A huge contingent of NBA executives and scouts will descend upon Portland this week for the Nike-sponsored PK85 tournament (Phil Knight Invitational). This year’s primary early-season college basketball extravaganza includes 16 teams, two different brackets in honor of company founder Phil Knight’s 85th birthday and, naturally, a wealth of future NBA players who will have a say in how the 2023 draft goes down. Because there’s not much else competing for teams’ attention during Thanksgiving week—many high-level decision-makers will head directly to Portland from the Maui Invitational—the PK85 is quite arguably the biggest scouting event of the season.
Players will have a huge opportunity to leave impressions here, and I will be in attendance all week to keep tabs. Here’s what I’m looking forward to as Thursday draws close. Keep in mind that this is not a list of the five best prospects in the event, simply a selection of buzzy names who I’m most curious about entering Thursday’s slate of games.
Brandon Miller, Alabama
Height: 6'9" | Weight: 200 | Age: 19 | Freshman
On the heels of a positive spring and good showings in practice, Miller had been one of the buzzier freshmen names circulating amongst NBA scouts entering the season. The 6'9" forward has opened November in strong form, averaging 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field and 51.7% from three, while getting to the foul line 20 times in four games. He’s coming off his best game of the season, scoring 28 points and pouring in seven threes last week against Jacksonville State. He made shots off the dribble and catch while using his length to impact the game around the rim and defensively. The motor concerns that occasionally followed Miller as a younger player seem to be a non-issue, and he’s legitimately skilled and agile enough to play small forward at the NBA level.
Granted, like many teams, Alabama has played a cupcake schedule so far, positioning the PK85 as Miller’s first serious test of the season. The Crimson Tide open Thursday night against a physical, experienced Michigan State team that will presumably try to run Miller off the line and force him to make plays off the dribble and in the paint. More than half of his shot attempts so far have been three-pointers, and he’s not a highly explosive finisher at the rim, so this three-game tournament is a big opportunity to learn more about his tendencies and weaknesses, considering the quality of competition.
Miller is quite old for a freshman—he turned 20 on Tuesday—but his combination of size and skill should mitigate those concerns a bit as long as he continues to produce. This is a big week for him to make his lottery case, and I’m curious to take a longer look at him up close.
Kyle Filipowski, Duke
Height: 7'0" | Weight: 230 | Age: 19 | Freshman
After watching Duke fall to Kansas in Indianapolis last week, I placed Filipowski in the second round of last week’s mock draft. But he played well in that game and I’ve since been pondering exactly where to project him. He may wind up being one of the more polarizing prospects in the class. Filipowski is quite skilled with the ball as a stretch big at his listed 7'0", and he’s been Duke’s most productive player through five games, averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds while playing with a fiery, competitive edge (though perhaps, occasionally, to his detriment).
The other side of the coin here is that Filipowski is not an exceptional athlete by NBA standards, lacking blow-by speed with the ball in his hands and relying primarily on his heft to initiate contact with defenders. He’s a below-the-rim finisher who will have to prove himself further scoring in traffic. And he’s not particularly agile laterally, which is easier to hide in college but, as we’ve seen time and again, is often easily exposed in an NBA game that features more speed, skill and space to attack on the floor.
Much of this will hinge on how he performs: I can envision scenarios where Filipowski impresses with his efficiency and productivity and plays his way into the middle of the first round, but also ones where he winds up in the second round or even returns to Duke due to the athletic and defensive concerns. Above all else, he’s going to need to shoot the ball really well to prove his point. I wasn’t blown away by his play in Indianapolis, and Filipowski likely won’t be the highest-drafted prospect on his team (keep an eye on both Dariq Whitehead and Tyrese Proctor), but I’m interested to watch him up close again with an open mind.
Jordan Hawkins, UConn
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 195 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
Hawkins entered the season as a fascinating breakout candidate and has a fairly textbook skill set for a two-guard. He has clean, quick shooting mechanics, twitchy movement skills and enough of a handle to play off of multiple dribbles and create shots. And it seems he’s stepped into a sizable role for a pretty strong UConn team, as evidenced by an efficient 20-point showing last week against UNC-Wilmington. Hawkins isn’t gigantic by NBA wing standards, but he’s got the length and explosiveness to play bigger than his frame.
While Hawkins is a bit old for a college sophomore, turning 21 in April, this season is his first major opportunity to showcase himself (he came off the bench and didn’t play consistently as a freshman). That should probably earn him some benefit of the doubt as teams get more familiar, and above all, his shooting and burst look like translatable skills. He’s a high-level athlete by NBA standards and needs to primarily prove he can score efficiently and put pressure on the rim as a slasher. Hawkins’s freshman year stats didn’t quite validate the eye test elements here, but his burgeoning catch-and-shoot game should open a lot of things up for him.
As an athletic defender who should be able to play out of the wings and the corners, Hawkins has a baseline role projection that makes a lot of sense. He still needs to back it up with production and will have opportunities to do that in Portland as UConn navigates a difficult part of the bracket. The Huskies open against Oregon on Thursday night and will face either Alabama or Michigan State on Friday, and their ultimate offensive ceiling is tied to Hawkins’s shot-making. He can make strides toward the first round with a series of good showings.
Kel’el Ware, Oregon
Height: 7'0" | Weight: 210| Age: 18 | Freshman
I flew out to the West Coast a little early this week to see Houston play at Oregon on Sunday night, with a handful of projected and potential draft picks taking the floor in a high-level non-conference tilt. Ware, currently a projected first-round pick, hardly impacted that contest, coming off the bench behind N’Faly Dante and Nathan Bittle without leaving any sort of dent in the game. Ware had a good game against Montana State last week that raised expectations a little, but this feels very much like a wait-and-see situation moving forward.
It will be hard to jump to any sort of conclusions about Ware’s one-and-done candidacy until he starts to perform consistently. His ability to earn more minutes is likely contingent on his motor trending up, which is a point of concern for NBA teams as it pertains to his actual readiness to contribute in the pros. Ware built up buzz with a good spring and summer, but often has a demonstrably languid attitude on the court that doesn’t really do him any favors through a critical lens. If he plays at the PK85 like he did against Houston, the barometer will almost certainly be trending down as Oregon heads into conference play.
Having said all that, Ware does have obvious first-round-caliber tools, so it may not take all that much of an uptick for him to still wind up with a somewhat favorable draft position. He’s quite agile and fluid for a 7-footer, and while he clearly envisions himself as more of a finesse player, he may be able to split the difference if he embraces physical play and continues to become a competent floor spacer. Mobile centers who can shoot the three almost always get multiple chances to find a niche in the NBA, and bigs often take longer to get comfortable. Right now Ware doesn’t really scream lottery candidate, but he’s probably a long-term development pick regardless. All he has to do is earn himself some benefit of the doubt, and that starts with being more active and involved in whatever type of minutes he receives. He’ll get multiple opportunities against quality competition this week to leave a lasting impression.
Cam Whitmore, Villanova
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 232| Age: 18 | Freshman
While it’s yet to be announced as to whether Whitmore will make his season debut in Portland, there seems to be a bit of optimism going around that he could return at some point. He’s a projected lottery pick for good reason, as a powerful athlete and quality three-point shooter who can defend both forward spots and plays with energy. Whitmore made a big individual jump over the past year, including a strong showing with USA Basketball at the FIBA U18 Americas and on the All-Star game circuit. He is also on the younger side for this draft class, as he won’t turn 19 until July. Whenever he returns to play—hopefully on a big stage this week—he’s someone NBA teams will continue to get quite familiar with.
I saved him for last here simply due to the question of whether he’ll play, but Whitmore is an easy player to like: he competes hard and does a lot of things that translate to the modern game. If he’s indeed prepared to make a leap as a shooter, his perceived upside could wind up as appealing as his floor, which seems to be quite high as a contributor. While immediate expectations should likely be tempered as Whitmore works back from thumb surgery, if he plays up to his ability over the course of the season and solidifies himself as a top 10 pick, it further strengthens what might be a very deep lottery class. Stay tuned.
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