Potential NBA Sleepers at the Portsmouth Invitational

Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC

I’m fond of lesser known players moving from collegiate ranks to the NBA. A Malcolm Brogden type. Or John Collins. Who fits that profile this year?

Last week in Virginia, the Portsmouth Invitational, was held. It’s where NBA types congregate 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. Here are two players that caught my attention.

Devon Hall: High-intangible utility guard, University of Virginia, Age: 22.7
If there’s one player from this group to bet on carving out a long NBA career and continuing to improve his stock throughout the pre-draft process, it’s Virginia utility guard Devon Hall. Virginia’s senior leader is shooting a career-best 45% from 3 this year. He plays an efficient game. 6-5, strong, tough with a great feel. Professional approach. 

He fits the profile NBA teams are looking for as a tough-minded guard with a winning pedigree, elite intangibles and a role-player mentality. Coaches both at Virginia and The Skills Factory in Atlanta, where Hall is doing his pre-draft, rave about his uber-professional approach to the game and focus, which shows in his incremental improvement every season in the ACC.

He plays with tremendous intensity, confidence and maturity while standing out as a vocal leader on both ends of the floor. It’s Hall’s impact on the locker room and likelihood of maximizing his long-term potential that make him most attractive to NBA teams, but he’s also a refined two-way player who fits this pass-dribble-shoot era of basketball.

Standing 6-foot-5 with a 6-9 wingspan and a strong 211-pound frame, Hall has a similar physical profile to Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield. While there’s a resemblance in terms of tools and athletic profile, Hall plays a completely different game than the shot-making Hield, taking a more cerebral approach and adding value as a defender of point guards and shooting guards.

Offensively he’s at his best as a spot-up shooter, where he has improved considerably after shooting 45.5 percent from the free throw line as a freshman. Displaying great balance and compact mechanics. Hall made 60.0 percent of his triples at the PIT, building on a senior season in which he ranked in the 95th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers, according to Synergy Sports.

Gary Clark: Utility forward, University of Cincinnati, Age: 23.4
Interviewing with 22 of 30 teams while in Portsmouth, Clark is a player that organizations are certainly doing their homework on to assess whether or not he’s worthy of a second-round selection and capable of turning in an NBA career as a utility 4.

Clark’s steady improvement over the course of his four years at Cincinnati speaks to his resolve, and the fact that he knocked down 6 of 13 3-pointers with sound mechanics was encouraging for his future as an active floor-spacer who can switch every screen, slide up to defend some wings, rebound and fit into most schemes given his solid basketball IQ. Although he doesn’t always shoot it with confidence and took only 1.4 3-pointers per 40 minutes over the course of his NCAA career, he gets good rotation and knocked down a career-best 43.5 percent of his triples as a senior.

His game didn’t completely pop at the PIT, as he’s not a physical freak or loaded with offensive talent. Standing 6-6 with a 6-10 wingspan and 219-pound frame, he has the tools of a combo forward but the game of a modern 4/5. Clark blended in at times on the floor, looking a bit passive, even defensively, which came as a bit of a surprise given the quite usual activity he played with at Cincinnati. That isn’t uncommon in a guard-oriented event, though.

With that said, Clark, who won 2016 American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, has instincts (2.0 steals and 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes), very good feet and the selflessness to add value as a plus defender and rebounder in the NBA. A key cog in Mick Cronin’s stout defense, Clark led the NCAA in defensive win shares, defensive rating and win shares per 40 minutes while ranking 11th in player efficiency rating. He knows who he is as a player and checks a few different boxes offensively as he can make a spot jumper, punish a switch in the post, straight-line drive from the perimeter and find the open man in the half-court, while bringing positivity and professionalism to the locker room.

Teams will likely want to get another look at Clark at the combine in May, and he’s a potential second-round pick in June.

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