- The annual Portsmouth Invitational gives top college seniors a chance to prove they belong in the NBA. The Crossover's Front Office examines nine potential draft sleepers that stood out this year.
The Crossover's Front Office spent much of last week in Virginia at the Portsmouth Invitational, where NBA types congregated en masse to evaluate a large chunk of this year’s top college seniors. For the last 65 years, Portsmouth has hosted the tournament, which has featured Hall of Famers like Earl Monroe, John Stockton and Scottie Pippen before they reached the NBA. But that was before the one-and-done era, when seniors doubled as the NBA's top prospects. Every so often a Jimmy Butler still rises out of the mix, but generally speaking, all 30 teams flock to Portsmouth (adjacent to the larger city of Norfolk) each year to search for potential second-rounders and undrafted sleepers. This year, the event overlapped with the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, which meant front offices had to divide and conquer.
While measurements are taken and distributed at the event, Portsmouth is far from the microscope that is May’s NBA Draft Combine. The event is held in a small gym at local Churchland High School, whose mascot is the Truckers (a giant hand-painted mural of an artistically interpreted orange semi adorns the gym’s back wall). It’s a community staple that takes place over the course of four days, with many fans in attendance old enough to remember when Rick Barry scored 107 points over the course of one tournament here in 1965. From the occasional oversized country bug crawling across the scorer’s table to a mysterious three-point line that appeared to fall somewhere between the NBA and European distances, Portsmouth has its unique charms, if not a host of future superstars.
While a number of players always turn down Portsmouth invitations, and there were no projected first-rounders in waiting (last year, Derrick White went from Portsmouth to the combine to the Spurs at No. 29), there was a nice mix of talent to evaluate and a half-dozen or so players deserving of immediate interest. A handful should earn combine invitations. Here are the names you need to know.
Kenrich Williams, F, TCU
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 210 | Age: 23
2017–18 Stats: 13.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.9 APG
Coming in at No. 60 on our most recent Big Board, Williams looked the part as perhaps the most NBA-ready prospect at Portsmouth. The majority of executives and scouts we spoke with seemed to think he was in good position to get drafted at this stage. Though clearly not a scorer by trade, Williams was solid all year for TCU and his commitment to rebounding and defense and overall feel as a passer are clear selling points. He’s a good athlete and a fairly steady jump shooter and ball-handler, so it’s easy enough to pencil him into a perimeter-centric system where he can operate in a simplified floor-spacing role on the weak side. His passiveness as a scorer and advanced age limits his upside, but Williams should be able to help a team as a glue guy early in his career.
Devon Hall, G, Virginia
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 225 | Age: 22
2017–18 Stats: 11.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 43.2% 3FG
Probably the most polished guard at Portsmouth, Hall’s mixture of size, shooting, secondary ball-handling and intangibles make him a legitimate NBA prospect. Removed from the somewhat rigid offensive system at Virginia, it was clear that Hall has enough skills and the right mentality to succeed as a professional. His competitiveness and intensity was visible throughout the week, and his 6’9” wingspan and willingness to defend are major pluses as someone who can defend both backcourt spots in addition to bigger wings. Hall’s offensive game is not the most diverse beyond his capable spot-up shooting, but he takes good enough care of the ball to think he can help initiate offense on the perimeter. He has major issues finishing around the rim that are due in part to a lack of great athleticism and lift, which limit his upside. But Hall is the type of player who undoubtedly has fans around the league, and once you get him in your locker room, it’ll be tougher to let go. He’s a good bet to overachieve and a potential second-round pick at this stage.
Gary Clark, F, Cincinnati
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 225 | Age: 23
2017–18 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 43.5% 3FG
Clark looks the part as a potential small-ball four man after making massive strides over the course of his career at Cincinnati, particularly as a three-point shooter and passable perimeter decision-maker. He’s undersized and would be classically defined as a tweener, but his defensive know-how and ability to defend both wings and bigger post players certainly helps in that department. Not many players can say they averaged a block and a steal per game in all four years of their college career. He plays with energy and smarts, and while his performance was a bit up and down at Portsmouth, he remains a player teams are seriously interested in and a potential second-round selection. And if Clark can’t make it as an NBA role player, there should be plenty of lucrative opportunities waiting for him overseas.
BJ Johnson, SF, La Salle
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 200 | Age: 22
2017–18 Stats: 20.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG
From an athletic perspective Johnson was one of the more intriguing players at the event, and turned some heads as a potential 3-and-D fit at the NBA level. He flashed a repeatable, high left-handed stroke and a nice ability to run the floor in transition, with enough bounce to go up and get the ball in the air and off the glass. Johnson isn’t a plus ball-handler and struggles accordingly trying to create for himself in isolation, but if he continues to demonstrate his ability to hit set shots and keeps up the effort on defense, he should earn a chance to make the NBA at the very least.
Jared Terrell, G, Rhode Island
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 215 | Age: 23
2017–18 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 1.5 SPG, 41.4% 3FG
Terrell’s blend of physicality, vision and toughness helped set him apart from the other guards in attendance, and that well-roundedness should be extremely attractive to teams looking for inexpensive backcourt help. He’s a good set shooter and ball-mover on the perimeter, can play on or off the ball, and is a presence defensively, offering a lot of attractive qualities for a role player. Terrell struggles at times turning the corner and getting to the rim, which can cause him to settle for tough shots, but in the right role on the right team could become a useful cog.
Angel Delgado, C, Seton Hall
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 245 | Age: 23
2017–18 Stats: 13.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 2.8 APG
In what was an overall unimpressive group of bigs (made worse by UCLA’s Thomas Welsh pulling out of the tournament), Delgado set himself apart with strong rebounding in both of his games. At the very least, it’s easy to see he’ll be an outstanding G League player, and his continued productivity on the glass, touch with both hands and feel as a passer give him a shot to make it work at the NBA level. He’s got some shooting ability and has great coordination and feet for his size. The biggest issues for Delgado are his projectable struggles as a rim protector given a lack of great length and verticality. By the same token, he can be bothered by longer defenders while trying to score around the rim, which could be a sticking point at the next level. He should receive some consideration in the late second round.
Jaylen Barford, G, Arkansas
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 200 | Age: 22
2017–18 Stats: 17.9 PPG, 2.5 APG, 43.3% 3FG
Barford was named MVP of the tournament after leading his team to a championship, including a buzzer-beating drive and layup in the semifinal round. He confidently drained three-pointers from deep range all week and looked to be in outstanding shape, using his heft and quickness to get into the lane. More than any other player at the tournament, Barford was visibly locked in from a competitive standpoint. While he made some nifty passes, the fear is that he’s still mostly a one-track scorer, and players of that ilk who lack great physical measurables generally need to be elite at their craft. Making the NBA will be a tall challenge, but Barford certainly looked ready to give it a serious try.
George King, SF, Colorado
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 225 | Age: 24
2017–18 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 39.5% 3FG
While King is extremely advanced in age for an NBA prospect, his long, strong build and ability to shoot threes makes him a person of some interest. He did a terrific job making jumpers and playing with energy at Portsmouth, although he has a bit of a hard, flat shot that doesn’t involve much lower-body action, making it a bit tricky to project. He has great defensive versatility with his 7’0” wingspan and wiry build. King is not especially skilled off the dribble and was not a productive defensive player from a statistical perspective this season, but will be worthy of priority flier from teams interested in taking him to summer league.
Kendrick Nunn, G, Oakland
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 185 | Age: 22
2017–18 Stats: 25.9 PPG, 43.5% FG, 39.4% 3FG
In terms of pure scoring ability, Nunn was perhaps the most gifted player at Portsmouth. He has a natural feel for picking his spots, a sweet left-handed stroke and a strong body that helps him power through space and get to the basket. However, he lacks the dribble-breakdown isolation element to his game that most elite scorers possess at the next level. Set him a screen and give him a step and he’s fine, but without the off-dribble shake, it’ll be tough to become a microwave scorer-type off the bench. If Nunn can improve as a defender and playmaker he may have a chance, though neither has ever been a fundamental strength of his game. Expect him to earn a Summer League invite, though some NBA teams will be hesitant after the 2016 domestic battery arrest (he pleaded guilty) that led to his dismissal from Illinois.