Scott Simpson: On Life as an Advance Scout for the Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers hired Zionsville resident Scott Simpson as the advance scout for the franchise. Simpson—a ZCHS graduate—spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League and previously served as an advance scout for the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and USA Basketball and was an assistant coach for the Long Island Nets before joining the Mad Ants.
What Does an Advance Scout in the NBA Do?
The duties and lifestyle of an advance scout is inarguably the most taxing job on NBA teams. An advance scout spends a great deal of time on the road—over 200 days a year—attending games to record opponents’ sets and play calls and gather tactical information to bring back to the scout’s home team coaching staff. Essentially, an advance scout is sent out in advance of a game to do reconnaissance on the other teams.
In addition to the scope of work an advance scout must complete upon each trip, this person is also traveling—commercial—and living out of their suitcase 20–22 nights a month.
“What’s interesting about my job is that I am basically going to specifically watch our opponents in the preparation process so that we [the Pacers] can tactically prepare to play against them,” Simpson explained. “In the NBA, we all know we’re doing it to each other, and I’m friends with all the other [advance] scouts, so it’s not like we’re ‘cloak-and-dagger’ and sneaking around out there.”
When asked if NBA franchises play fair and provide decent seats to advance scouts or rather place them in the nosebleed sections or up in the rafters, Simpson replied, “It’s a big topic of conversation amongst the advance scouting community—which arena takes the best care of us and gives us the desirable seats and which [arenas] do not. It’s a reciprocation thing—we’ll provide them with a good seat, but they better provide us with a good seat. We in the advance scouting community have our desired arenas that we like to go to and where we know we’re going to be placed in a good position to get our jobs done well. It will be interesting to see what that looks like this season with COVID-19 regulations.”
Simpson shared why it is necessary for advance scouts to physically attend the games rather than watch them on TV or playback videos.
“We’re constantly looking for communication,” Simpson said. “In a very basic explanation, I’m sent to the game to get all the information I can that we can’t get off of video/film, and you have to be there in person because a lot of the [tactical] information is communication based. I have to decipher what a hand signal means and put names to basketball actions so that the coaching staff can come up with strategies on how to combat those actions.”
The Journey to Becoming an Advance Scout
“Just like everybody else who’s grown up in Indiana, you likely have grown up a Pacers fan, college sports fan, and we were definitely a sports family,” Simpson shared. “As far back as I can remember, we had a basketball goal down in our basement, and I can remember my grandma—my dad’s mom—coming down and playing one-on-one with me. I didn’t know that was unusual. When you’re 5 years old, you don’t know that other people’s grandmas don’t do that.”
Simpson’s dad also painted a half court in their cul-de-sac where the neighborhood kids could safely play. And though Simpson played basketball as a youth, he chose to focus on golf in high school. Once he was in college at Arizona State University, Simpson decided to alter his course and experiment with coaching basketball.
“My dad had been telling me for years that I should get into coaching,” Simpson recalled. “Long story short, I ended up getting invited to coach a sixth-grade boys [basketball] team. I had a great experience, and we had a ton of success, so I thought, OK, maybe there’s something to this.”
Simpson became a student manager for the basketball team at Arizona State while attending as a full-time student working toward a communication degree.
Simpson added, “I was working towards my degree but was really going to ‘Basketball 101’ every day as a student manager. I had thought that I just wanted to be a college coach, and having gone to the same high school as Brad Stevens—whose career had started to take off—I called him and asked him what he thought I should do. He told me that DePauw University had a good setup, and it’s where he had played college basketball. And I had a great experience in Greencastle. There’s a lot of great people at DePauw, and the head coach Bill Fenlon is still there—he was Brad’s coach.”
Simpson acquired experience in both D2 and D3 college basketball teams by the time he was offered a “break of a lifetime” by the Houston Rockets as a video intern.
“I was the lowest guy on the totem pole and was in the video room for two years with Houston,” Simpson said. “I would get a little bone here and there and was able to dip my toe in the water to see what it would be like to be an advance scout. I had grown a strong interest in that role.”
Simpson accepted a position with the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise in the 2009–10 season.
“It was the second year that they were a franchise in Oklahoma City,” Simpson stated. “They were not good the year before, but they had a third-year player named Kevin Durant, a second-year player named Russell Westbrook, and they had just drafted a rookie named James Harden. I didn’t know it at the time that those were going to become powerhouse names. We went on this unbelievable five-year run. I was still in the video room my second year [with the Thunder] and I got promoted, so I started traveling for the first time. I had made it really clear to the management and coaching staff that I wanted to be an advance scout one day.”
Simpson had turned 30 years old at the time of the 2011 NBA lockout. He recalled coming home for a very special Thanksgiving that year—one that would change the trajectory of his career and life.
“I was back home in Indiana during the lockout and for Thanksgiving,” Simpson said. “I went to a DePauw game when I got a phone call that the lockout was ending and the Thunder needed me back in town by Monday. That Wednesday, I get called into coach [Scott] Brooks’ office and he said, ‘You’re going to be the advance scout now.’”
At that time, Simpson was the youngest advance scout in the NBA.
When asked if the sacrifices made are worth it at the end of the day, Simpson said, “I don’t have a wife and children, but I still miss birthday parties and other life events. It’s really challenging sleeping in a different bed every night and getting on an airplane every day. It’s a passion project for sure, but it’s still a large task to take on. You can’t just come in and say, ‘I need the weekend off.’ That’s not an option.”
As Simpson prepares for the upcoming season as an advance scout with the Pacers organization—his hometown team and a franchise he has dreamt about working with his entire career—he expressed, “I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.”