made my notes in there about what I think will happen…When I watch the film on the plane, half of it will be wrong.

There are several reasons to watch a game practically for entertainment and furthermore to learn. Sometimes you can do both, but it’s very hard. Watching live with no (or infrequent) rewinding, with other people around, or while on social media makes the game fun but to me its distracting. But those factors also make it really hard to learn. Later on when I began consulting I would watch a game twice. Once live, so I could experience the emotional ups-and-downs of the game, and once on tape so that I could understand what caused those ups-and-downs. Now I’ll watch only the most anticipated contests live. I can’t do what I do without being able to rewind and study and deliver notes.

That is the most important step: figuring out how to watch in a way that makes it easy to rewind. The simplest way to do that is to use a DVR or recorded footage. Fair warning: this will require a lot of jumping back and forth in a game. Anything that makes it difficult to jump back a few seconds will make you less likely to rewind, and you don’t want that. So determining the best setup for you is important. As an example, the online version of LP has jump back/forward buttons for 20 seconds at a time. That is way too far to jump back for that to be consistently useful and not make you feel like you’re wasting time. That kind of impediment will make you go back less often, and you will miss things. I will sometimes jump back in the same play three or four times to fully understand what happened. Making sure you can do that easily is very important.

This process is simplified if you can get the video in a file on your computer. That’s what the pros do: the video coordinators provide the video files and they watch it on their laptops. How can you do this? There are a few different options, some of which might be difficult. But if you can find a way to do it, it’s worth it. The easiest, I think, is to use something like a video capture device, which allows you to turn video from your DVR or set-top box into a video file on your computer.

Once you have the file on your computer, you can use free software like VLC player to watch the video. Movist is helpful because you can assign keys to easily jump back and forth or watch in slow motion. For example, I have keys set to make it easy for me to jump backward or forward by intervals of two seconds, 10 seconds, and one minute, as well as to watch frame-by-frame.

Watching the game itself is a necessary first step. But once your questions have been sharpened, you can use tools that show specific groups of plays to get more targeted answers. The video tools (which deserve more publicity) allow you to do this.

Acquiring the film in a form that allows you to pause and rewind is a necessary first step. From there, it’s all about approach. The approach I follow is one I learned when I first got my start in the basketball world. I was working for Dean Oliver, one of the leaders of the basketball statistical analysis movement, watching film and tagging each play according to a certain system. The work I was doing was monotonous, but it was very instructive. I broke down each play at an elemental level, watching to see what caused the outcome and tagging it appropriately. It trained me to think through the game, to watch each play and ask why?

I would recommend the same approach when you watch film. Watch to see what happened on a play—say, a wide-open three, for instance. Then rewind and watch again, this time trying to identify why the player was open. How did the defense workout? Why did it move in that way? What were they supposed to do? Plainly its conseptual scouting when you look at it. One trick is to watch for player and coach reactions after plays if you can catch them, or listen for mics picking up their conversation.

Then think through the strategy of it all. Would you have done it the same way if you were playing or coaching? Or would you have tried something else? Then put yourself in the other team’s shoes. How would you counter your own counter? Do this analysis often enough and you start to see patterns, and those patterns help you pick things up faster on each subsequent viewing.

This pattern in psychological terms is called “chunking”. Your mind starts to group smaller pieces together into meaningful groupings, or chunks. So when GSW throw the ball in the post and then have their guards screen for each other on the perimeter, you no longer have to think of it as discrete parts, but can instead immediately recognize it as “post splits.”

The game can be learned without knowing these patterns, but it is much more difficult. When you have a framework upon which to layer what you’re watching, your understanding grows much more quickly. What are those concepts? Some are more basic, like a pick-and-roll or a pin down. Some are more complex, like a single-side tag or short action. Learning these patterns takes time, but it is certainly possible.

When I was starting out and wanted to learn more about the game, there wasn’t much I could find, in Turkey things were dull and there was little to go on interms of film. But as time went by and nowadays there are now lots of great resources, whether that’s following coaches or analysts on Twitter or watching breakdowns or coaching clinics on YouTube. Technology has begun to democratize basketball knowledge and eventually analytics have hit a much better mainstream populus.

One of my goals when I got into consulting and began Advance Pro Basketball a little while ago I also began teaching about all the above too through a course I setup here for anyone that want to learn from me I’d be happy to assist y’all further!

With articles on my site, reviews, scouting reports, and lots of other stuff, my hope is that you can learn by example: You can see the kinds of things I’m pointing out and start to look for them yourself, if ever the case is that you’d need a hand and my support than I can always give you a consultation for free to begin and take it from there!

But I will also say this: One of the reasons I love the game is it feels like there’s always more to learn. There is so much depth and complexity to this game, you can dig and dig and dig and never find the bottom. So much of the fun isn’t even in the knowing, it’s in the learning. And, if you do it right, that learning will be a life-long process. So don’t just rely on others. Do the digging yourself.


Liked it? Take a second to support Advance Pro Basketball on Patreon!