Daniel Gómez Otero is a Spanish coach with extensive experience in both youth basketball and professional basketball. He began his career in the youth categories of Basketball Torrelodones, a club in which he became Sports Director and Coach of the first team in the EBA League. He has also been part of the Madrid Basketball Federation coaching school as a tutor and coordinator and coach of Post players at Tabak Academy. Daniel has been an assistant coach at Portland Trail Blazers during Summer League and Training Camps. Additionally, he has been a coach in the NBA Basketball Without Borders and the Jordan Brand Classic. This season he has signed as an International Scout with the Phoenix Suns. Lipe Cristóbal Galindo of Future Stars speaks with Daniel about his career and what he looks for in potential young talent.
How did this new step in your professional career arise and what does it mean for you?
It is another part of the basketball business. The fourteen years that I have been working, they had always developed on the court, this is the first job within the business that is more within the offices. Now, my work is within the front office, not the coaching staff. The front office is made up of a series of people who are in charge of the scouts, advanced statistics, sports management, roster design and coach selection. My role in this team is to report to the general manager and assistant general managers on players that may have the potential to be at the international level, both in Draft U22 age, and professional players, facing possible Draft selections or players that may have a future in the team. Therefore, it is to consider basketball from another point of view. It is to analyze players who can adapt to your game, who can fit in the technical and tactical part, economic factors, at a logistical level (contractual situations with their clubs), that is, see basketball from another perspective.
When you see a player, what do you look for? What do you think a player must have to be ready to go to the NBA?
There are several factors that must be analyzed. Obviously, the first factor is to differentiate between two types of players: firstly, we have ready-made players, that is professional players or last-year draft players. These players are usually technically, tactically and physically already developed. Second, we have players who are a project, that is, young people who you believe that have the potential to become NBA-level players.
Within these differences, you must see within your team and your franchise what characteristics are adapted to your game. In the end, there are talented players who can adapt to any organization and to any team because their talent allows them to contribute to any team, and there are other players with more specific characteristics, most of them, with a medium-high level, who stand out for some aspects, but others need to improve them. My duty is to see within those players which ones have the characteristics that the team needs and that they can fit in to be able to have minutes contributing in a positive way to the team.
Looking at it from a more specific point of view, players with physical talent always start with a little advantage because the NBA is physically very demanding, but right now, all this is changing. There are players who are not physically excellent but who have other facets that can help, for example, a big player with playmaker skills. In the end, when moving between such talented players, what you have to look for are those in which their strongest facets fit the team. You will always find good shooters, good passers, good pick and roll players… but the goal is to find which of them would best suit the team’s philosophy.
Do you think there is much difference between a player who is ready to go to the NBA and a player who is ready to play in Europe? Why can a player be prepared to play in Europe but not in the NBA?
Right now, it is a reality that young players who play at a high level in Europe are prepared players. Players who have already been important in their teams, having minutes in Euroleague and Eurocup already have experience at a high level of demand. If those players are capable of playing European competitions, they may have the skills to enter the NBA and earn a position. Obviously, it is not something automatic, but that gives you a sign that being young in a professional environment they are able to understand the defensive and offensive tactical complexity and also have skills that allow them to be on the court at these high levels. Maye it is not in 100% of the cases, but young players who play in the major leagues outside the United States almost always meet requirements that can help them get into the NBA.
Then there is another profile of players known as Bloomers, who are players who still need to develop but who, being 18 or 19 years old, have a growth margin that will allow them to be NBA players in two or three years. They are a bit unknown, a surprise, since they need competition as they have not yet competed in an environment that is one hundred percent of high professional competition and that first experience may be in the NBA. They are players who need a development period, so for those cases there is the G-League and other tools that allow them to have a high degree of adaptation.
What non-negotiable points do you think a player must have in order to go from a young team to a professional team?
On a physical and technical level, if a player is already in a professional environment in Europe, it is because they have something that other players their age don’t have. These points will be improved over time, but he must already have a good base to be able to go up to the first team. What is really going to make the difference to be able to have an important role or succeed in a professional team is, in the first place, tactics and discipline when it comes to being able to apply the offensive and defensive rules that a professional team can have. In short, not making mistakes in five-on-five situations in training is what can help you adapt to the dynamics of a professional team.
The second factor is adaptation to your new role. In most cases, the players who reach the first team of their club have been “stars” in their teams. Players with a very important role, scorers, with many minutes. These are players who have typically been part of their respective national teams. They have to be able to contribute with a new role, not being so important, spending a lot of time on the bench, and earning the minutes in daily work. This new change of scenery is difficult for many players and they are not able to overcome it because they do not perceive its role in their evolution. They are not able to see it as a medium or long-term career and continue working day by day, and that causes many players to be lost along the way.
These two parts are the ones that I think are important when it comes to taking the step to professionalism, being able to read and act fast when you’re on the court and having that patience necessary to gain importance in the team.
In our interview with Dino Radja, he told us that many players today want to achieve success almost without training, when he trained eight hours a day in his days as a young player. For you, what is the percentage of talent and what is the percentage of work to be able to succeed as a player? How much did a player have to train before he could become an NBA player?
In the end one is linked to the other. Players who have extraordinary levels of talent that can remain at elite level without working excessively almost do not exist, they are a very low percentage. The reality is that it is the case for almost all players that just having a very good physique and talent, or a beastly shooting capacity is not enough. This implies that they must be hungry and humble to understand that they need extra work, they need to have an open mind to improve, they need to accept criticism. They need to understand that their role is small and they will play a few minutes, but despite it, have that mental toughness to be able to continue working … and all this has to come from him. He has to be the one who takes this with him to the first team. If the assistant coaches are the ones who have to be pulling him to train extra or to watch videos it is not going to go well because his evolution is not going to be on the line it should. Also a 19-year-old player cannot lead the life of a 29 year old player. This sometimes affect them badly because they try the life of older players instead of the life of a young player determined to reach the level they must have to be on that team. There are times when you think it is a year and it becomes very long, sometimes it is more than a year and it costs you more, and you start to get discouraged, you lose that mental toughness. In addition, sometimes around them there are decisions that they do not control, such as transfers, they go from one team to another, and that confuses them. Then the path that they should follow is not clear and they feel that they stumble from one place to another. It is important that both the environment and the player are clear about the path they should follow and try to take him there. There are times that it can be achieved and there are times that it cannot because the player’s mental weakness will not allow it.
Due to the different way of playing and the incomparable talent that exists in the NBA, do you think that young players who only look at NBA basketball see their evolution negatively affected by the NBA style?
The NBA is a very different game. It has an enormous tactical wealth, but you should know that one against one is valued much more than in Europe. The big difference is the three point line distance and above all the rule of three defensive seconds. This completely changes the game, since in the NBA there are many more spaces and conditions the game favoring the attack. In addition, NBA players are capable of exceptional things, and there are very few such players in the world. You have to find your characteristics, your body and what you can do best on the court, not try to imitate what others do. In the end, the NBA has a lot of influence on the rest of the world. Since players are very young they are watching games and highlights, all children want to see themselves reflected in them, but you must have the maturity to know where you are, understand your capabilities and know what you can do to help a team on the court. This has a lot to do with the people around you, how they advise you, how they help you, especially your agent, the assistant coaches, the sports director … they should help guide you. An environment that helps you to know your game, that keeps your feet on the ground is key to your evolution. Not only at a technical and tactical level, but also at the level of expectations. Many times wrong expectations lead to frustration.
In the end, NBA and FIBA influence each other. In NBA there is a lot of difference between defense and offense. There is so much talent that offense has a lot of superiority over defense. This is why it seems that many times there´s no defense, but it is due to the fact of this superiority. In Europe, this superiority is not so great, it is much more even, so the defense can stop the attack more. In the United States, being so good technically and tactically, that if in the end your shooting range rises to eight and a half meters it is impossible to defend, it breaks the entire system of help and rotations. If they score from such long distances, what can you do? And those kinds of things condition the game a lot.
Do you think NBA basketball will end up looking like FIBA, will FIBA look like NBA or will differences still exist?
There will be influence in both directions. There are more and more European coaches in the NBA, there are more international players in the NBA, more players who have been in NBA environments who come to European teams … therefore there is more and more exchange of information . The fact that there are coaches who have experience in the NBA and now they are in Euroleague gives a lot of wealth since they can bring many ideas of NBA to Europe that are applicable and that are already being applied. There is a lot of influence on the part of both sides, and that is very good because it is giving a different dimension to basketball. In the end, as the players should do, it is to see what tactical aspects can fit, both FIBA in NBA and NBA in FIBA, even Colleges. Anything that can help basketball grow is a good thing for both sides.
Thank you and good luck in the future!