Nestled in the heart of Portsmouth, VA, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) is a premier NBA pre-draft event that brings together agents and NBA personnel alike to showcase some of the top senior college basketball players. Over the course of the event's 63-year history, it has featured the likes of top flight talent, including recent alumni - Jimmy Butler, JaMychal Green, Kyle O'Quinn, and Robert Covington, to name a few.
While it should be noted that not all of the top tier senior NBA draft prospects accept their invites to the event, much can be gleaned about the character and toughness of those who do.
Oftentimes, from a scouting perspective, it can become difficult to separate an individual's accomplishments at the collegiate level from that of a particular team's offensive or defensive construct. This is especially applicable for a large percentage of the seniors invited to this event, given that many have become accustomed to a singular style of play over the course of their four-year careers. As such, the PIT takes each competitor out of his element by stripping him of his collegiate system and assigning him to a new team for competitive scrimmages - foreshadowing what is to come in the NBA's summer league, and ultimately NBA training camp.
Given that players can be reassigned, traded, or waived as professionals, most players must learn to adapt to different styles of play at the next level. As a result, it is clear that head to head matchups - such as those at the PIT - can tell a lot about a prospect. While a few days of games cannot substitute for a player's body of work during the regular season, competitive events like the PIT showcase a player's adaptability, toughness, and willingness to buy into a team construct.
Moving to this year's event, while many players stood out in certain contests, most failed to produce on a consistent basis. With that said, several individuals were relatively consistent throughout, and really separated themselves from the pack. These six standouts were as follows: VCU's Treveon Graham, Penn State's DJ Newbill, Virginia's Darion Atkins, Bowling Green's Richaun Holmes, Alabama's Levi Randolph and UMass' Cady Lalanne.
Treveon Graham, VCU - Graham was named the MVP of the entire event, and was more than deserving of this award. Not only was he a pest on the defensive end of the floor - wreaking "havoc" and playing with a high motor - but, more importantly, he showcased his ability to dial in from three point range. After regressing as a shooter in his junior season, it appears that Graham has made strides in improving his consistency from beyond the arc, as evinced by his 38.1% shooting from three during the regular season and 43.7% shooting at this event. Given his aggressive play in other areas and height at 6'6, it was important that Graham assert himself from three point range, so as to allay any concerns that he will not be able to seamlessly transition to the shooting guard slot at the next level.
On the defensive end, Graham played effectively, fighting over the top of screens and sticking to his man. He employed his prototypical length to disrupt on the defensive end, and appeared agile enough to stick with his man or lead him into the help defender. Graham's lateral quickness appeared about average, but his help instincts and defensive IQ were strong. Importantly, Graham possesses solid strength, and is more than willing to absorb contact. As such, it should be noted that Graham was one of the better rebounding guards at the camp and was aggressive on both ends, hustling to corral loose balls and sacrificing his body for the team. Graham scored a bunch of points finishing off plays, and this is notable, given that he would likely function in a secondary 'clean up' role off the bench at the next level.
In terms of his offensive prowess, Graham was effective utilizing screens and taking advantage on pick and roll plays - something that should give him an edge against other comparable standouts. Graham did an excellent job avoiding the help after coming off of screens, and demonstrated good elevation on his pullup mid range jumper, which he connected on with marked proficiency. If the open jumper was not an option, Graham rarely settled - instead he would employ his strong handle to drive all the way to the rim. When he did attack the basket, Graham was physical enough to finish through contact. He did an excellent job of attacking his defender's body, and was regularly able to draw fouls. This is significant because Graham was able to get to the line while playing within himself and not forcing the action, as he had done on occasion at VCU.
All in all, Treveon Graham's performance at the PIT should be enough to earn him a slot in the mid second round, barring poor team workouts, if he is able to continue to consistently hit long range jumpers in team workouts and play with poise on both ends.
D.J. Newbill, Penn State - Graham's teammate, DJ Newbill, had a case for tournament MVP in his own right, and many actually expected him to win the award. Newbill was electric throughout the event, bringing solid energy and demonstrating his dynamic scoring ability, coupled with a better-than-advertised passing game. Few could match the intensity and physicality that Newbill brought to each and every game.
In terms of his decision making, Newbill's four-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio at the PIT was revelatory - he displayed strong court vision and regularly found his teammates when attacking the rim. He did a nice job kicking the ball out and played with uncommon poise on both ends of the floor. This wrinkle in his game was likely concealed by the demands of Penn States' offense, which asked him to take almost one-third of his team's shots this past season. While Newbill squarely fits the billing of a combo guard at the next level, he may be able to play some spot minutes as a lead guard, if he can continue to develop his passing game.
With regard to his scoring instincts, Newbill was very effective finishing through contact and does a nice job utilizing screens to free himself. He is deceptively quick with the ball in his hands and was crafty enough to beat most defenders at this event off the bounce. When he could not get around a defender, Newbill was able to connect on several impressive fadeaway jumpers - employing his strong physique to create space. Newbill was especially effective utilizing the high ball screen to either drive all the way to the rim or pull up (with good elevation) for an open jumper. Newbill's effectiveness from mid range was unmatched at this event, and this will likely be a strength at the next level.
Defensively, Newbill displayed solid hands and was able to turn some tip aways into open dunks out in transition. While he is not particularly quick laterally, Newbill exerted solid effort on the defensive end at the PIT, playing within the team construct and forcing difficult shots. His energy was electrifying throughout the tournament. As a result, his effort was rewarded with a Cherry Bekaert championship and an all-tournament mention.
Darion Atkins, Virginia - Darion Atkins was arguably the most effective big man at this event, and he consistently kept his team in the game with his relentless effort defensively and from the mid range. While Atkins' offensive game is still a work in progress, it is far more advanced than I had imagined coming in. In fact, he capitalized on his remarkable combination of size and strength when finishing against bigger defenders, clearly embracing contact and thriving as a finisher. Atkins shot an efficient 60% from the floor at the PIT and was effective pulling up off the dribble or taking the ball all the way to the rim. He is particularly savvy slipping screens and cutting to the rim, and was able to finish off several plays in this manner. As for his back to the basket moves, Atkins sports an effective righty hook, but must diversify his game a bit more in this area.
In terms of his floor game, Atkins was a willing passer and hit open cutters on occasion. While his vision is far from elite, Atkins simply made the right plays for his team. He often hustled for loose balls and was dominant on the glass, due to a combination of his strength and textbook box out fundamentals. On the defensive end, Atkins was aggressive and did a nice job hedging on pick and roll plays out high. When he was met in the paint, Atkins was one of the most productive interior enforcers at the camp, tallying 3.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game, and disrupting offensive players' rhythm. Atkins employs strong timing and leaping ability to contest shots. All in all, Darion Atkins was one of the strongest interior options at the PIT, and could certainly hear his name called on Draft Night.
Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green - Richaun Holmes was the biggest revelation at the PIT who almost instantly cemented himself as one of the top senior NBA draft prospects in the nation. Holmes is a 6'9 big man with the requisite, size, length and athleticism to compete at the next level. At the PIT, Holmes played with aggression, ran the floor extremely well, and cleaned up plays. He employed his length and athleticism to secure rebounds and finish at the rim (61.3% FG% at the PIT). But, he was most dynamic when beating his opponents down the floor and Holmes was one of the quickest end to end big men at the camp. In the halfcourt, Holmes made a living off of screen and roll plays, darting to the hoop for often uncontested dunks. He played within himself and did not make a habit of settling for three pointers and long mid range jumpers, unlike some other players at this event. And when he did choose to shoot from the perimeter, most of his shots came within the flow of the offense. In terms of his back to the basket game, Holmes is more of a faceup four, but was effective executing spin moves in the lane and employing a jump hook shots. With regard to his unselfishness, Holmes also did a nice job feeding fellow big men with pinpointed post entry feeds. Still, he must continue to improve the consistency of his jump shot, if he hopes to play in the NBA.
Defensively, Holmes appeared to be the best shot blocker at the camp. He utilized a combination of his outstanding physical tools (7'1.5'' wingspan) and tremendous (recovery) timing to really change and challenge shots at the hoop. Holmes also possesses a solid IQ on this end of the floor and did a nice job hedging. From time to time, he closed out on the perimeter when necessary - therein, Holmes often was able to cover ground in a hurry to disrupt shooters. As such, this may indicate that he will be able to defend on the perimeter, which bodes well for his long term defensive potential. With that said, Holmes did reach on occasion when offensive players attacked the lane, instead of remaining upright and challenging their shots. While Holmes is still a work in progress, his tremendous play at the PIT most assuredly secured him a spot on the NBA's radar.
Two Additional Players Deserving Mention:
Levi Randolph, Alabama - In two of the three games, Randolph showcased his strong shooting ability, and utilized his quickness and athleticism to attack the rim. Randolph possesses a very good handle with a change of pace dribble that throws defenders off guard. With that said, he is most effective out in the open court, where he is a willing distributor and can finish off plays. In the half court, he constantly probes the defense, looking for openings. Randolph moves well without the ball and understands spacing.
On the defensive end, Randolph sports a fundamentally sound defensive stance, but must work harder to anticipate and ultimately get around screens. His energy level could have been a bit better on both ends. He did not contest some passes made over the top of the defense.
Cady Lalanne, UMass - In the same vein as the aforementioned two shot blockers, Lalanne was effective challenging shots at the rim and measured out well with a 7'5 wingspan. He was aggressive and was able to absorb contact in the paint. Lalanne could emerge as a decent defensive prospect down the road if he continues to improve his awareness.
On the offensive end, it becomes clear that Lalanne made significant strides during his time at UMass. Cady connected on half of his three pointers in this tournament, and was effective dialing in from the mid range as well. He was able to shoot over the top of defenders when facing up and also scored through contact when attacking the basket. Lalanne is an intriguing prospect with the tools to develop into an NBA role player.