Timberwolves assistant general manager Gianluca Pascucci has a list that is renowned among his colleagues. Born in Pesaro, Italy, Pascucci’s career as a scout has taken him all over the world — and he’s had his fair share of Italian food outside his native country.
On Google Maps, he has the locations of those restaurants on different continents that have cleared Pascucci’s rigorous standards of approval.
“When I started scouting a long time ago, I said I’m not going to eat Italian food outside of Italy,” Pascucci said. “I’m used to the quality of my country. But now it’s a completely new generation when the level of Italian food over here in the U.S. really stepped up big time.”
Now, if anyone feels like Italian food, they consult Pascucci.
“He knows the spots to go to everywhere,” Wolves executive vice president Sachin Gupta said.
Pascucci, who is heading the Wolves’ prospect evaluations as they enter Wednesday’s draft with the top pick, has his system. He knows what he likes and what he doesn’t, and those precious details he investigates make all the difference.
This is also Pascucci’s approach to scouting, colleagues said. It’s a process he has fine-tuned over decades coming from Pesaro, a town Pascucci said is “one of the few cities in Italy where basketball is actually bigger than soccer historically.”
“As you progress and get closer to the draft, you have more and more information, more and more details,” Pascucci said. “You try to maximize this information to make everything a smooth process to make the right decision.”
The future of the franchise may hinge on that first decision, and Pascucci’s methods have helped guide them to this point.
It should come as no surprise, given his devotion to food, that Pascucci compares talent evaluation to it — specifically a pie.
“Different size slices are the live scouting, the video scouting, so on and so on,” Pascucci said. “All of these slices are important for the final result.”
Pascucci, 48, got his start coaching in Italy, then moved to a front office and scouting role. Through contacts, he made his way to the Houston Rockets, which is where he crossed paths with Wolves President Gersson Rosas and Gupta.
Rosas didn’t have much time upon taking the job last year to assemble a full staff before the draft. Now his staff is in place for this one, with Pascucci helping spearhead player evaluations.
Just what goes into those slices of Pascucci’s pie and how big are they when evaluating a player?
“I cannot reveal the secrets,” Pascucci said with a laugh.
However, Pascucci, who is also the general manager of the Wolves’ G-League affiliate in Iowa, did provide some insight into what he gleans from evaluating a prospect in person as opposed to on video.
Video, Pascucci said, provides the “quantity” necessary to make analysis on a player, the volume of games a team can use to see patterns in a player. An in-person evaluation provides the “quality.”
“It’s not that you can attend 50 games of every prospect in every draft. It’s impossible,” he said. “So there are some things in the live evaluation that are very hard to replicate in the video evaluation.”
Those characteristics include body language and how a player interacts with teammates and coaches. Even though the coronavirus canceled or postponed the end of the college and international seasons, Pascucci said there were enough games played already to compile adequate information on this year’s group of prospects.
“That feeling — the way he moves, the body — some of those traits are really hard or a little harder to get from the video evaluation,” Pascucci said.
Because of the pandemic, Pascucci had extra time to glean as much information as he can to prepare the Wolves for their selections at No. 1, 17 and 33, or as Gupta put it, to “study a player, come up with lots of questions and try to answer those questions. As you do that, you come up with more questions,” and on it goes.
It’s what Pascucci loves to do. Gupta said the fact that Pascucci has been able to work internationally and domestically throughout his career gives him a leg up that other scouts may not have.
“Some people have been doing this for a long time, but for a long time with one team. He’s been doing it across teams, across leagues,” Gupta said. “So he’s really been able to iterate on his process.”
Pascucci said there isn’t much difference between scouting internationally or in the U.S.
“You try to see the player and try to put everything in a context of where they are playing,” Pascucci said. “Why they are playing like this? What is the system and trying to project how that particular player or those players will be able to translate what they are doing at the NBA level?”
It’s also not just evaluating what players have done, but what they could be capable of that they haven’t shown yet.
“What could be the upside?” Pascucci said. “Something that maybe these players haven’t shown in the past but they can still improve and that will open up moving forward in their career at the NBA level.”
The eternal question around any draft is: Do you draft for need or fit, or do you draft the most talented player available?
Upon getting the No. 1 pick, Rosas insisted the Wolves would take the best player, regardless of fit. That’s notable because two of the three consensus top three picks, guard LaMelo Ball and center James Wiseman, play the same positions as D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Pascucci follows the same line of thinking as Rosas.
“Without talent it’s going to be really hard to compete at the highest level in a very challenging league like the NBA,” Pascucci said. “That’s the most important thing, having talent and as you know the draft is not a one year decision. It’s a decision that is impacting the organization moving forward two, three, four years and beyond.”
Selecting the best
After the Wolves’ first win in Brooklyn last season, it was on Pascucci, who used to work for the Nets, to make the postgame dinner plans. He knew a place. Italian of course, and the owner kept it open late for the Wolves staff.
“I didn’t even have to order,” Gupta said. “That’s what happens. He finds a spot for you. He’ll get it open if it’s closed. You sit down and they’re all speaking in Italian and you have confidence — you’re not worried about what’s coming. All this food and wine. Everything starts flowing.”
Just what does it take to make the list, or even get Pascucci to a restaurant in the first place? The devil, or rather the diavolo sauce, is in the details.
“Coming from Italy, you get a feel for if that type of food is real or not — what is inside and how they prepare it,” Pascucci said. “All of that is going to give me a good vibe if you want to try it or not.”
Pascucci has done his diligent scouting of the Twin Cities since moving here and a few locations have made his list — including Bar La Grassa and Italian Eatery.
“The list is pretty long, but it’s very selective …” Pascucci said.
Similarly, the list of Wolves’ potential draft picks is long, given they have three of the top 33 picks. The key is figuring out which ones hold up under the most scrutiny, those that are least likely to disappoint.
Pascucci has been honing that ability for decades, and not just for basketball purposes.