PORTSMOUTH, Virginia — The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) officially kicked off the NBA pre-draft process last weekend, with the event taking place following a three-year, COVID-induced hiatus.
NBA teams were out in full force for an event designated strictly for NCAA seniors, and one that marks an important stop on the journey to the June 23 NBA draft held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Established in 1953, the PIT occupies a unique place in NBA history, with an impressive alumni list including Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Dennis Rodman, Rick Barry, Earl Monroe, Dave Cowens, Tim Hardaway, Ben Wallace and Jimmy Butler.
Most NBA teams sent five to seven representatives to Portsmouth — a large number by any account — reflecting a return to normalcy on the NBA scouting trail and the increasing importance franchises place on scouting for their G League teams.
That said, an event that included just 24 of the top 100 seniors in ESPN’s internal rankings, and just four of the top 25, is an indication that this year’s pre-draft calendar could have a different rhythm than usual, and there are a few key factors behind that circumstance:
NCAA’s ‘free year’ makes it hard to determine what a senior is
The extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted all players in October 2020 means a huge chunk of traditional college seniors are eligible to return for a fifth or even sixth year in 2022-23 if they choose. Because the NBA now requires fourth-year seniors to opt into the draft by declaring via the early-entry list, any player with remaining eligibility who attended the PIT would need to petition the NCAA to have their amateur status reinstated, and that caused a number of players to decline participating. To add insult to injury, some of the top prospects in Portsmouth, such as Tyrese Martin, JD Notae, Jared Rhoden, Darius Days, Courtney Ramey and Michael Devoe, were ineligible to be interviewed by NBA teams due to an administrative miscommunication between the league office and event organizers.
G League camp, NBA combine growing in importance
The G League Elite Camp — a relatively new pre-draft event held in Chicago immediately prior to the NBA combine — issued 18 of its 40 available invites last year to college seniors. Many of the best four-year players in this cycle seemed to have taken that into account when declining the opportunity to attend Portsmouth.
No top-10 seniors in the ESPN 100 elected to participate in the 2022 PIT, and with 64 players competing at PIT, it resulted in what felt like a very watered-down camp from a talent standpoint. Even some European club general managers, in attendance from leagues originating in Italy, France and Greece, expressed that the event included a limited number of 2022 participants projected to play at their level anytime in the near future.
What does the low-quality turnout mean for the two remaining pre-draft camps (the NBA combine and G League Elite Camp)? Several things.
First, there could be a bottleneck of talent looking to attend Chicago, as the two events provided a huge stock boost for many prospects last year.
After years of decline, the NBA combine roared back in a major way last year, with one participating player (Joshua Primo) drafted in the lottery, four players picked in the first round, and 20 Chicago participants selected overall — a significant increase from years past.
Perhaps more importantly, many of the players who declined NBA combine invites to play last year, such as Jaden Springer, Ayo Dosunmu, Brandon Boston, Sharife Cooper, Joel Ayayi and others, ended up falling on draft night, sometimes dramatically, and in Ayayi’s case, all the way out of the draft. There’s little doubt that the biggest NBA combine standouts, such as Primo, Quentin Grimes, Josh Christopher, Bones Hyland, Jason Preston and others, ended up leapfrogging those previously projected ahead of them with their strong play in Chicago. Will that be the case again this year?
Pro days, misinformation and agents vs. NBA teams
Access matters to NBA teams more than ever. They want to get to know players in interviews, conduct deep background checks, acquire their medicals, assess their measurements and athletic testing data, and perhaps most importantly, see them compete head-to-head with other top prospects.
NBA executives and agents have been playing a cat-and-mouse game on this subject for years. Some player representatives have used smoke screens, misinformation, dodged phone calls and dictated shutdowns of players. All has become expected when it comes to lottery-bound prospects — potential NBA Rookie of the Year Evan Mobley never spoke with Cleveland last year prior to being selected, for example — but NBA teams have become increasingly annoyed about the tactics being used for players outside the top 20.
Before 2021, NBA teams were forced to spend weeks on end crisscrossing the country, sitting for hours in traffic while jumping from pro day to pro day, a setup with which NBA scouting departments had lost patience. Last season, citing COVID as a factor, the NBA mandated that all agency-run pro day workouts must be conducted during the week of the NBA combine, which ended up being a major boon for executives. But the policy change was met with significant consternation from the agent community, which uses pro days as marketing tools for future clients.
Meanwhile, the sparkling new Wintrust Arena on the South Side of Chicago provided a more modern, professional feel to the 2021 NBA combine than the stuffy, dimly lit high school-caliber gyms used in the past. Lottery picks Scottie Barnes, Jonathan Kuminga, Joshua Primo and James Bouknight all held well-attended pro days at Wintrust last year, while a host of other first- and second-rounders all got in on the action with pro days held following the completion of the 5-on-5 competition.
This year, the NBA is doing its best to have all pro days squeezed into a narrower time frame during the NBA combine itself (May 16-22), and not spill over into a period concluding nearly a full week after, as occurred last year. While the league again attempted to have all pro days conducted in Chicago during the combine, significant pushback from agents and the NBPA caused the league to compromise and create a 72-hour window, following the conclusion of the combine, in which agents can conduct pro days in one designated U.S. city — likely Los Angeles.
Was the increasing willingness of last year’s top prospects to participate in the combine due more to COVID-induced limitations on scouting the 2021 NBA draft prospects? Or was it a part of a continuing trend that gets the league closer to its goal of full participation in the pre-draft process? It’s one of the storylines we’ll be monitoring closely during this cycle.
Who stood out at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament
Tyrese Martin | 6-6½ | Wing | UConn | 23.1 years old | No. 86 in Top 100
Martin hasn’t stood still for a moment since his season ended in the first round of the NCAA tournament, winning the 3x3U championship at the Final Four, leading all scorers with 22 points in 20 minutes in a win at the Reese’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, and then leading the PIT in scoring as well, while finishing third in rebounding.
The versatile wing shot 43% for 3 this season at UConn and was regularly tasked with defending the opposing team’s best perimeter player. He was able to show a little more vision and creativity as a passer at the PIT, plus glimpses of on-the-move shot-making, as well as his ability to fill lanes aggressively and finish in the open court.
At 199 pounds with a 6-8 wingspan and average explosiveness, Martin doesn’t have elite physical tools defensively, nor is he the most gifted ball handler or overall scorer. But hard-nosed wing-players in his mold who can defend multiple positions, rebound and make shots consistently (although teams will scrutinize his 67% career free throw percentage) aren’t that easy to come by, making him an easy candidate for a two-way contract in June. There’s nothing particularly glamorous about his profile, but there’s quite a bit of utility in what he offers.
Jared Rhoden | 6-5½ | Wing | Seton Hall | 22.6 years old | No. 94 in Top 100
Rhoden’s senior year at Seton Hall wasn’t the breakout campaign some expected, as he shot a paltry 39% from the field and posted quite a few more turnovers than assists. But sometimes a change of scenery can do a prospect a world of good in terms of how he’s viewed by NBA teams, and Rhoden did a good job of showing new facets to his game in a different role at the PIT, initiating the offense quite a bit and making several excellent reads out of pick and roll.
Rhoden looks the part of an NBA wing player and then some with his excellent frame and huge 6-10 ½ wingspan, similar measurements to players such as Andre Roberson and Demarre Carroll, who saw plenty of time at power forward in the NBA, like Rhoden did at Seton Hall. Rhoden, who shot an excellent 43% on catch-and-shoot jumpers this season, has some questions to answer regarding his feel for the game after his head-down, bully-ball style inside the arc at Seton Hall, which included too many lapses off the ball defensively.
After his solid showing at Portsmouth (16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals in 26 minutes per game, while shooting 5 of 9 from 3 in three games), Rhoden will likely level up to Chicago and have an opportunity to show that the pro style indeed suits his game better than what we saw at Seton Hall this season.
Jamaree Bouyea | 6-1½ | Guard | San Francisco | 22.8 years old | No. 91 in Top 100
Bouyea had an up-and-down PIT, with his team blown out in each of the final two games, but still showed some of the things that make him intriguing as a pro prospect. Bouyea’s shifty ballhandling and blow-by speed while changing pace out of hesitation moves are intriguing when paired with his outstanding shot-making prowess from NBA range, as demonstrated in the NCAA tournament with a scintillating 36-point outing in a loss to Murray State.
While only measuring a hair over 6-foot barefoot, Bouyea’s 6-7 wingspan allows him to play bigger than his size, although his lean 168-pound frame will always work against him creating inside the arc and likely renders him a one-position defender at the highest levels. Bouyea showed he still has a lot of work to do as a playmaker at Portsmouth, as he often needs too many dribbles to get to spots on the floor, can be a last-resort passer, and is a streaky shooter who made just 33% of his career 3-pointers in college. Nevertheless, there’s a significant market in modern basketball for scoring guards in Bouyea’s mold, and he’s certain to get plenty of NBA looks throughout the pre-draft process.
Quenton Jackson | 6-4½ | Guard | Texas A&M | 23.5 years old | No. 100 in Top 100
Jackson parlayed his positive momentum from the end of the college season into a solid showing at Portsmouth, especially on the defensive end where he was an absolutely disruptive force, averaging an impressive 2.7 blocks and 2.7 steals per game. Jackson played a huge role in Texas A&M’s late-season surge, with the Aggies winning 11 of their final 13 games which included a run to the championship games of both the SEC tournament and NIT, shooting 42% from 3 during that span.
A microwave scorer who lives at the free throw line and puts constant pressure on opposing defenses with his aggressive style, Jackson’s toughness on both ends of the floor, combined with his explosiveness and improving shooting, gives him a niche he could potentially fill as a change-of-pace combo guard off the bench. Jackson’s decision-making and overall efficiency leave something to be desired, as he averaged more turnovers than assists this season and had some out-of-control moments at PIT as well, but he helped himself overall and will likely be a popular candidate for private workouts this spring.
Nike Hoop Summit observations
Part of the high school all-star circuit, the Portland, Oregon-based Hoop Summit mostly consisted of 2023 draft prospects, with the exception of Jean Montero and Leonard Miller, who can both become 2022 NBA draft eligible if they choose. A peculiarly assembled World Select team was severely overmatched talent-wise by a loaded U.S. squad, losing its April 8 game by 22 points, but both Montero and Miller had excellent moments in the practices held in the days leading up, as well as the game itself, all of which were heavily attended by NBA executives.
Jean Montero, 6-2½ | Guard | Overtime Elite | 18.7 years old | No. 28 in Top 100
Montero led all players in scoring with 23 points in 29 minutes, and would have finished with double-digit assists as well if he had better talent surrounding him to finish the litany of terrific reads he made operating out of pick and roll – somewhat of a theme for him this season. Montero’s ability to handle the ball on a string, get anywhere he wants on the court, and either find teammates off a live dribble using both sides of the floor or make shots off the bounce stood out in a major way, exceeding anything we saw from the similarly aged US guards at the Nike Hoop Summit, several of whom are projected as lottery picks next year.
Watching Montero drain 30-foot stepbacks, tough transition pull-ups or spot-ups ducking behind handoffs, as well as seemingly every shot he attempted in drills in practice, makes it tough to reconcile the 27% he’s converted on 3-pointers the past two seasons (on a huge volume). He clearly has natural shot-making instincts, as evidenced by his career 81% free throw shooting on over 500 attempts, but shot selection has always been an issue, as well as consistency with his approach.
It’s clear that Montero is a major offensive talent with a ton of game with the ball in his hands, but he didn’t do much to dispel the concerns teams had on the defensive end, where he seemingly gave up just as many points as he scored. He shows little fight getting over screens, often gets caught flat-footed off the ball, struggles to hold his ground on switches inside and just doesn’t bring the type of urgency you would expect for someone who had a huge captive audience of executives every moment he stepped on the floor in Portland.
Montero will have plenty more opportunities to win scouts over at the NBA combine and in private workouts, where his style of play could certainly translate to more impressive moments. He had a good week overall in Portland, but still has questions to answer about his poor frame, which at 172 pounds, has only added one pound in the past 26 months according to measurements, and lack of length, as well as his quiet demeanor on the court.
Leonard Miller | 6-11 | SF/PF | Fort Erie International Academy | 18.3 years old | Unranked in Top 100
Miller, who just finished a postgraduate year at Fort Erie International Academy in Canada, is still debating his next move — the options include enrolling in college (Kentucky or Arizona), or signing with G League Ignite. He’s also strongly considering entering his name in the 2022 NBA draft to see where he stands with teams and whether he can land assurances he’ll hear his name called in the first round.
Two quick fouls in the first two minutes limited Miller to just 18 minutes of action at the Hoop Summit, in which he was still able to score 11 points and grab five rebounds. Miller had a strong week of practice, looking like the best prospect on the World Team every time he stepped on the floor, especially considering he measured 6-11 in shoes with a 7-2 wingspan and 9-foot standing reach, which could even allow him to see some minutes as a small-ball center down the road as his frame fills out. Growing 6 inches over the past three years, Miller has clear guard skills, averaging over 30 points per game this season while showing tantalizing shot-making ability from all over the floor. He puts non-stop pressure on opposing defenses with his herky-jerky style, sniffing out plenty of baskets pushing or leaking out in the open court, off strong cuts and via the offensive glass.
Miller’s lack of strength and experience in high-level settings shows at times, as his shot selection can be questionable and his unorthodox shooting mechanics lead to varying results. It’s clear that Miller is a NBA talent, as 18-year-olds with his size, length, scoring instincts and potential defensive versatility don’t grow on trees, but it seems like a year in college or at the pro level could certainly help ease the significant transition he’s about to undergo in coming from the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association, which he was able to dominate without much resistance.
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and International teams.