In January 2017, high school senior Jackson Hoy was binging tape of Ohio Valley Conference college basketball games. Even more obscure than the conference was the player that had captured Hoy’s attention.
The skinny freshman guard on Hoy’s computer screen was unranked by every big recruiting site. He had received only one high-major scholarship offer, but to Hoy, it was apparent that he was watching a future top draft pick.
“You won’t find him in ESPN’s preseason 60-pick mock draft, SI’s preseason top-60, or even mentioned anywhere [outside of this article]”Jackson wrote in a since-deleted story for the draft website The Stepien back in 2017.”[He] has a legitimate argument for being a top-10 prospect in this class, with the potential to rise even higher than that.”
That prospect? Ja Morant.
The Murray State guard would go on to be drafted second overall by the Grizzlies in 2019. He wasn’t the only one that they were monitoring, though.
They extended Hoy an internship offer after his freshman year at the University of Southern California. By the time Hoy graduated in May 2022, the Grizzlies had already promoted him twice. In his first job out of college, he was a rising employee on one of the best scouting staffs in the NBA.
Some personal news:
I’ve accepted a basketball operations internship with an NBA team. I’ll be stepping away from public basketball-related content for the foreseeable future. I’m very thankful for this opportunity and for everyone who has helped me along the way!
—Jackson Hoy (@jacksonghoy) April 30, 2019
Hoy is one of the great success stories of what can happen for amateur scouts in an era in which the internet has extended everyone’s reach — but he’s far from the only one.
Draft Twitter is a weird, ultra-dedicated and brilliant corner of the internet. It’s grown leaps and bounds in popularity and influence over the past five or so drafts.
There’s no official date for when Draft Twitter coalesced, but one of its earliest members, Mike Gribanovthinks it started gaining steam around 2016 or 2017. The availability of high-quality film and stats for nearly every scout-worthy event opened up the avenues for anyone and everyone that wanted to analyze NBA prospects.
“All of the people that had a proclivity for this sort of thing but didn’t have the access in the past now were able to take advantage of these things,” Gribanov said. “Twitter just happened to be where they all converged.”
Spencer Pearlman was one of those amateur scouts on Draft Twitter in its early days. Like every other member, he lives, eats and sleeps basketball.
“I think it’s pretty difficult to find people on Draft Twitter who aren’t friendly or know the game,” Pearlman said. “Considering some of the games that we need to watch, they definitely do this because they love it, not because they have to.”
In September 2019, Pearlman was working 50 hours per week at KPMG, analyzing and interpreting trade and customs laws. He dedicated a similar amount of time trying to break into the basketball industry.
During long train rides to his office in New York City, Pearlman was doing basketball work. When he got home, he watched film and wrote breakdowns. Eventually, he started catching the eyes of NBA executives, agents and scouts.
“I’d get notifications for people who follow me, and I’d see so-and-so from whatever team. Sometimes I would reach out,” Pearlman said. “The people who wanted to have some sort of dialogue or relationship were all really open and helpful. They read my scouting reports and provided feedback.”
Sixteen months later, that work paid off. Pearlman landed a full-time job in basketball. He’s now the Basketball Operations Lead at Sports Info Solutions, managing over 50 scouts.
I teased this a few weeks back, but I’m joining @SportsInfo_SIS as a Senior Basketball Operations Analyst. Really pumped about this and I know there is a REALLY bright future ahead and I’m thrilled to be on the team. Give them a follow!
—Spencer (@SKPearlman) December 31, 2020
That path, from getting noticed on Draft Twitter to working full-time in basketball, has become much more commonly traveled in the past few years.
“I was in a Draft Twitter group DM two years ago,” SB Nation writer Ricky O’Donnell said. “That group is basically over because everybody got hired. A lot got hired by the Rockets, and a lot got hired by the Grizzlies.”
Cole Zwicker is another one of those big success stories. Zwicker wasn’t a high-level player. He didn’t have NBA connections when he first started writing about the draft. He was a licensed attorney in Wisconsin who taught himself about the league’s complicated salary cap rules in hopes of one day becoming a strategist for a team.
Toward the end of 2015, he started dipping his toes into the Draft Twitter waters, too.
“I definitely had a reading audience, as far as people following me on Twitter,” Zwicker said. “Draft Twitter was much smaller back then. I probably had an early mover advantage there.”
Zwicker co-founded The Stepien with fellow Draft Twitter alum Sean Derenthal in 2017. Their site quickly became a launching pad for NBA careers, including Zwicker’s own. He’s now a scout for the Rockets.
“At this point, I’m pretty sure we’ve had, like, eight people that have written for The Stepien and have a job in the NBA,” Zwicker said. “I’m pretty proud of that. … We usually can find people that are really talented. Something that we did at The Stepien was that we were able to identify people that had potential to be really good at this.
“Twitter gives you an avenue to actually locate these people. I would have never put them in real life.”
Usually like to keep a low profile but with the article that came out today I just wanted to say (long overdue) thanks for reading & supporting The Stepien and everything else over the years. Has been awesome to see a unique path to the league happen for good & talented people
— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) June 26, 2021
Draft Twitter is good at promoting its own, and that buzz tends to find its way up the ladder.
“Teams definitely do pay attention to Twitter,” Pearlman said. “I’ve literally been told that. And we [at SIS] do also.”
Evan Zaucha is one such example. Zaucha was a neuroscientist working for Labcorp Drug Development before he got the itch to dive into the NBA Draft waters. Zaucha had the ability to listen to basketball podcasts during work hours, so he immersed himself in the topic.
Using his unique educational background, he wrote a story on the art and science of feel in basketball. It took only a few hours for Zaucha’s story to go viral on Twitter.
The Art and Science of “Feel” in Basketball. In my first philosophical basketball piece, I apply my neuroscience background to define the neurological basis of “feel” in basketball and discuss the evidence backing the belief that it can be developed. https://t.co/BeLu8N9Rlh
— Evan Zaucha (@EZ_Hoops) January 4, 2021
“I definitely heard about some people in the league taking notice of it,” Zaucha said. “I had calls with a decent number of developmental assistants or coaches in the league. Not head coach level or anything like that, but plenty of people in the league between scouts and player personnel.
“I ended up meeting just a bunch of people and making good connections with them through honestly a lot of Twitter group messages and calls and having people on [my podcast].”
Zaucha’s draft work eventually helped land him a full-time job at SIS, where he currently works as a basketball operations analyst.
Teams and companies like SIS wouldn’t be hiring from Draft Twitter if the ideas on there weren’t good. There are some advantages that amateur scouts in the Draft Twitter community have over traditional team scouts or bigger outlets.
“What Draft Twitter does well is poke holes in conventional thinking,” O’Donnell said.
Draft Twitter also gives an unlimited space to fire away takes at a level of nuance that is unheard of in other avenues.
“Some prospects, we would do an hour and a half breaking down just one guy,” Zwicker said. “It seemed kind of ridiculous to some people, but others really enjoyed it. That carried over to The Stepien, writing longer pieces. We had guys writing 84-minute reads. I think my longest was a 65-minute read. People were like , ‘You guys are nuts.'”
The level of detail that Draft Twitter goes into with prospects is certainly noteworthy, but the sharpness of analysis goes far beyond length.
“People on Draft Twitter are more open-minded and more open to new approaches, using statistical approaches and stuff like that,” Gribanov said. “On the NBA side, they’re more worried about getting fired, so there’s a more conservative, traditional approach.”
Because of the sheer volume of people on Draft Twitter and the passion of its members, they can also collectively watch a much larger volume of games than any single NBA scouting department.
“Even in the [1980s]most teams didn’t have any idea about who most players were in low major conferences and stuff like that,” Gribanov said. “And even now, most teams don’t have more than a few scouts.
“And I think when this stuff became open to the public due to aforementioned tech advances, there was now a much larger amount of people researching and testing different philosophies and approaches.”
Draft Twitter’s results speak for themselves.
Led by Gribanov, the community combines their big boards to form consensus rankings for every draft. Some of their best hits include pegging LaMelo Ball and Luka Doncic as the best talents in their classes. Every player that you love on the Grizzlies has also at one point been a Draft Twitter darling.
ALRIGHT! Here is the 2022 NBA Draft Twitter Consensus… https://t.co/r0WY2m11AZ
— mike gribanov (@mikegrib8) June 23, 2022
But Draft Twitter has also had some notable misses.
The consensus was way too high on Killian Hayes and Jarrett Culver. Pearlman admits that there can be an element of “groupthink” on Draft Twitter, adding that some analysts may lean too heavily on stats.
“You’re missing close interactions with the players themselves,” O’Donnell said. “Maybe how hard of a worker they are, what they’re like off the court. That can be very meaningful in how they improve.”
There is also the issue that Draft Twitter is constantly evolving.
“The best people leave, and then you get other people who aren’t quite as good trying to fill that space,” O’Donnell said.
Brain drain aside, Draft Twitter still provides some of the best scouting information publicly available. The personalities that occupy the space are both wildly entertaining and incredibly informative.
Not only has it become one of the best places to unearth future star players, it has also revealed some of the best future NBA scouts.
“If people are putting out good draft content, it will be found by people who are in these groups, or maybe someone with a team,” Pearlman said. “They’ll be roped in somehow.”
For Hoy, Pearlman, Zwicker, Zaucha and countless others, the path to a basketball job was all about being given a chance to show their skill. Draft Twitter provided that opportunity.
“I think the best advice I ever received [was], ‘It’s not about who you know. It’s about who knows you,'” Zwicker said. “And Twitter gives you an avenue to get your name out there.”
The next Morant is dribbling on the court, and the next great NBA scout is sitting in front of a screen. Check out Draft Twitter, and you may just find the next big star before anyone else.