By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
It was another fine weekend in Portsmouth, Virginia where NBA and European executives came together to scout some hopeful talent for their leagues. With the Nike Hoop Summit also going on this week, the event was a little bit different from an NBA perspective, because there were less top personnel attending Portsmouth. With the economic situation being what it is in a lot of places in Europe, there were a fair amount of GM’s from across the pond looking for affordable talent for next season. Or in some cases a team wants to start following players that might become interesting to them as they progress in their career. I was in Portsmouth for all four days and here’s some of the thoughts, notes, and info from the event.
Wayne Blackshear replaced by Chavaughn Lewis
David Kravish replaced by Darion Atkins
Yanick Moriera replaced Maurice Walker
Jordan Sibert replaced by Keon Moore
Joshua Smith replaced by Corey Petros
Corey Hawkins replaced by Pierria Henry
Jarvis Summers replaced by Nimrod Hilliard
The goal for a lot of players who choose to play at the Portsmouth Invitational (PIT) is to get into the Chicago Pre-Draft Camp. So someone, like Corey Hawkins who would be perfect to play in a tournament like this, didn’t come because the rumor was he had a good chance to get picked for Chicago. Someone like Jordan Sibert was playing big minutes all year and was playing hurt for the second half the season needed to get medical work done and it just wasn’t worth it to come. Then there’s David Kravish, Wayne Blackshear, and other players listed above who would fit right into the mix of players at PIT but chose to not come. And their decision is a bit befuddling. A player’s ‘stock’ whether for the NBA Draft or for signing professionally, matters a lot this time of year. And agents and players work to protect that stock, so if they think PIT will not help their client, then they choose to turn it down. But even if your playing is not up to par at PIT, it’s a chance for a lot of International teams to see you in person and to start following you, which can be pretty crucial. The interesting thing this season, was how much PIT helped the ‘stock’ of the some of the replacement players.
Darion Atkins (Virginia) – If you weren’t following the event all week, Atkins was the best player. Coming from Virginia, in their slow it down style and plethora of bigs, Atkins was not always able to show off his offensive tools. But in a free flowing setting like PIT, he looked amazing. He’s quick, with great footwork, and was able to maneuver wherever he wanted in the paint. He’s got a soft mid-range shot. Coming from UVA he’s well school in team defensive principles and even at 6’7″ with good length, he held his own protecting the rim. Overall he finished first in scoring, third in rebounding, and tied for first in blocks. And probably locked up an invite to Chicago. Often it just pays to play.
Chavaughn Lewis (Marist) – Another member of the All-Tournament team, Lewis is a super athlete who can really get up and down the floor. There are few better places to show off your athleticism than PIT. Lewis got to the hoop, was able to draw a ton of fouls, and went after steals with a vengeance. Lewis is a non-shooter but was able to focus on showing off what he does well. And this is a guy who was called the morning of the day the games started and told he was a replacement pick and had to figure out his way to Portsmouth. And he sure did.
Pierria Henry (Charlotte) and Nimrod Hilliard (North Carolina Central) – To a lesser extent, Henry and Hilliard also helped themselves out a great deal at PIT. Two guys from smaller schools who weren’t really on anyone’s radar. Henry was one of the NCAA leaders in steals and he showed it at PIT. He’s a wild horse, swiping at ball-handlers and then racing out in transition. Henry was one of the best guys all weekend at getting to the hoop, he just can’t finish. Henry did lead PIT in assists. Hilliard has the body mass of most teenagers but he’s a capable floor general who can hit open shots. He was fourth overall in assists and showed that if he can pack on a few more pounds, he’s got a pro career ahead of him.
Stock Up: Big Men
A Common misconception about PIT is that it’s totally guard dominated and the big men don’t look good. The competition (JUST LIKE COLLEGE BASKETBALL!) is guard dominated to a degree but the big men still look good. And many bigs are given chances to play in a way that their colleges never allowed them to.
Showing off a Softer Stroke
The example of Shayne Wittington last season, who shot more three-pointers at PIT than he did his whole senior season, is the shining example of a post player showing off his shooting. Whittington was able to land a fully guaranteed contract with the Indiana Pacers for this season off his PIT performance. Whether a player is trying to show they are more of a four than a five or a three than a four or they just want to be stretchier, PIT is a place where you can hit a handful of outside shots and change some perceptions on your game. The one thing most players have to remember is just because you can make a few shots, doesn’t mean you should forget who you are. A stretch big man is great when they can also combine the dirty work of a true post player.
Cady Lalanne (UMass) – The big UMass center was mainly a post-up guy at school but he came to PIT ready to show off his jumper. He hit a bunch of sideline shots, some elbow J’s, and even stretched out for a couple of top of the key three’s. And he wasn’t just making shots, these were clean swishes. And now Lalanne can be looked at as a stretch 4/5 and his stretch stock probably went up the most.
The next three players are all more forwards than bigs but they also tried to show off some outside shooting. Their shots are still a work in progress but at least they are progressing.
Dustin Hogue (Iowa State) –Hogue was more of a five in college, has the body of a combo forward and his only route to the NBA is as a three. So it’s tough for someone like that to figure out how he should showcase himself at PIT. In my opinion he is a hard working four and should stick to that. He obviously has been working on his spot-up three-point shot. He made three of them, and he showed that his shot is improving and playing on the perimeter some, is now a possibility for him.
Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State) – Nash wants badly to be a small forward, he’ll do anything. He made two three’s all year at Oklahoma State and four at PIT in half the attempts. But with Nash it’s a little bit about forgetting who you are. As a four, he’s a match-up problem and can attack off the bounce. As a three he has average speed, athleticism, and ball skills, the tools that make him a mismatch at the four. You can show off a new skill but you can’t hide from who you are.
JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova) – Pinkston has a funky game, kind of a driving/bruising four man. But he’s really short at 6’5″ (he does have good length with a 7ft wingspan). He was three for eight at PIT from three and zero for six during the season. It wasn’t the world’s sweetest stroke but it was an improvement.
Stretching in Other Ways
TaShawn Thomas (Oklahoma) – Playing at Houston Thomas had full offensive freedom but as a graduate senior transfer at Oklahoma, he had to fit into the team and he had a limited offensive role. Thomas is a mediocre shooter but he has great ball skills and a nice handle for being so big and strong. A few drives from the top of the key or attacks in transition really showed a diverse skill set few bigs have.
Modern Mobile Rim Runners
Stretching the floor is great but following in the steps of the Hines, Slaughter, Tyus, Lasme, Mbwakwe; what most are looking for at the center position in Europe is pretty clear. Players who have good length and strength (sometimes regardless of height), who play with great energy, can really rim run, set multiple screens in a possession, finish, and are mobile enough to move all over on defense. So even though the guards can dominate the ball, the bigs still showed off their Euro ready skills.
Richuan Holmes (Bowling Green), Gabriel Olesani (Iowa), Michael Cobbins (Oklahoma State), Maurice Walker (Minnesota), Darius Carter (Wichita State) and Atkins all looked to play this role. Some like Holmes had a really explosive showing and a player like Walker showed the tools but isn’t all the way there yet. A couple put back slams, hard sprints down the court, and big rejections at the rim to plant the seed of what they can do professionally.
NBA to International Event
While this is technically an NBA pre-Draft event, it really is an international showcase. A few players will go to Chicago, a couple players might get drafted, and if they chose, a bunch could end up in NBA training camps. But a majority of these players will spend most of their careers overseas. And with the expanding market in Asia and also in places in South America, PIT is now not only for European teams but for clubs all over the world to find players.
There were hoards of GM’s from Italy, Spain, and Korea. A GM or two from Germany and France were present. Few other domestic leagues were represented.
PIT can often serve as a college scouting binge. If you weren’t able to keep up with all the NCAA action during the season, you can take quick glances at the 64 players at PIT. College basketball contains a massive amount of players that’s tough to sift through. It’s tough to sift through because of the variation of play in conferences and the statistics often being hard to relate to pro success. Coming to PIT, where you can see 64 soon to be pro’s in one place, is a must see event. And while the Italians have always come in big numbers and the Spanish are starting to attend, it seems odd that other leagues are so behind. Maybe a GM won’t sign someone right from PIT, but with all the information floating around, agents and NBA people to talk to, and the ability to get a profile going on 64 players, it’s too much to pass up.
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