It’s mid-June, the 2024 NBA draft is less than two weeks away, and Utah Jazz senior director of basketball intelligence Chuck Terrell is getting ready for a trip to Turkey, but this isn’t a vacation to celebrate all the hard work that was put in ahead of the 2024 draft. It’s not a vacation at all. The draft will take place on the nights of June 26 and 27, and then, on June 28, Terrell will be on a flight to Istanbul to watch the FIBA Under-17 Basketball World Cup.

While NBA fans and analysts will be paying attention to the most recently drafted players, largely tuning out college basketball until March Madness rolls around in the next calendar year, and unaware of the thousands of high school players that are competing in summer tournaments, Terrell and his team are currently trying to figure out who will be on the draft board in 2025, 2026 and 2027 and they’ve been doing so all year.

But where does the research stop? When is there a break, or a moment to focus solely on the 2024 draft?

“Never,” Terrell says with pointed sincerity. “You never stop. The NBPA top-100 was just yesterday. We’ve got people there now and I’ve got a meeting tomorrow about the top kids that were there for the ′26-27 class. It never shuts off, never stops turning.”

Of course there are moments and there are meetings that are specific to the draft that is right in front of the Jazz, but just because they carve out time to iron out the details for the 2024 class doesn’t mean that the work stops in preparation for the next year or the year after that.

The basketball pipeline — from middle school, high school, prep schools, AAU circuits, showcases, offseason camps, international tournaments, collegiate play, invitational tourneys, pro days, more showcases, official NBA workouts, medical assessments and more — operates as a wheel. It is wheel that continues to turn, no matter what, and if you stop moving it’s really hard to catch up with the wheel.

For the NBA teams that want to be as knowledgeable as possible, the work that goes into preparing for a draft is never completed in the months and weeks that lead up to a particular draft. Rather, draft preparation is done over the course of many, many years.

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“It’s multiyear, but it’s also multi-platform,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik told the Deseret News. “The draft is tied to free agency and the draft is tied to trades and there’s a lot of strategy and building with our analytics team and they’re scouting as well, and there’s our college scouts and conversations about those players and overseas stuff with all of our international scouts and there’s high school and then all of the players that are already in the league.”

There are thousands of moving parts, which makes being prepared the most important component, and the Jazz want an early start.

How long does it take to make a shoe?

Terrell spent years working at Nike as an NBA marketing executive and when he thinks about the necessary amount of data needed to draft a player, he likens it to the same amount of time that it takes to produce a Nike basketball shoe.

“In order to make a Kevin Durant shoe, let’s say for example a KD 20, it takes 18 months,” Terrell said. “That’s from the day the designer says, ‘Hey, Kevin, what are you thinking about for this?’ to the day it is on a shelf and being sold. That process, I’ve taken it and applied it into basketball. So, if I’m drafting Keyonte George and he’s 19, I need to see 18 months of data before you can sell me on it.”

But for the one-and-done prospects, like George, and many others, they’re barely playing five months of college ball. So, if you’ve ever wondered why there’s mixtapes on youtube of eighth-graders dunking the ball, or why NBA scouts and executives would want to watch 15-year-olds at an AAU tournament, it’s because they have to feel like they’re making an informed decision, even if they are judging the actions of literal children.

“Let’s just be realistic,” Terrell said. “Just this last year, we drafted three 19-year-olds. They played in college for five months, some for less if they were injured. If you’re asking me to adjudicate based on five months of touches, I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

That’s why NBA executives and staffers have pushed for years to be allowed to go to more high school events. For decades, the NBA banned teams from attending showcases and big high school events and there are still no-contact rules that teams have to operate around (although ... many teams are sneaky about getting the info they want). But, in the last few years, the league has loosened it’s grip and given teams wider access to events.

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Specifically, teams are now allowed to attend Nike’s EYBL showcases and Peach Jam, which feature high school players from across North America, and the Scholastic Showcase (that was the one in Las Vegas that featured 2025 draft prospect Cooper Flagg), as well as a number of other events — between 30 and 40 throughout the year.

These events, whether it’s tournaments, showcases, camps, games or a mix of all of the above, are where the Jazz want to make early talent IDs. They realize that they are looking at teenagers who will grow and change and develop, so they’re not trying to rule anyone out or make any concrete decisions about a player.

“I’m looking for Bambi,” Terrell said with a laugh. “I want awkward looking frames that haven’t filled out. ... But really you’re just looking for base-level stuff — feel, love, intensity, coachability the personality of a kid out on the court. I’m looking for foundational attributes — big feet, big hands, balance, court awareness. Anything I can see early, that we can grow on, we can build on, we can feed.”

And the Jazz enter every single name into an internal database and then will track players for years and continuously update their database.

Casting a wide net

When Terrell first took over the Jazz’s grassroots high school operation, as the NBA started to allow teams to have more access, he was whittling the list of top players down to a smaller, seemingly more manageable number. But Bart Taylor, Jazz vice president of player personnel, didn’t want a small number.

“He kind of had these lists of like 25, 30 names, and I was like, ‘Chuck we need like 200 or more,’” Taylor said. “Because if we have 200, 100 of them will maybe be elite college players. And out of those 100, 50 of them might be someone we’re looking at for the NBA or the G League. It needs to be bigger. So he and his group have taken that and run with it. We probably have information on like 400 players in high school currently that we think could be at high majors or mid majors.”

Some of those players will develop earlier than others and some of them will take more time. But having them in the system gives the Jazz a head start and gives them an opportunity to start digging in to who their high school coaches are, who their AAU coaches and trainers are, who they are as people, what they are like as a teammate. From there, the Jazz can compare the early intel to what they learn over the years and as the player goes into college.

Have they changed? Are they better? Are they worse?

“The last thing we want to do is rule someone out early,” Taylor said. “I’m sure if you looked into me when I was 16, 17 years old, I would have been a major red flag. And these kids are dealing with this and it’s pretty amazing how they have to grow up so much faster than most people. So it’s more about just getting as much information as we can and it helps us learn who they are and see how they mature and grow and gives us insight into where they can go.”

But it’s not just about casting a wide net, it’s also about getting as many eyes as possible involved in casting the net. So, while Terrell and his team are in charge of the high school side, the Jazz also send their college scouts and upper-level executives to events where the top high school players will be. That means Taylor, Zanik, Danny Ainge and everyone involved in the decision-making process are put on a schedule to see high school, prep, college and international prospects throughout the year.

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And the same is true for college and international players — the Jazz have Terrell and his team evaluating players at every level so they can weigh in on improvements and growth and changes.

Taylor’s goal, when he took over the scouting side of things, was to make sure that every front office member goes to two major high school events per year, that the high school and college scouts would crossover and share information, and that the college scouts, no matter where they are based, would be well-rounded and see all of the top prospects from around the country. That makes for a pretty busy schedule for everyone involved.

Narrowing the field

Terrell and his team meet once a month to discuss players that are either already in the Jazz’s database or need to be added. They’ll shuffle players around and debate about strength and weaknesses and potential and place players that are internally highly regarded into “draft buckets” based on what year they will be drafted into the NBA.

In August and September, everybody meets to transfer the high school seniors list that Terrell’s team has compiled into focus for the upcoming college scouting year. Those players are added in with returning college players and are all slotted into groups the Jazz think have first-round potential, second-round potential, players that could go undrafted or would be good for the G League.

Throughout the year, the Jazz have biweekly projects where they study groups of college players. Additionally, Taylor checks in with scouts weekly to get a sense of how things are going and if there’s anything new or different that needs to be updated.

“It’s kind of just to find out what they are seeing,” Taylor said. “Do we need to update? Do we need to move guys up or down on our lists? Has anyone popped up that we need to have Justin or Danny see? I get with them to weekly or biweekly to get a little more dialed in. And then in the bigger meetings we’re talking about the groups we’re studying and can have bigger conversations and that includes our international scouts so that everybody is on the same page.”

Once the college season nears it’s end, the Jazz start to do deep dives on players and the lists the Jazz have start to become more focused and more ranked. By the time the NBA season ends and the Jazz know where they are picking in the draft, they already have a comprehensive and thoroughly researched list with years of data and intel and they can zero in on groupings of players that they think will be available for the Jazz’s picks.

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A lot of people might assume that an NBA team is grinding away and doing a ton of work in the weeks and days leading up to a draft, but really, the majority of the work has already been done by that point. Pre-draft workouts and interviews are mostly to double check the work that’s been done internally and finalize some decisions, but they don’t make or break players.

“I think the players think it does,” Taylor said. “I think anybody does, right? If you go in for a job interview and you just bomb it, you assume that you didn’t get it. Well, this is a little different type of job interview because we have years of data on you. It’s just another piece. ... We’ve drafted guys who haven’t had good workouts. Then there’s the legendary Donovan Mitchell workout that everyone has talked about. But it’s funny because the Donovan Mitchell one happened, and at the time we thought it was unique to us. Then later you talk to other teams that were picking around where we were that had him in ... and they’re all like, ‘Yeah, he absolutely killed our workout too.’”

Meanwhile, as all of the draft preparations continue, Zanik and Ainge are feeling out opportunities around the league that could tie into the draft, which includes being knowledgeable about where teams are positioned in terms of success, what each of the other 29 teams are trying to achieve during the offseason, where they are in the draft and how that could impact the decisions the Jazz make.

The wheel keeps turning

After all of the work is done, the Jazz will head into the 2024 NBA draft on June 26 and 27 and the very next day the work continues.

Zanik, who officially returned to work in May following a kidney transplant, said that despite being away from the office, he didn’t stop working.


“I’m probably more prepared for the draft this year because I had six weeks of watching film three hours a day while I was laid up,” he said, with only a small hint of sarcasm. “But then we’ve got the summer schedule for high school, we’ve got the FIBA U-17, U-18, then there’s Summer League and evaluating all the guys that weren’t picked. It’s just constant monitoring. Then you get ready for the college schedules to come out and everyone hits the road. Then it’s November, December with the college season and all of a sudden it’s over, it’s April.”

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik speaks during an end-of-season press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re getting a sense at how involved and unending the scouting process is. But this is only a surface-level description. There are analytics meetings and there’s involvement from the G League side and there’s trips made to players’ hometowns and calls made to colleges that players passed on before committing elsewhere.

High school and college coaches are brought in to Salt Lake City to give in-depth intel, international scouts involved in the state-side scouting, there are debates and arguments, there are late bloomers that have to be added to the database and in the end, the Jazz can end up trading away a pick or a player.

But no matter what ends up happening, there’s always more to be done and another draft to prepare for. And every single NBA team is fighting to get a head start and have more intel than their competitors, so the wheel keeps on turning.

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