I’ve made the voyage to Portsmouth, Virginia on Masters Week four times now. To me, the idea of driving south to one of our country’s most historic Navy Yards is my basketball version of driving up Magnolia Lane in Augusta. I got the chance on Thursday to combine both sports, playing golf at a nearby muni with my friend BJ and a pair of the Navy’s finest, one of whom, a surgeon named George, learned he was going to be deployed to Afganistan in May for a total of 8 months.
The Portsmouth Invitational is a gathering of college seniors trying to earn a golden ticket to the NBA draft in June and one that you read about here last year. Five players from the 2012 PIT are in the NBA this year: Kyle O’Quinn, Kim English, Kevin Murphy, Kent Bazemore and Chris Johnson.
This year’s event was played without one of its most influential figures, Marty Blake, who passed away last week. I’ve scouted for Blake and Associates for the past few years and Mr. Blake’s impact on scouting in the NBA will be remembered forever. Among Mr. Blake’s many accomplishments was his foresight. He was the first NBA executive to reach overseas and draft european talent. The evolution of the game has certainly pointed directly at Europe over the years and, ironically, the PIT has become quite a hub for Euro scouts looking for great American talent.
I felt like there were several standouts, particularly at the 1/2 guard positions. Two Atlantic 10 guards did well to make their case to get drafted, as well as a sleeper from the Missouri Valley Conference.
To me, Illinois State’s Tyler Brown’s combination of size, explosion, court vision and playmaking puts him at the very top of the NBA prospects that I saw this week.
This kid has it all and can do it all, and he looks as if he has the potential to guard two positions. He can play a two-man guard game well, as he did with both UCLA’s Larry Drew and Dayton’s Kevin Dillard. He can attack the lanes in dribble drive and while his mid-range game wasn’t overly spectacular, he did show the ability to finish from 8-12 feet.
Brown had some issues this season, but the talent is there. He put 27 points on Doug McDermott’s team in a win on then- #16 ranked Creighton in what was a pretty incredible February.
Temple’s Khalif Wyatt didn’t shoot the ball all that well but he didn’t have to. Scouts know he can score.
He did do an outstanding job of showing playmaking skills for teammates. This kid is crafty and he also has the ability to carry his team offensively, like we all saw last month.
He’s physical at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds yet pretty fluid with the ball.
His numbers for the week haven’t been great, but I think he’s a player who will hear his name called in June.
Ramon Galloway from LaSalle also made serious noise in the NCAA tournament and had a stellar senior season. His jump shot is very much a slow, deliberate, almost set shot, but his athleticism was what really opened my eyes.
He made a few plays on Thursday that not only wowed the crowd but also scouts and executives in the gym. The biggest question for everyone is in his shot, but to his credit he can make his fair share.
Can an NBA team develop his stroke?
Will they take a chance on him thinking they can?
Another standout guard for me was Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder. He’s strong and has an NBA-ready body, physically, at the two.
He can be effective in the dribble drive showing incredible explosion to the rim. At one point he took off to the rim in a full sprint in transition and finished the play with a dunk that resulted in a foul and McGruder falling awkwardly to the floor.
The kid showed toughness and great skills both on and off the ball.
The biggest thing that hit me this year, after talking to several NBA scouts and executives, is what teams are looking for. Every team looks for bigs to develop, but players like Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley and Clemson’s Devin Booker both listed around 6’8/6’9 are more physical power forwards than centers with limited shooting range.
Based on the success of players in the NBA who can guard NBA power forwards and shoot 3-pointers and create space for driving guards, players like Cooley and Booker might be seen as quickly becoming obsolete. Space leads to ball movement and open shots. I love both Booker and Cooley and it will be interesting to see if any teams take a chance on either in the second round. Most executives will tell you that they are looking for one particular NBA skill here and several other skills they feel their franchises can develop to NBA-level.
The top talent among the big men, to me, was Jamelle Hagins of Delaware who, like Booker and Cooley, is listed at 6’9 … and I very much look forward to seeing their official combine listings.