By Alex West
The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is just around the corner. Over the past few seasons, players such as Robert Covington, Pat Connaughton, Royce O’Neal, Josh Huestis, Bryn Forbes (which is to say, players who will be contributing significant minutes during the playoffs) have all cut their teeth in Southeast Virginia.
The tournament, with invitations extended to seniors only, gives scouts an opportunity to have a final look at some prospects before the draft process begins in earnest with the NBA Combine next month. A few players from this year’s list have already crept onto Mock Drafts the web over, and are looking to cement a higher selection; others hope to show they have the skill to make it onto a Big Board. Here’s who to watch for, when the tournament kicks off next Wednesday:
Keenan Evans, G, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders made a deep postseason run this year and Evans was a huge reason why, averaging 18.5 points on 43.5 percent shooting (38.5 percent from three-point range). He is a shot-maker who isn’t afraid of the big stage, perfect for a team looking for a spark plug for their second unit. He is extremely adept at drawing fouls, getting to the line 241 times this season (6.7 attempts per game, 18th in the NCAA) and is a maestro scoring out of the pick-and-roll (1.134 points per possession, 97th percentile).
Despite running the offense for most of his junior and senior seasons, he only averages 3.2 assists per game, prefering to get the job done himself in most situations. He will need to show his ability to control the flow of the game and set the table for others to truly catch on in the NBA. He also had an injury toe that plagued him for much of Big 12 conference play. The full extent of the injury is unknown, but sources close to the situation revealed after the tournament loss the toe was broken (https://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2018/3/25/17162360/keenan-evans-injury-broken-big-toe-ncaa-tournament-texas-tech-march-madness). While the situation might be well in hand, lower body injury concerns are always red flags for NBA teams.
Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams might not be a household name for casual college basketball watchers, but the Atlantic 10 co-Player of the Year made fans sit up and take notice with his scoring barrage during conference play this season. The point guard poured in 21.2 points per game and posted an impressive 123.9 offensive rating while shooting an impressive 43.6 percent from three on 6.1 attempts per game. He is an elite tier spot-up shooter (1.333ppp 98th percentile) and is proficient pushing the ball in transition (ranking in the 91st percentile in points plus assists at 1.553), both skills that can make him a valuable contributor at the next level.
But Adams has a high hurdle to overcome, or perhaps I should say a height hurdle. Standing only 6’1” and lacking elite athleticism will make NBA life tough for the Bonnies’ star. He will need to showcase his ability to defend larger players as well as run a pick-roll-offense with lengthy defenders in his face to find a coveted backup point guard role.
Gary Clark, F, Cincinnati
The 2018 AAC Player of the Year, Gary Clark has an NBA-ready skill set. He can shoot threes, play defense, protect the rim, and run the floor making him an ideal small ball four (or super small ball five). This season, he averaged 12.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assist to go with 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks and lead the Bearcats to a two-seed before their unceremonious Round of 32 exit against a frisky Nevada squad. Clark is incredibly effective in transition (1.388 ppp, 93rd percentile) and can give his team a boost in second-chance buckets (1.34 ppp, 85th percentile), two underrated areas for bench players to contribute. He is also an advanced stats darling, leading the nation in defensive rating (81.6), defensive win shares (3.5), and box plus/minus (15.5).
The real issue for Clark is his lack of a defined position. He has the body of an NBA three and the skill set of a four or five, making it difficult for the 6’7” forward to make a strong case for a high draft position. However, with the success of players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (another 6’7” hustler for the Brooklyn Nets) playing both forward positions, he may find a successful niche because of his high-energy play style and defensive versatility.
Zach Smith, F, Texas Tech
Another Red Raider making the list, Zach Smith might be best known for his insane, SportsCenter-leading dunks:
And with good reason. The 6’8” power forward can jump out of the gym and is a legitimate threat to put opposing players on a poster both in transition and in the halfcourt. A broken foot cost Smith much of his senior season, but he was an effective defender, allowing only 98 points on 125 possessions (0.784 ppp, 76th percentile) this year. If he can continue to defend this well, especially in isolations against other forwards, and can continue to run the floor as a threat in transition, he will find a place as a rim-runner.
The obvious concern with Smith stems from the foot injury which sidelined him for a good portion of January and February. He is an incredible leaper and foot concerns have robbed highlight real dunkers of their lift since time immemorial. He looked fine for Texas Tech to finish out the season and a strong showing at the PIT might give NBA teams a lot of hope for the future.
Kenrich Williams, F, TCU
In his senior season at Texas Christian, something unlocked for Kenrich Williams: his passing vision. He was always a decent passer for a wing, but this season he has made that a central part of his resume, tallying an impressive 3.9 per game. He spent a lot of time initiating the offense at the top of the key and created looks the way a point guard would, by dragging defenders toward him using the dribble. He has a very high IQ, finding cutters and shooters all over the floor, and can even run a pick-and-roll as the ball handler. On top of his ability to initiate, he is also a tenacious rebounder at a 15.7 percent rate, better than probably top five selection, Jaren Jackson Jr.
While he can do a great many of things on the basketball court, Williams is not a great scorer in his own right. He will have to rely on his spot up shooting ability (39.5 percent from three on 3.6 attempts) and his offensive rebounding (2.8 per game) to get points. He is also one of the older prospects in this draft, turning 24 early in his rookie season. Teams might shy away from his unique skill set in favor of a younger, more malleable prospect.