Over the years the Portsmouth Invitational has slowly faded in popularity as a means of scouting potential NBA players as the draft process has been minimized to simply a series of private workouts held by the pro organizations. Still, the PIT isn't a completely dead entity as each year one or two seniors manages to use it as a launching point for a pro career, with New York Knicks rookie Landry Fields and Washington Wizard rookie Hamady N'Diaye being two of the more recent examples having played at Portsmouth last year.
This year's event features a handful of mid-major prospects that have the capability of landing on an NBA roster, be it as a second round selection on draft night or through an opportunity to play in the summer league. Top prospects like Richmond's Justin Harper (a potential first-round pick) have withdrawn their names from the event as agents typically like to let these higher rated players show off their skills in a workout setting, but for others, Portsmouth can be their foot in the door.
So while certain power conference seniors like Washington's Justin Holiday and Syracuse's Rick Jackson may be drawing the initial headlines at this year's event, here are four mid-major prospects to make note of over the next few days in Virginia.
Damian Saunders, Small Forward/Power Forward, Duquesne
The two-time Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Damian Saunders presents a great amount of intrigue at the defensive end of the floor, enough to potentially entice a team to spend a second-round draft pick on him. At 6-foot-7 205 pounds he ultimately projects out as a small forward at the pro level despite spending a large portion of his college career operating as a four.
Offensively we are talking about a still very raw and underdeveloped player. His production numbers took a step back this season as a result of other members of the Dukes roster seeing an increased usage rate, but he still averaged nearly 13 points per game on 49% shooting from the floor. The majority of Saunders' shot attempts come in the kinds of settings you would expect from a superior athlete with a somewhat limited skill set, as Synergy Sports tells us 53% of his possessions came in transition, cuts off the ball and on the offensive glass.
What scouts will like however is the noticeable is the noticeable improvement the senior has made in his ability to step away from the paint and knock down the occasional jumper - something he will undoubtedly be asked to do at the next level. As a junior Saunder shot less than 19% from beyond the arc (somewhat of an aberration considering he was over 30% as a freshman and sophomore), but bumped that up to 36% in his final season at the college level. He is a passable catch and shoot player, with somewhat of an unorthodox shot that he brings behind and to the right of his head before releasing. It's obvious he still isn't entirely comfortable with this facet of his game as exhibited by the rarity with which he shoots off the dribble (just 2% of the time) and that fact that of the jumper he does take, two-thirds of them are wide open looks with no pressure applied from defenders.
Should Saunders land on an NBA roster (or more likely in Europe), defense will be his meal ticket. In addition to his solid height for a perimeter defender, the Connecticut native has a massive wingspan that allows him to bottle up ballhandlers on the wing. While not necessarily an explosive athlete, his lateral quickness and fluid footwork is such that he is already at a point where he can guard NBA backcourt players. As a junior he was the only player in the country to average better than 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks which speaks to his level of versatility at this end of the floor.
The biggest factor working against him will be his strength - or lack thereof. While he can provide a nice weak side defensive presence in small doses, he doesn't have a frame capable of covering post players at the pro level like he did on occasion in college.
A strong effort at Portsmouth, coupled with a sharp shooting performance in individual workouts could be enough to land Saunders as a late second round pick, especially if a particular team happens to fall in love with him. Chances are however he may have to take the undrafted route of the NBA Summer League or a training camp opportunity in order to land in the Association.
Papa Dia, Power Forward, Southern Methodist
The fact that Papa Dia is even on NBA Draft radars is impressive considering he only arrived in American five years ago after growing up in Senegal. Physically there is quite a bit to like about the Mustangs big man as his 6-9, 250-pound frame can handle the rigors of the pro life in the post, while also exhibiting a surprising level of mobility for a frontcourt player with his bulk.
The power forward's game is built around his back to the basket work, with 46% of his touches coming in post-up situations. Dia shot a very respectable 53% on shot attempts here, utilizing a simple but effective arsenal of hook shots, drop steps and spin moves despite having somewhat inconsistent footwork. His touch has improved steadily throughout his four seasons in college, culminating with a 59% shooting mark on two-point field goals this season, including a remarkable 70% mark on shot attempts at the rim which ranks among the best marks in the country. Dia has also shown a nice ability to finish out of pick and roll sets, displaying a good feel for moving to open spaces in the lane and exhibiting excellent hands when teammates look to feed him on the move. Given that at the pro level he is unlikely to be a primary scoring option, the ability to operate off the ball and finish scoring opportunities with great regularity when presented with them will be important.
Scouts in attendance this week above all else will be watching the big man's shooting ability. After not attempting a single three-pointer in his first three college seasons, Dia averaged nearly one attempt per game as a senior and connected a remarkable 43% of the time. It's tough to say at this point if this aspect of his game is an aberration or simply a case of a late bloomer, but his improved free throw shooting may be an indication that his stroke is improving, despite having somewhat of a high awkward release.
Defensively the power forward still displays some evidence of his relative inexperience with the game as compared to many who have played longer. While his effort level is high and he is physical when blocking out, Dia still gives up position on the block due to his inability to use his size as a means of pushing opposing players off their spot - instead relying on his ability to block shots as a means of defending the post. While this method works effectively at the college level, it can't be sustained in the NBA. On another note, he shows solid lateral quickness for a big man, making him an above average defender of the pick and roll.
Portsmouth will be the first real opportunity for scouts to see Dia against pro caliber big men as Southern Methodist's schedule didn't provide many stiff challenges this season in the frontcourt. There's no question his production this season has caught some attention, now he needs to make the most of it.
Steven Gray, Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Gonzaga
The Bulldogs chief scoring option this season is going to have an uphill battle as far as hearing his name called on draft night given a lack of above average physical tools, but there are still certainly aspects of his game that a pro team could like enough to take a flyer on in training camp or summer league. At 6-5, Gray has solid size for the guard spot, particularly if he can continue to develop his point guard skill set and make himself valuable as a player capable of lining up at multiple backcourt positions.
Gray's game is built around his jumper, as nearly 77% of his shot attempts in half court sets came in this fashion. The biggest concern scouts may have right now is his ability to sustain any sort of consistency in this regard as early in his senior season he was shooting a tremendous 59% on two-point field goal attempts, a mark that by the end of the year had plummeted to a career-low 44% overall. It should be said however that he shot a three-year best 37% from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs ran him off a lot of screens this season, with nearly one-third of his possessions coming in pick and roll sets or flashing off of screens, this likely won't be the case in the pro game. Gray has been just average in isolation plays at the college level as he lacks a great first step, but his craftiness is undeniable. The senior uses a nice array of ball fakes and spin moves to get into the lane, then relies on his sizable frame to finish at the rim with a high success rate (57%).
As we have already mentioned, continuing to develop as an offensive facilitator could go a long way to elevating his stock. Gray had just under a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio this season while averaging a career-high 4 assists per game. He seemed to be at his best driving and kicking out of iso plays where he ranked in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency when incorporating his shots and the shots he created for teammates.
Defensively Gray leaves a lot to be desired and this could ultimately be what keeps him out of the NBA. He has poor lateral quickness which makes him a liability to really cover anyone on the perimeter at the pro level and in his best opportunity to cover a pro caliber guard, BYU's Jimmer Fredette torched him in the NCAA Tournament for 34 points. For anyone who wishes to argue that this might not be a fair example given Fredette's status as the best player in college basketball this season - keep in mind that he only projects out as a rotational player in the NBA right now.
Andrew Goudelock, Point Guard, College of Charleston
Every season we see players in the Andrew Goudelock mold trying to crack an NBA roster - small school, small conference, big time scoring numbers. Some players, such as former UCF scoring machine Jermaine Taylor, manage to adapt their game and prove efficient enough to land an NBA contract. Others, like UTEP's Stefon Jackson, can't quite get over the hump and fade into obscurity.
The first thing to consider when handicapping Goudelock's chances as a pro prospect is can he transition from being almost the only scoring option on his team to being a pass first player capable of hurting teams when left alone? Despite being among the nation's leading scorers this season, the senior still dished out better than four assists per game which is a good sign, but this was more a result of the attention he draws from opposing defenses. The majority of his time was spent off the basketball as the Cougars look to get him the ball, rather than run the offense through him.
His scoring efficiency is unquestionable at the college level, as over 77% of his shot attempts this season were jumpers and he connected on 44% of them. Furthermore, Goudelock has the full package in this aspect of his game, showing NBA range, a quick, high release and the ability to catch and shoot, or connect off the dribble (something he did to the tune of 43% shooting). He exhibits excellent body control and has a solid arsenal of moves to get himself free for a shot, but we are not talking about an elite level athlete here in regards to quickness and explosiveness. Goudelock is only an average finisher at the rim, doesn't elevate exceptionally well and as a result of these two factors doesn't get to the free throw line nearly as often as a player of his usage rate should.
There are going to be concerns regarding the senior as a defender. His size and lack of elite lateral quickness will leave him susceptible against NBA athletes and his previous performance at this end of the floor needs to be taken with a grain of salt as it came in the Southern Conference, hardly a bastion of pro prospects. Still, Goudelock is an efficient and crafty enough scorer that he may be able to land a spot somewhere. Regardless of other facets of their game, NBA teams always seem to have a place on their roster for elite shooters who can spread the floor and there's no question the Charleston product fits that mold. Proving he can facilitate the offense as a point guard during his time at Portsmouth will go a lone way to helping his stock, as will proving he can score consistently against other elite seniors.