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Scouting NBA draft prospects at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament

Which 2019 NBA Draft prospects helped themselves most at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament this weekend?

The 2019 NBA Draft season kicked off this past week with the 67th annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. In the midst of underclassmen dominating headlines with their decisions whether or not to declare for the draft, a who’s who of college basketball’s senior class descended on Portsmouth, Virginia, to attempt to showcase their talents. While not the headlining event that the NBA Draft Combine’s five-on-five competition is, this event can be useful for identifying players the consensus has missed. After all two years ago, Derrick White, the player who is helping the San Antonio Spurs provide a massive test to the Denver Nuggets, was invited to the Draft Combine thanks to his performance at Portsmouth.

The PIT isn’t just a place for players with an outside shot of being picked in the NBA Draft to be discovered, though. It also doubles as a major scouting event for teams to pick up Summer League invites and two-way contract candidates, and several overseas leagues send scouts to try to identify non-NBA guys that might be good fits for their systems. Players like Jimmy Baron of Rhode Island and Kyle Weems of Missouri State have forged long, productive European league careers based on strong performances in the PIT.

This year’s crop featured several players who have been in our top 60 this year, headlined by two complimentary two-way wings that are on the fringe of the first round, Penn State’s Josh Reaves and Ole Miss’s Terence Davis. But it was a crew of small-school perimeter players, led by Campbell scoring guard and eventual MVP Chris Clemons, who stole the show.

We were there on Saturday, and got a chance to see all 64 players in action during the championship games. While it’s important not to take large-scale takeaways from only three games per player, certain players certainly helped their draft cases, and others definitely disappointed in a more evenly competitive environment. Going game-by-game, here’s what stood out in the PIT’s final day of action.

Game 1:  Mike Duman 86, Roger Brown’s 79

The seventh-place game in the tournament didn’t really offer much useful information, as these were clearly the two teams with the least roster balance. In an environment like this, where players have never played together before and only have a few days to practice together before competing, team performance is largely contingent on the strength of your lead guards. Neither of these teams got good guard play for much of the tournament, making this a very sloppy game. Roger Brown jumped out to a massive early lead, only to lose as their offense disappeared in the second half.

Aric Holman of Mississippi State (No. 42 on our latest board) and Kerwin Roach of Texas were the two biggest names in this game, and neither really popped. Holman was one of the most disappointing players in the tournament, largely drifting aimlessly in their first two games, and struggling to make an impact in minutes against Kavell Bigby-Williams of LSU. Holman did finish with 17 points, but he shot just 7-of-18 from the field, struggling to finish inside and hitting just 3-of-10 from 3-point range. He also consistently struggled to provide good screens for his guards, with poor technique on several screens that let the opposing guard easily slip by.

Meanwhile, Roach was miscast as the team’s lead ball-handler and struggled to make the most of those Holman screens. It was striking how consistently Roach struggled to get the first step on a drive against perimeter defenders, and he finished with five turnovers on the day, mixing a pair of bad passes with getting pickpocketed by Northern Colorado’s Jordan Davis. The best player on Roger Brown might have been Cameron Jackson of Wofford, a strong power forward who showed good passing skill from the 4-spot and was the best defender on the floor. He’s probably not a draft prospect but definitely earned a ticket to Las Vegas with his performance.

For Mike Duman, Terrance Mann of Florida State had a strong tournament overall, flashing some passing skill and playing some decent defense. But the question of the functionality of his passing continues to linger as he struggles to make an impact as a scorer. Mann didn’t hit double-digits in any of Duman’s games and struggled to break defenders down on drives, which limits his ability to use his drive-and-kick passing. Nick Mayo of Eastern Kentucky also had a strong performance with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting; but like Jackson, he’s probably gearing up for Summer League.

Game 2: K&D Rounds 89, Cherry Bekaert 88

The second game of the day featured a battle between two of the mid-major scene’s best scorers — Justin James of Wyoming, and Fletcher Magee of Wofford (No. 51). Magee had a monster second game on Thursday, torching Roger Brown for  21 points on seven 3s, showcasing what’s perhaps the best NBA skill at the event. James, meanwhile, struggled to score efficiently throughout the tournament in an off-ball role, bringing to question his real ceiling as a scorer at the next level. Neither played well offensively in this one — James had 9 points on 2-of-8 shooting, while Magee his just 1-of-6 3s – but Magee still had an impressive game. Matched up on the taller James for much of the first half, Magee was important in keeping him off the board, mirroring him well on drives and providing sound closeouts off-ball. Magee’s viability on defense has been a major question for him at the next level because of his athleticism — but he demonstrated throughout the tournament that he could defend NBA-level athletes, and his performance against James was the best example of that you could ask for.

Meanwhile, the big man battle inside was also interesting. Nick Perkins of Buffalo stole the show a bit for K&D Rounds, emerging as the team’s best scoring option by averaging 18 points per game. He has a very good frame and great body control, and his gravity as a roll man was impressive as he consistently beat Donta Hall of Alabama and Zach Hankins of Xavier with finishes with both hands. Hall was particularly exposed by K&D Rounds, as he struggled to defend Perkins and Elijah Thomas of Clemson in isolations, and was consistently out of position when Rounds ran side-to-side actions. He was the best rim protection prospect of the tournament and had three blocks on the game to back that up. But this event exposed his inability to defend away from the rim, and that may limit his potential to get picked in the second round given how much that weakness gets exposed in the NBA.

Game 3: Norfolk Sports Club 92, Portsmouth Sports Club 87

This was the best game of the day, featuring the two best draft prospects in the tournament supported by several strong performances from both players’ supporting casts. Terence Davis (No. 28) and Josh Reaves (No. 30) had great games, with Davis pacing Portsmouth with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, and Reaves supplementing 14 points with huge defensive impact, including a game-sealing block of a Marial Shayok 3 late in the game.

Davis immediately popped thanks to his frame, which is a strong 6-foot-4 and 210 points, and his ability to leverage it as a defender and finisher was apparent throughout the game. He’s on a different level of athleticism from many of the players present, especially in terms of fluidity of movement, and it showed as he broke down players like James Palmer of Nebraska with ease in transition. In particular, he had one step back 3 that showed great mechanics, and he might be the one player at the tournament with true on-ball upside at the NBA level. Reaves, meanwhile, consistently thrived back in an off-ball role on offense after struggling as Penn State’s lead guard, and showcased the defense that put him on the draft map with that game stealing block and several quality rotations off-ball. He stonewalled Marial Shayok of Iowa State, an older, crafty creator, on multiple occasions, and showed good shot mechanics on a pair of catch-and-shoot 3s.

Portsmouth Sports Club’s defense stood out, despite the higher score that was mostly due to pace. Davis was the lynchpin, but Noah Dickerson of Washington had a strong game communicating switches and defending well in space against Thompson and Trey Mourning. Tookie Brown of Georgia Southern, an absolutely jacked point guard who might be 5-foot-10 at best, also displayed very impressive on-ball defense, locking down Matt Morgan of Cornell in the second half to help keep Portsmouth in the game. Portsmouth was the only team on the day that consistently communicated effectively on defense, and this was championed by Dickerson and Davis, both vocal, smart defenders that get defensive concepts and helped them defend on a string. Davis may be the one draft hopeful for PSC, but Brown and Dickerson probably earned themselves G-League spots along with Shayok, who carried the team through their first two games offensively.

For Norfolk, Dylan Osetkowski of Texas was also strong, finishing with 20 points and hitting 6-of-13 3s for the tournament overall. A career 30.1 percent 3-point shooter, him taking a demonstrable step forward from three was the most projection-changing story of the tournament. With the 3, he goes from being a power rebounder type to a guy who can post up and pick-and-pop, which is both a much more valuable NBA skill set and a golden ticket into the ACB in Spain. Several players may have helped themselves more notably, but no one at the tournament raised their prospects more than Osetkowski.

Game 4: Portsmouth Partnership 90, Sales Systems 81

Alright, let’s talk about DaQuan Jeffries.

Jeffries was the Derrick White of this tournament from a narrative perspective. The Tulsa product averaged 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, and was the most athletic player at the tournament, posting at least three highlight dunks that brought the Churchland High School Gym to the ground.

Jeffries also flashed a few other seemingly impressive skills throughout the tournament — a slick crossover and pull-up 2 against K&D Rounds, a Shammgod in transition in the title game, and a few catch-and-shoot 3s with good form as well. There were limiting factors in his game — particularly his finishing, which affected him against longer opponents as he missed four bunnies against Jamuni McNeace and Chris Silva in the title game. Jeffries can dunk and power through opponents, but he doesn’t have a ton of craft as a driver, which could be a problem at the NBA level. But he likely earned himself a combine invite, so we will get to see that.

Clemons was also impressive in the title game, finishing with 20 points and 3 assists to cap off a nice run as Portsmouth Partnership’s lead ball-handler. The 5-foot-9 guard is obviously limited by his size, but he’s a solid finisher for his size, and he got to the rim consistently even against a team with probable G-League bigs like Jakeem Gant and Juwan Morgan. His shooting is the real key, however — he hit several contested pull-ups and deep 3s, and despite his Trae Young-like low release, it’s quick enough that he can get clean looks off even against length. He should get drafted late in the second round given this performance.

Finally, there was the wing battle, which turned out to be one of the better matchups of the tournament between Quinndary Weatherspoon of Mississippi State and Jarrell Brantley of College of Charleston. Weatherspoon was vital to getting Sales Systems to the championship game, using the quasi-advantage offense Sales Systems ran to get to the rim consistently and showing smart playmaking from the wing while defending Josh Reaves and Fletcher Magee effectively in their first two games. But in the matchup against Partnership, he struggled, finishing with just 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

That was partly because of Brantley, who had one of the best two-way games of the tournament in the final, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and two steals to propel the Partnership victory. A 6-foot-7 forward, Brantley didn’t have much of a draft profile heading into the tournament, but he displayed a very enticing skill set, hitting three 3s and showing a solid off-the-dribble game, including this Zion-esque breakdown of Juwan Morgan:

Brantley also had a solid defensive game with multiple strong closeouts on Weatherspoon and Tyler Hall, and that’s promising for his future as an NBA three, where his skill set would be more valuable. Brantley wasn’t a consistent defender at C of C, and his projection hinges on his ability to defend quick guys in space. If he can do that, he’s probably skilled enough offensively that he can be a bench scorer. In workouts and Summer League, that will be a major point of emphasis. But based on this performance at Portsmouth, Brantley should absolutely be on the radar for teams in the second round.

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