Q&A with Pacers Director of Scouting Ryan Carr — on prep work, workouts, and draft night

Ryan Carr.

The name is probably unfamiliar to those outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the NBA community. Within the Indiana Pacers organization, however, he plays a key role in constructing the team.

Carr, a former Indiana University manager under Bob Knight, first came to the Pacers in 1997 as a video intern on Larry Bird’s staff. (Bird, now team president, coached the team from 1997-2000.) It was longtime Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke that helped get him in the door.

The next season, he was promoted to video coordinator, a role that breaks down all kinds of film for the coaches and players. Especially film on future opponents. Carr left to take an assistant position at the University of Texas El Paso from 1999-2003, but then returned to the franchise in 2003 when Bird was named president.

Now, Carr is the Director of Scouting and he has a dozen others working alongside him scouting talent. (Pete Philo is the Director of International Scouting.) All of his scouts will have seen over 100 games and filled out hundreds of reports based on their observations. They are looking at a player’s characteristics, how he plays the game, how he interacts with players and coaches, how he adapts in game, and more. Analytics factors into the equation more than ever before.

Larry Bird has the final say and Kevin Pritchard is next in command, but it takes the entire department to make a sound pick.

Larry Bird has the final say and Kevin Pritchard is next in command, but it takes the entire department to make a sound pick.

“The one thing Ryan is is as organized as I’ve ever seen anybody,” said Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard. “He knows all the players from 1 to 400 right now. I always tell Ryan the information he gives us and the scouts, it’s almost voluminous. We do such deep dives, and Ryan does a great job of really understanding what the guys is talent wise and what he is character wise, too.”

The draft is obviously very important for all 30 teams and that’s especially true for those in smaller markets.

“I think you try to get, at the draft level, the best player you can because in a small market it’s your only chance to get special,” Pritchard added. “We’re not a complete draw for free agents. We’re not the New Yorks and we’re not the LAs. So to get the special, you got to try to get it in the draft.

“… We challenge our scouts to say who is the best talent. And we’ll figure it out. And Frank [Vogel] will figure it out how to get him on the court.”

Read our Q&A with Carr below, where last year he discussed his draft preparation, the pre-draft workouts, what’s it like in the war room, and more:

What’s the week leading up to the draft like?

It’s busy. You have a whole years worth of work that cresendos into one night. On top of evaluating players and trying to rank them into the order in which you think they’re going to be the best players, you have to deal with all the information. You try to find out who is going where. There’s kind of two parts: 1) Who’s going to be available when you pick and 2) who do you like that’s going to be available.

The process starts big. I always say it’s like a pyramid. At the start of the year, you have this big group of players and by the end you’re trying to get it down to a group that is the right group to put in front of Larry, Kevin, and Peter [Dinwiddie] as they make the final decision.

We need to get all the information we can for them, have suggestions in terms of evaluations, and be there to answer questions and give our opinions. Really, it’s about doing everything we can to make sure, whether it’s pick one or pick 60 or multiple picks, we make the best pick we can for the team.

Fair to say you already have your board set of how you think things will go in the first round, or at least certainly in the lottery?

It’s crazy, there’s trades going on right now. There’s so many things going on that you don’t really know but you have an idea. You’re trying to find out who people like, you’re trying to see if you can get information, ‘Hey, this team likes maybe two or three different players,’ and you try to put it together to see how it goes. The second round is a little crazy. When we have a first round pick, we try to knock out the picks before us. And then if you have an opportunity to get into the first round or higher up, you want to know, ‘If this is the player we like, where do we need to move to get him?’

How does not having a pick or having multiple picks change how you and your staff prepare for the draft?

It doesn’t change at all because you have to be prepared. As quickly as a trade was made where we didn’t have it, a trade could come at anytime to bring (another pick) or we could buy picks. There’s all kinds of things.

In terms of preparing along the year, the process doesn’t change no matter what pick you have or else you’re not being true to the whole thing because it can change so quickly. The night of the draft, there’s phone calls, there’s options Larry and Kevin have to do different things. You have to be prepared to know what’s going on with any of the situations and what players may interest you at different levels of the draft.

Carr in between President Larry Bird and consultant Donnie Walsh.

Carr in between President Larry Bird and consultant Donnie Walsh.

I know Kevin is a big proponent of buying picks. Is Larry that way, too?

Yeah, you bet. We’ve been active on draft night. We traded to get the pick to get Roy Hibbert. We bought a pick a few years ago to get Orlando (Johnson). There’s always calls, there’s always options. It’s up to those guys to decide if they want to do it or not. Sometimes the costs are too high to do, not just money wise but also what they are asking in return. There’s a lot more ‘no’ than ‘yes’ but it’s exciting when they feel like something comes along that they want to do. The whole room kind of buzzes a little bit.

It’s a fun night. It’s an unpredictable night. Hopefully we come out of it with players that can help your team in the long run.

[Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard all for having free agency prior to the draft]

What’s the draft war room like?

The work is pretty much done by then. In our draft room we have come up with a plan that tries to cover anything that could come up. Larry’s nature is to have the room very organized, very calm, and a working environment. It’s probably not typical of a fantasy league draft or something like that. You have a lot of information that if a question comes up and you need to access, it’s very organized and runs smoothly and quietly. I feel like my responsibility is to make sure it is organized and that we have anything we need to answer any question.

Our medical staff is there as well as our team doctors. We have everybody there that we need to make a decision.

Pacers held their second pre-draft workout on Tuesday and it was heavy on guards.

Carr (far left) joins coach Vogel and the other coaches after a pre-draft workout.

What do you try to get out of the pre-draft workouts?

We’ve seen them play before. There might be some stuff on the court that we want to see. Really what’s good about it is the chance to be around the guys. It’s not college recruiting. We don’t get to talk to them during the year. We don’t get a chance to know them so these are our opportunities to spend time with them, get to know them, ask them questions, and interview them. As much as the basketball is important, the other stuff is important, too.

While they’re here, they get to touch so many different parts of our staff — our trainers, our coaches, our scouts, our front office — that everybody finally gets a feel and gets to know these kids a little bit.

On getting commitments to play on the team’s Summer League team…

I have commitments from D-League players, some overseas guys. After the draft, we’ll see who doesn’t get selected and fill out the roster. The Summer League team now, to get the guys you really liked to take a close look at, you work on that way before now. Those guys will come in (soon) and start practicing for rookie/free agent camp and then go to Orlando.

It happens quickly. You can’t just throw that thing together. That’s something we talk about all year, guys we’d like to get with our coaches for Summer League. A guy like Rasual Butler made the team from doing it (two summers ago). Look, he had been an NBA player for a long time but he was willing to fight through, kind of start back at the bottom, and he was a great addition to our club.

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