Names such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, and Luka Doncic may be household ones to hoops fans today, but the logistics of finding the best prospects around the world—whether in Greece, Cameroon, or Slovenia—have remained as arduous and time-intensive as ever. The chances of the next great international superstar being discovered are still too heavily weighted toward luck and opportunity. That could be about to change.
On Friday at the NBA All-Star Tech Summit, the league unveiled NBA Global Scout, a mobile, AI-powered app that allows players from India to Indiana, China to Chi-town, Senegal to San Diego to record their measurements—such as wingspan, height, vertical leap, and agility—then build and show off their skills through development drills created to help NBA scouts evaluate their on-court proficiencies.
NBA chief innovation officer Amy Brooks says this is a tool to help democratize the process of trying to be an elite basketball player. “We see the possibilities here as essentially creating the LinkedIn for elite basketball,” says Brooks. “In the short term, it starts with profile and anthropometric and agility metrics. In the long term, there’s even more possibilities when it comes to game video from players, tracking data, highlights, and more, just aggregated profiles of complete basketball players. Scouting is resource-intensive, and it will be fantastic both for the NBA and elite players globally to make the discovery process more seamless using technology.”
As the NBA All-Star festivities tip off in Chicago, there are 19 international players from 15 countries taking part across the Rising Stars game, All-Star Saturday night, and the 69th NBA All-Star game. Meantime, fans in 215 countries and territories will be tuning in to watch, on any and every screen available, in 47 languages. The globalization of the NBA has been growing for decades, and now Global Scout aims to take the league’s scouting capabilities to every corner of the earth in a way it’s never been before.
Global Scout is the next evolution in a partnership between the league and Nex Team’s basketball player development app, HomeCourt, that started last year. In addition to the league, investors in HomeCourt include Will Smith’s Dreamers Fund, the Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund, and a laundry list of pro ballers, including Steve Nash, Al Horford, Sue Bird, Bradley Beal, and the Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles), as well as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Brooklyn Nets co-owner (and Alibaba executive vice-chairman) Joe Tsai.
Brooks says something like Global Scout was always part of the road map in the partnership with HomeCourt, given the company’s unique ability to blend basketball and mobile technology. Alex Wu, cofounder of HomeCourt parent Nex Team, says the inspiration for the new app came during last spring’s NBA draft combine, where prospects gather to show off their skills to scouts in person.
“It’s this elite selection of players, and we started thinking about what we could do to bring this experience and kind of evaluation into homes and driveways around the world,” says Wu. “We believe talent is distributed, you can find talent anywhere, but opportunity is not. So it’s about looking at how we can map talent better and more efficiently. We’ve still got a long way to go, but this is an exciting first step.”
Global Scout ties into the new iteration of the overall HomeCourt app, which takes each individual player’s measurements and skills and ranks them, using a grading system balanced off actual pro ballers, to give users a video game-like overall rating score. That way, not only can players see where they’re excelling and where they need improvement, but scouts can also filter searches based on a wide variety of criteria.
According to NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell, Global Scout will have an immediate impact, with the league’s international basketball operations group using it to identify prospects for upcoming events and programs related to Basketball Without Borders and the NBA Academies. “It’s clear that at every level of basketball, teams are placing a larger emphasis on international scouting,” says Spruell. “For six straight seasons the NBA has had at least 100 international players on opening-night rosters, and it’s not just the quantity but also the quality of international players that has grown significantly in recent years. [This] provides a new, efficient way for players around the world to showcase their talent and be discovered for basketball opportunities.”
Sooner than we might think, a top draft pick will have his entire journey to the NBA logged in HomeCourt. But Brooks says it’s about that balance between fan and prospect.
“We know we have fans globally, and 1% of our fans ever make it to a live game,” says Brooks. “So it’s about finding ways to reach fans to inspire them to play the game, to aspire to play in the NBA, and this is just part of the overall strategy.”