Monday, May 2, 2016

Prospect Watch at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament

Following its historic 64th year, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) remains a notable NBA pre-draft event, bringing together the likes of agents and NBA personnel to showcase some of the finest senior talent college basketball has to offer. Over the course of the event's extensive history, it has featured many notable alumni- Jimmy Butler, JaMychal Green, Kyle O'Quinn, and Robert Covington - are some of the more recent names.

Despite what most PIT spectators believed to be a down year in 2015, five players showcased at this event heard their names called last June. This certainly bodes well for the much deeper 2016 class, which featured standouts such as Iona’s A.J. English, Arizona’s Ryan Anderson, St. Joseph’s Isaiah Miles, VCU’s Melvin Johnson, Stephen F. Austin’s Thomas Walkup, Michigan State’s Matt Costello, and Virginia's Mike Tobey.

A.J. English, Iona – English was named the PIT’s Most Valuable Player, and for good reason: he led Roger Brown’s ferocious second half charge, which included a game tying tip in that evened the score and an interior feed that ultimately yielded a championship trophy. While English was dynamic in the second half of that contest, he was consistently productive throughout the tournament, displaying his diverse skillset and adaptability. Serving as a pass first lead guard, A.J. English showed that he can pick his spots offensively and make his teammates better. Importantly, English was dynamic in pick and roll scenarios, regularly connecting with teammate Ryan Anderson for pick and pop opportunities or for easy lay-ins. When overplayed, English was able to make his opponents pay, dialing in from distance. English is a strong shooter off the catch or off the dribble, and possesses NBA range.

In terms of his advanced skillset on this end of the floor, English’s handle enables him to get virtually anywhere he wants. And while he is quick with the ball in his hands, English boasts decent hesitation moves and a great touch on his floater, both of which really separated him from many of the point guards at this event. English possesses adequate vision for a lead guard and did an excellent job reversing the ball and shifting defenses at the PIT. While he clearly thrives in transition, English is also a strong passer in half court sets, feeding bigs in pick and roll scenarios or through targeted post entry feeds.

On the defensive end, A.J. is very productive, utilizing his pterodactyls-like 6’9 wingspan to wreak havoc on the opposition. English is able to get a hand in passing lanes and also does a nice job deflecting the ball away to teammates. He was one of the best shot blocking guards at the event as well. With the exception of the final game, where English was a bit overzealous on his closeouts – leading to a four point play followed by a three point foul – English did a nice job of contesting jump shooters. And while his lateral quickness proved to be respectable at the PIT, he needs to work harder fighting around screens to contest shooters. All in all, English likely solidified himself as a pick in this year’s draft, given his intriguing, diversified skillset.

Ryan Anderson, Arizona – English’s Roger Browns teammate, Ryan Anderson, also performed well at this event, showcasing a wide variety of skills scouts look for at the next level. Most importantly, Anderson demonstrated his effectiveness as a pick and roll option, reading defenses well and either slipping screens to the basket or fading for open mid range jumpers. When given an ounce of daylight, Anderson was particularly effective from just inside the arc, and generally stretched the defense. With that said, he will have to work on extending his range a bit at the next level, improving his efficiency from beyond the arc so that he can morph into a true stretch four [by today’s definition].

While he will likely function as a stretch four at the next level, Anderson’s versatile post repertoire was on full display at the PIT. Anderson was particularly effective as a faceup big, using his size and strength to bully his man at the rim. Despite his reputation for playing ‘soft’ dating back to his time at Boston College, he was anything but during his stay at the Portsmouth Invitational. If he saw an opening to attack the rim, he would use his body to create separation and finish at the basket. Anderson also utilized his lower body strength to back down his man and get as close to the bucket as possible before squaring up for a balanced shot. When at the rim, he is capable of finishing with either hand. In addition, when met with a double team, Anderson also demonstrated the ability (on several occasions) to connect on fadeaway jumpers out of the post.

Not only did he finish through considerable contact [most of which was not even called], but he also fought extremely hard on the glass. Anderson was fundamentally sound boxing out and was aggressive clearing space once he grabbed the loose ball. On the offensive glass, Anderson would wisely either kick the ball out for a full reset or finish through contact. On the defensive side, Anderson regularly looked ahead to teammates and his rebounds often led to run outs. Importantly, Anderson ran the floor very well at the PIT and possessed the vision to hit cutters in transition.

Along these lines, Anderson was also one of the better passing bigs at this event. He would regularly draw double teams and hit cutting wings or make sound bounce passes to fellow bigs Ibeh/Thomas inside. On the defensive end, Anderson projects as a below-the-rim positional defender at the next level. He did a nice job, at times, contesting without fouling in the post and seems to have a good sense of the principles of verticality. At this event, he was very good defending from the mid range and when tasked with one-on-one matchups. However, Anderson struggled a bit with his screen and roll defense, often over-hedging and allowing the roll man a clear path to the basket. This was particularly evident against Matt Costello in the championship game. All in all, Ryan Anderson cemented himself as one of the most diversified senior draft prospects and will certainly get more looks in the months to come despite getting snubbed by the Combine.

Isaiah Miles, St. Joseph’s – While he played on one of the worst teams at this event, no one flashed more offensive potential than Isaiah Miles at the PIT. First, it is worth mentioning that Miles’ physical profile looks the part of an NBA wing. Standing at a 6’8 and boasting a 6’9.5’’ wingspan, Miles possesses a very high release on his jumper and will have no difficulty shooting over the top of defenders at the next level. At the PIT, Miles connected from deep (mostly long two pointers) off the catch in pick-and-pop scenarios, but was also able to shoot off the dribble and coming off screens. While he only technically shot six three point attempts for the entire tournament, the majority of his shots were just inside the arc. He demonstrated that he does possess the extended range to connect from NBA three, hitting 50% of his shots from deep.

In virtually every contest at this event, the opposition did not have an answer closing out on Miles, but would work to deny him the ball. As such, Miles flashed a versatile skillset, opting to work out of the post, facing up and attacking his man off the dribble. Miles possesses a reliable go to hook shot when on the block, and can also hit turnaround jumpers out of the post. He flashed his potential in this respect by hitting a few difficult, turnaround fadeaways, which were eerily reminiscent of Kobe during his 60 point outpouring (which occurred right after the night games). While Miles had a tendency to stand around when the ball was not in his hands at this event, he showed that he can function as a basket cutter, readily beating his opponent to the rim on overplays. In terms of his ability to create his own shot attacking the basket, he could stand to tighten his handle and appeared a bit loose with the ball in transition. At this point, he is likely more of a slasher from the free throw line and in.

On the glass, it is clear that Miles utilizes his solid run-jump athleticism to clear the boards. While he did exert effort chasing down loose balls, at the next level, Miles is going to have to add strength to his frame and consistently box out in order to be an effective presence on the glass. On the defensive side of the ball, Miles possesses poor awareness, despite his good length and athleticism. Throughout the tournament, Miles’ energy level varied on the defensive end of the ball. While he was often able to force defenders out of bounds or deflect the ball with his length, Miles tended to miss help assignments and allowed quite a few layups. In addition, Miles made several highlight-reel blocks and finished second in the event with 2 bpg, but was often not able to corral the loose ball afterwards. In terms of his defensive technique, Miles was often too upright at times and tended to give jump shooters too much space. All in all, Miles is a tantalizing prospect with the offensive repertoire to make an impact on the NBA level, but look for scouts to try to gain a better understanding of his defensive limitations at the NBA Combine and beyond.

Melvin Johnson, VCU – In the same vein as VCU greats before him (such as last year’s MVP, Treveon Graham, who was in attendance), Johnson certainly left his mark at the PIT this year with heady offensive play and a rugged defensive mentality. The 6’4 combo guard played under control for most of the PIT and demonstrated that he is capable of creating shots for his teammates and running offensive sets. While he often split time alongside point guard Andrew Andrews, Johnson did a nice job executing pick and roll plays, finding cutters and moving the ball side to side, particularly in transition. And despite his shooting woes in the championship game, Johnson was generally able to make defenses pay when cheating under on screens. In the first two contests, he knocked down difficult three pointer shots off the dribble with ease. In addition, Johnson is quick with the ball in his hands and possesses the requisite strength/athleticism to finish through contact at the rim. He is extremely crafty with the ball in his hands, occasionally employing pass and shot fakes, and sports a dependable floater as well. Johnson also possesses a serviceable handle and occasionally employs the change of pace dribble to knock defenders off guard.

On the defensive side of the ball, Johnson is a ball hawk who fights over the top of screens. In his championship matchup, Johnson held MVP A.J. English in check for a while by closing out on his jump shots and physically challenging him. He does a nice job of fighting over screens and is a serviceable help defender. Johnson also has quick hands and decent lateral quickness. While he did not receive an invitation to the Combine, look for him to get plenty of workout opportunities to prove himself.

Additional Players Deserving Mention:

Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin – While this recognition could have just as easily gone to fellow teammate Dyshawn Pierre, who shot lights out from three throughout the tournament, Walkup is the third member of Roger Browns’ squad that I will review. Walkup was a pivotal piece of his team’s equation, even if he did not receive the all-tournament accolades of English and Anderson. Walkup proved to be one of the best passers at this event, despite playing off the ball. He was most effective in screen and roll scenarios and demonstrated great awareness of cutters. Walkup did most of his work from the top of the key, and will have to do more with shifting the defense at the next level, as his screen and roll passes were overplayed in the championship game.

In terms of his offensive prowess, Walkup is a solid slasher with good body control, who is able to finish through considerable body contact. With that said, he is prone to straight line drives at this stage in his development, and often turns to overpowering his man on the block. As such, diversifying his slashing skillset by adding change of pace dribble moves will likely be a point of emphasis next season. And while Walkup is effective with his one dribble pullup jumper, he must work to become more efficient off the catch and more proficient from beyond the arc.

Defensively, Walkup was highly underrated at this event, despite his average/below average lateral quickness. Thomas Walkup is the consummate team defender and does a nice job closing out on jump shooters, playing under control and rarely getting fooled on shot fakes. He is also a savvy help defender and possesses good anticipatory instincts for where the ball is going to be next. On several possessions, he was able to recover to prevent shots at the rim. In addition, he has active hands as a man-to-man defender, deflecting the ball and disturbing the other team’s offensive flow. Walkup’s sheer physicality is also evident on the glass, where he does a nice job boxing out and obtaining solid position inside. The fact that he was one of the best rebounding guards at this event (5.0rpg), despite measuring 27.5’’ on his no step vertical and playing alongside Ryan Anderson and lengthy big Prince Ibeh (4.3rpg), speaks volumes to his sound fundamentals and tenacity going after the ball. Walkup’s performance at the PIT and dominant run against WVU in the NCAA tournament should earn him quite a few looks.

Matt Costello, Michigan State – Serving as the ultimate glue guy, Costello was one of the grittiest players at the entire event. He showed the best awareness of any big on pick and roll opportunities, frequently slipping screens and diving to the rim for easy layups. He did an excellent job freeing up his guards and has a nice understanding of when to set high ball screens and when to fight inside for post position. While he did not shoot the ball especially well at times, Costello’s mid range jumper proved serviceable enough to keep defenses honest. In terms of his passing ability, Costello was effective dishing the ball to teammates from the post.

He also collected the second most rebounds at the event (11.7rpg in three contests), behind only Ryan Anderson. On the glass, Costello was dominant in this setting, particularly against Roger Brown’s in the championship game. He is fundamentally sound using his body to create space and has a great nose for the ball. Costello’s tenacity on this end was underscored by his size differential with the lengthy Prince Ibeh, who he was matched up with at times. On the defensive end, Costello played with the same level of intensity throughout, denying post entry feeds to bigger players, working for interior position on the block, and deflecting the ball away from opponents. It also should be noted that Costello was capable closing out on jump shooters. Overall, Costello projects as a role player who could earn minutes based on his hustle and aggressiveness on the glass.

Mike Tobey, UVA – Much like Costello, Tobey unveiled a more versatile skillset than we were accustomed to seeing during his time at UVA. He functioned predominantly in the pick and roll at Portsmouth and proved to be serviceable in this capacity. Tobey possesses a high basketball IQ and did a nice job spacing the floor on pick and roll sets, often remaining outside so as to not crowd the paint. When given the ball on screen and fade opportunities, he appeared pretty comfortable from deep two-point range. He must work to extend his jumper at the next level to keep defenses honest and space the floor. In terms of his back to the basket game, Tobey uses his good size (7’0) and length (7’0.5’’) to either square up and shoot over the top of his defender or faceup and attack the rim. He possesses a reliable hook shot in the lane and is dangerous when he is able to secure deep post position. One concern at the next level could be his lack of lower body strength, as smaller players (GW’s Kevin Larsen for example) were occasionally able to outwork him for positioning on the block. With that said, he was generally strong with the ball. When he was able to successfully back his man down (and did not settle for a fadeaway jumper), Tobey was especially dangerous, as he does a nice job of finishing through contact and is also a willing passer out of double teams.

While Tobey could stand to further diversify his offensive game, his work on the glass really separated him from some of the other prospects in this tournament. Much like Anderson and Costello, Tobey was aggressive on the boards, employing excellent box out fundamentals and generally demonstrating a good ‘nose for the ball’. Tobey did a nice job of securing the ball with two hands and weeding out similarly sized big men. On the defensive end, Tobey possesses good awareness defending on pick and roll possessions, hedging well and at times cutting off quicker guards from attacking the basket. With that said, he must do a better job of guarding screen and fade plays, as he tended to either over-hedge or float in the paint and not close out on jump shooting bigs. While Tobey also does a good job of preventing the post entry feed, he must work harder to prevent his man from backing him down. Overall, though, Tobey is a good positional defender who compensates for his below average run-jump athleticism with decent help awareness. His stock certainly improved from his time at the PIT.

(Photos courtesy of NYCBuckets,, Saint Joseph's Athletics, Around the Horns VCU Athletics, CBS Sports,, and

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Around the Nation (Part 1) - Dominez Burnett and Lawrence Jackson

In the "Around the Nation" segment, I explore prospects throughout the country, with a particular focus on non-D1 talent. In part 1, I feature two pro prospects from NAIA DII: reigning POY, Davenport's Dominez Burnett, and Northwestern Ohio product Lawrence Jackson. 

Dominez Burnett - The reigning POY nationally in NAIA DII is a special talent and could be the most promising prospect I have seen at this level of play. While he still possesses some flaws that will need to be addressed as he transitions to a professional level, the Flint native is one of the more naturally gifted athletes outside of DI and would likely stand out on a professional level. It should be noted that most of Dominez's points come attacking the basket. He is particularly gifted creating for himself and teammates off the dribble, and possesses an array of dribble drive moves and a crafty handle. Burnett sports a decently quick first step and is crafty maneuvering around defenders to the basket; in particular, he regularly employs a spin dribble move in the lane which tends to keep defenders off guard. While he is able to regularly avoid contact and craftily maneuver around his opponents, Burnett is often able to draw contact when meeting defenders at the summit. To put his foul drawing ability into context, his ~11.5 free throw attempts per game is one of the highest marks nationally. On the whole, Burnett's run-jump athleticism stands out from the pack and is likely on par with other highly rated pro players. In terms of his unselfishness, Burnett is a willing passer - he regularly kicks the ball out to an open big man when he gets deep in the lane and is adept at making pinpointed post entry feeds from either wing. While he often is able to exploit defenses himself, his assist-to-turnover ratio over 1-to-1 is impressive given his heavy usage in all facets of the offense.

Also supporting the notion that he is a special athlete, Burnett is dynamic on the glass, securing 7.23 rebounds per contest. Dominez possesses decent fundamentals on this end of the floor and is very aggressive boxing out and securing loose balls. He rarely gives up on plays and often leads the team's transition offense. In terms of his glaring offensive weaknesses, Burnett is a very streaky three point shooter, and has shot poorly in recent weeks. While he has hit critical long range shots with the game on the line (see the end of the Northwestern Ohio contest), Burnett is connecting on a very poor 25.0% of his attempts from beyond the arc. His mechanics will likely have to improve at the next level, given his low release point. With all of that said, he shot 38.7% from 3pt range a year ago; therein, I believe that his poor 25.0% clip is likely not sustainable. On the defensive end, Burnett is a very unique talent with outstanding hands and the athleticism to contribute as a help defender. While he has played inside in zone situations, Burnett thrives as a man-to-man defender, and is more than capable of defending at the next level, given his good lateral quickness. While his play in the zone will likely not translate at a higher level, his quickness to the ball and innate anticipation suggest that this will be a significant strength.  All in all, Dominez Burnett is one of the more complete players on both sides of the ball and is making a name for himself nationally. 

Lawrence Jackson - Emboldened by Davenport's #3 ranking nationally, Jackson was unflappable in his matchup with NAIA DII's top talent, despite coming off of a pesky facial injury which forced him to wear a mask for the first time. It should be noted that players often have to adjust to the feel of the mask, which impacts one's shooting touch and overall rhythm. Throughout the contest, it was clear that Jackson was having difficulty seeing/tracking down the ball due to the nature of his orbital injury. While Jackson had difficulty adjusting early on, clanging several forced jump shots off of brush screens, he eventually found his groove from the floor. Lawrence's greatest asset is his jump shot, and he regularly connects from the midrange, rising up and scoring over the top of opposing defenses. Jackson's range extends out beyond the three point line, and he is shooting a solid 40.8% from beyond the arc. Also, Jackson possesses a fairly quick release and a high release point. In terms of his role in the Northwestern Ohio offense, Jackson is particularly effective with the ball in his hands and needs only a little daylight to get his shot off. While his shot selection was questionable at times, he was clearly his team's go to option, and handled the ball on most of his team's possessions (even calling plays as a lead guard on occasion)

In terms of his limitations, given Jackson's status as a jump shooter, he rarely gets to the line, averaging a mere three FTA per contest (with 0 against Davenport). In stark contrast to Burnett, Jackson struggles finishing through contact at the rim and often has his shot altered despite his good size (for this level) at 6'4. He will need to diversify his game in this respect if he hopes to land a contract at a more competitive level of play. With that said, Jackson is a strong defensive rebounder, and is willing to fight amongst the trees. In addition, given that the ball ran through him much of the Davenport game, Jackson proved to be a capable passer, setting up his teammates in pick and roll scenarios and executing the prettiest lefty wrap around (whipped) pass of the contest. Defensively, Jackson has good anticipation and solid hands - posting 2.5 steals per game. All in all, Jackson must continue to diversify his offensive game, while proving that he can defend the best players at his level.   

[Images courtesy of (Burnett) and (Jackson)]

Friday, November 13, 2015

Blogging Through the Exhibitions (Part 1) St. John's vs. St. Thomas Aquinas

After a brief hiatus, I am returning to provide original content for all levels of basketball. In this first matchup, a more experienced St. Thomas Aquinas team took advantage of the new-look Red Storm in the exhibition opener. Several standouts emerged on both sides, and it will be interesting to track how these players develop as we move through the non-conference season.

St. John's Player Notes 

Christian Jones - While Jones played a very minor part in the Red Storm's success last season, he is likely going to be asked to take on a much bigger role this year, particularly in light of St. John's mass exodus (with Chris Obekpa transferring and Rysheed Jordan choosing to play professional basketball). Although I believe the expectation coming in was that he would be more of a locker room presence than a go-to option, Jones proved to be St. John's more reliable weapon in this contest. Throughout this game, Jones was the most active Johnnie getting in the lane and finishing through contact. He was an aggressive presence on the boards and created numerous second chance opportunities. Jones is thriving in his role as an energy player and has the requisite athleticism - despite being slightly undersized at 6'7 - to impact the game on both ends of the floor. On the defensive end, Jones was disruptive in passing lanes, forcing difficult shots for St. Thomas Aquinas big men and displaying active hands. He is a strong leaper and shot blocker as well. Overall, look for Jones to play a more prominent role this season as a seasoned returnee.

Federico Mussini - Mussini is arguably the most talented player on this St. John's team, with maybe the exception of Marcus LoVett, who the NCAA recently ruled as ineligible to play this season (LINK). Mussini is a quick lead guard with a nice handle and the stop-and-go moves to penetrate in the lane and create for his teammates. With that said, Mussini clearly has not adjusted to the college basketball learning curve just yet (to be expected for the freshman), as he forced numerous outside shots early in the shot clock in this one, over-dribbled and appeared out-of-control forcing the ball in transition with no numbers, and generally struggled with the pesky defense of highly improved James Mitchell. With that said, Mussini can get his own shot, though, and already has the requisite perimeter jumper to keep defenses honest. On the defensive end of the floor, Mussini is still very much a work in progress, and needs to work harder on-ball to contain penetration.

Malik Ellison - The son of basketball royalty (Pervis Ellison), Malik is very much an up-in-coming player in his own right. Standing at a sturdy 6'6, Malik has the requisite size, length, and athleticism to play at a higher level of basketball. In this contest, he demonstrated his unique floor vision and his ability to create for teammates off the dribble. Malik possesses a strong handle and his ability to penetrate and kick will be extremely important for the Red Storm this year. Like Mussini, he often over-dribbled at times, but also showed strong flashes attacking the basket. In addition, Ellison also possesses an effective jump shot and can score in a variety of ways. In contrast to Mussini's performance early in the game, Malik did a nice job picking his spots shooting the ball. Defensively, Ellison has the length to be effective in the Big East this season. All in all, it will be interesting to track Malik's learning curve and see how Malik's ball skills improve over the course of the year. I strongly believe that he is a future NBA prospect.

St. Thomas Aquinas Player Notes     

Chaz Watler - Leader of the upstart Spartan club and the preseason ECAC POY, Watler was the most impressive performer in this contest. While teammate Justin Reyes made a splash in the second half when the lead was in hand, Watler's breakout performance really built his team's lead from the opening tip. Undersized at 6'2, Watler is a combo guard with a great first step and a wide array of offensive moves in his repertoire. Watler is adept at beating his man off the bounce and either finishing at the rim over rim protectors or kicking it out to open teammates. He can also stop on a dime and connect on fadeaway jumpers when necessary. The threat of Watler's shot really opens his game up, and Chaz is a serious threat from anywhere on the floor, particularly beyond the arc. After shooting over 40% from three point range a year ago, Watler was 3-5 in this contest and had no problems getting his shot off. While he may prefer to function off the ball at this point, Watler would likely be able to convert to the lead guard role, as he is an adept passer and already can keep defenses honest with the threat of his jumper. On the defensive end, Watler wreaked havoc on the Red Storm with his extremely quick hands (to the tune of 4 steals) and decent quickness.

Justin Reyes - The much improved Reyes dominated St. John's front line in the second half, taking his man off the dribble and converting at the rim. He also was able to collect rebounds despite his diminutive size (at 6'4) in comparison to St. John's bigs Darien Williams (6'8) and Yankuba Sima (6'11). Reyes appeared to be everywhere on the court at once, and was particularly effective on the defensive glass, where he boxed out the opposition and collected 10 boards. While he mostly opted for higher percentage shots around the basket, where he was able to use his physicality to score against the youthful St. John's bigs employing an old man's game, Reyes appears to have a decent (albeit slow) perimeter stroke. Reyes will play a vital role for his team this year as a much improved enforcer inside. Despite his strong hands, Reyes is a bit of a mixed bag defensively and is a bit slow laterally.

James Mitchell - Stepping into the role of lead guard following Marcus Henderson's departure, the diminutive, 5'9 Mitchell appeared to be the most improved player on this squad. Mitchell was electric in his debut against St. John's, running the Spartan offense to perfection and really getting progressively more comfortable with the ball in his hands as the game wore on. While he initially connected on some questionable perimeter jumpers, his shot selection improved considerably by the end of the game. He ultimately was orchestrating the offense and facilitating for just about everyone on the floor. While many of his passes were not finished due to strong contests at the rim, Mitchell put his big men in a position to score many times. He is adept in the pick and roll, and is not shy from the perimeter when the ball is kicked out. Mitchell should be able to keep defenses honest as the season progresses. On the defensive end, Mitchell was a pest, fighting through screens, contesting out of bounds plays, and generally wreaking havoc to the tune of four steals. The Mitchell/Watler backcourt will be a defensive force to be reckoned with once Division II play begins.

Aaron Cust - Cust is an explosive, 6'1 guard who can get to the basket in a hurry and finish with the best of them. He was particularly effective early on against the Red Storm and did a nice job completing plays. Cust is a willing passer when attacking the basket, and is more than capable of serving as a point guard. While he doesn't have the prettiest jumper, Cust was able to connect from deep on one occasion.

Jonathan Lawton - This outstanding freshman also left his mark on the game driving to the rim and finishing from the perimeter on kick out plays. Lawton is a serious perimeter shooting threat. While still assimilating with teammates, it is clear that he will be in for a much bigger role as the season progresses.

Image Sources: and

Monday, March 2, 2015

Senior Spotlight 2014-15 (1st Installment)

In "Senior Spotlight", I explore some of the top seniors across college basketball and assess their potential from a professional standpoint. In today's segment, the first of the year, I take a look at South Carolina's Tyrone Johnson.

After being relegated to the bench with a foot injury towards the end of his junior season, the Gamecock's Tyrone Johnson is back this year and bringing senior leadership to his South Carolina  squad under head coach Frank Martin. Johnson is a combo guard with lead guard potential at the next level. Hailing from Plainfield, New Jersey, Johnson has made noticeable strides converting to the point guard slot, but still has some work to do before he can become an impact player at a higher level of basketball.

When noting his current strengths, one would be remiss if failing to mention Johnson's gifts on the defensive end of the floor. It should first be noted that Johnson has made significant strides in this area since his first season with the Villanova Wildcats, and especially since his high school playing days. While Johnson's output does not jump out as far as defensive statistics are concerned, posting a modest 2.12% steals % (40th in the SEC) - which happens to be in-line with fellow defensive stalwart Tyler Ulis, he possesses strong fundamentals on this end of the floor. For instance, he rarely bites on pump fakes, and has strong lateral quickness. His quickness enables him to double down on the post at times, and recover to his man on the perimeter if a kick out pass is made. Johnson is particularly effective on close outs and does a nice job disrupting without fouling out on the perimeter (2.84 fouls per 40 minutes, good for 25th in the SEC). In his matchup with standout Vanderbilt freshman Riley LaChance, Johnson was incredibly active fighting through screens and getting enough pressure to disturb LaChance's shooting rhythm. It should be noted that as soon as South Carolina shifted to the 1-2-2 zone and Johnson no longer had the sole responsibility of covering him, LaChance broke out, scoring the majority of his 19 points during this juncture.

Johnson brings senior leadership to the table and boasts a strong basketball IQ on defensive rotations, shifting inside when necessary and acting the part of a savant in anticipating ball movement. And while he does possess good size for a next level point guard at 6'3, he does tend to struggle defending bigger players. For instance, in his matchup with Aaron and Andrew Harrison, he struggled with their superior size and length, particularly when recovering to defend the rim. With that said, he did a nice job closing out on the perimeter and it should also be noted that he will not always have to contend with players that have comparable size to the Harrison twins at the next level. Overall, Johnson possesses strong defensive awareness and the ability to actively contest shots without fouling.  

On the opposite end, Johnson is an adequate playmaker who finds open shooters, but has struggled to find his shot at times this season. While Johnson was able to keep defenses honest a season ago by connecting at a 42.1% clip from three on a limited number of attempts, Johnson has been on a cold streak for much of this year, choosing to pass the ball back outside rather than squaring up for an open jumper - much to Frank Martin's chagrin. When he does opt to shoot, Johnson's stroke possesses decent mechanics with solid fluidity, but Johnson could stand to work on the consistency of his motion (elevation/elbows in particular). With that said, he could be turning things around from a shooting perspective, given his 28 point breakout performance (on 7-10 shooting, 1-2 from three) against Mississippi State most recently. In terms of his playmaking ability, Johnson is a strong slasher with a solid crossover dribble who can take a defender off his spot in a hurry. While he could stand to develop a Euro step maneuver when getting all the way to the rim to avoid charges, Johnson does have the requisite hangtime and strength to finish at the hoop.

That said, he will have to improve upon his finishing ability/ overall shooting (connecting on a paltry 41.2% of his two point attempts) if he hopes to receive any minutes at a higher level of play. Importantly, Johnson is very unselfish with the ball in his hands. While he tends to swing the ball far too often instead of getting into the teeth of the defense, particularly against the 2-3 zone, Johnson does hit open shooters on drive and kick plays. He also has good vision out in transition and is very underrated as a post entry passer, with a strong ability to lob over the top of the defense and find his open big man. That said, he has often been too passive at times to attack the basket (3.9 fouls drawn per 40 mins vs. 6.2 last year in a shortened season), instead settling for simplistic kick out passes. This is likely due to his lack of confidence hitting his perimeter stroke, as defenses can now back off of him a bit. Importantly, it remains to be seen (as far as I have seen) how he would function on a nightly basis in a high pick and roll offense, where his big man does not opt to flare out for the open three pointer.

All in all, Tyrone Johnson is an experienced talent with the requisite skillset to become a solid role player at a higher level of basketball. He must continue to perfect his shooting stroke and refine his court awareness, but he should receives some looks when his college career is finally over.

(Images via,, and

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top 105 D1 Seniors

In my return to the blogosphere, I compile a list of the top ranking NBA prospects in the "tweener class" (seniors) of Division 1 this year.  

1) Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
2) Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
3) Delon Wright, Utah
4) Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
5) LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State
6) Anthony Brown, Stanford
7) Juwan Staten, West Virginia
8) Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
9) Larry Nance Jr, Wyoming
10) Norman Powell. UCLA
11) Treveon Graham, VCU
12) Andre Hollins, Minnesota
13) Quinn Cook, Duke
14) Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
15) Jonathan Holmes, Texas
16) Ryan Boatright, UConn
17) Yanick Moreira, SMU
18) Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word
19) Joseph Young, Oregon
20) Corey Hawkins, UC Davis
21) Josh Richardson, Tennessee
22) Shannon Scott, Ohio State
23) Derrick Marks, Boise State
24) Dez Wells, Maryland
25) LaDontae Henton, Providence
26) Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
27) Jordan Sibert, Dayton
28) Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
29) DJ Newbill, Penn State
30) Levi Randolph, Alabama
31) Sam Thompson, Ohio State
32) Marcus Thornton, William & Mary
33) Keifer Sykes, Wisconsin Green Bay
34) Wesley Sanders, Harvard
35) Wayne Blackshear, Louisville
36) Tyler Haws, BYU
37) Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
38) Amir Williams, Ohio State
39) Kourtney Roberson, Texas A&M
40) Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
41) D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
42) Branden Dawson, Michigan State
43) Aaron White, Iowa
44) Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State
45) Joshua Smith, Georgetown
46) TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma
47) Chasson Randle, Stanford
48) Briante Weber, VCU
49) Brad Waldow, St. Mary's
50) Ryan Harrow, Georgia State
51) Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green
52) Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico
53) Maurice Walker, Minnesota
54) Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, Louisiana Tech
55) TJ McConnell, Arizona
56) Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
57) Rashad Madden, Arkansas
58) Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame 
59) Cady Lalanne, UMass
60) Darion Atkins, Virginia
61) Youssou NDoye, St. Bonaventure
62) Sir' Dominic Pointer, St. John's
63) David Kravish, Cal
64) Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast
65) Kyan Anderson, TCU
66) Keon Moore, Winthrop
67) Travis Trice, Michigan State
68) Askia Booker, Colorado
69) Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State
70) Kiel Turpin, Florida State
71) JJ Avila, Colorado State
72) Chris Jones, Louisville
73) JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
74) Mike Caffey, Long Beach State
75) DeVante Lacy, Washington State
76) David Laury, Iona
77) Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
78) JJ O'Brien, San Diego State
79) Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky
80) Royce O' Neale, Baylor
81) Marcus Thornton, Georgia
82) Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin
83) Jerrell Wright, LaSalle
84) Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech
85) Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit
86) Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
87) Carson Desrosiers, Providence
88) Myles Mack, Rutgers
89) Rodney Cooper, Alabama
90) Jeromie Hill, Texas San Antonio
91) KT Harrell, Auburn
92) Ty Greene, South Carolina Upstate
93) Matt Carlino, Marquette 
94) Chip Armelin, Southern Miss
95) Julius Brown, Toledo
96) Phil Greene IV, St. John's
97) Nino Williams, Kansas State
98) Daishon Knight, Illinois State
99) Maxie Esho, UMass
100) Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin
101) Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
102) Zaid Hearst, Quinnipiac
103) Isiah Umipig, Seattle
104) Jabril Trawick, Georgetown
105) Javier Duren, Yale

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Early Portsmouth Preview - Invites

The following is a list of the invites as of today:

Andre Dawkins, Duke
PIT Website

Davante Gardner, Marquette
PIT Website
DJ Covington, VMI
PIT Website
Jake Odum, Indiana St.

Z Mason, Chattanooga

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown St.
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico

Kendall Williams, New Mexico

Mark McLaughlin, Central Washington

Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri
Troy Huff, North Dakota
Javon McCrea, Buffalo

Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame

Jason Brickman, LIU Brooklyn

Taylor Braun, North Dakota St.
Travis Bader, Oakland
Akil Mitchell, Virginia
Jamil Wilson, Marquette

Alec Brown, Wisconsin Green Bay

Shawn Glover, Oral Roberts

Tim Frazier, Penn St.
De'Mon Brooks, Davidson

Turned Down
Billy Baron, Canisius

Check back for more updates!

(Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Projected Portsmouth Invitational Invites 2014

The following is my composite list of the seniors that should receive Portsmouth invites, in no particular order. 

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown St.
Bryce Cotton, Providence
DeAndre Kane, Iowa St.
Andre Dawkins, Duke
Michael Dixon Jr., Memphis
Joe Jackson, Memphis
Geron Johnson, Memphis
Roberto Nelson, Oregon St.
Jordan Bachynski, Arizona St.
Isaiah Sykes, UCF
Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Javon McCrea, Buffalo
James Bell, Villanova
Billy Baron, Canisius
Xavier Thames, San Diego St.
Will Sheehey, Indiana
Aaric Murray, Texas Southern
Troy Huff, North Dakota
Z Mason, Tennessee-Chattanooga
Jason Brickman, LIU Brooklyn
Mark McLaughlin, Central Washington
Davion Berry, Weber St.
Chaz Williams, UMass
Jerrelle Benimon, Towson
Davon Usher, Delaware
Devon Saddler, Delaware
De'Mon Brooks, Davidson
Shane Southwell, Kansas St.
Aaron Craft, Ohio St.
Melvin Ejim, Iowa St.
Preston Wynne, Vanguard
Will Yeguete, Florida
Justin Cobbs, California
George Beamon, Manhattan
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
Ronald Roberts, Saint Joseph's
Halil Kanacevic, Saint Joseph's
Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
Davante Gardner, Marquette
Taylor Braun, North Dakota St.
Travis Bader, Oakland
Langston Hall, Mercer
Torrey Craig, USC Upstate
Brady Heslip, Baylor
Tyreek Duren, LaSalle
Markel Starks, Georgetown
Kadeem Batts, Providence
Kareem Jamar, Montana
Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh
Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech
Sam Dower, Gonzaga
Richard Solomon, California
Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
DJ Covington, VMI
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Pablo Bertone, Florida Atlantic
Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Brandon Goode, Norfolk St.
Malcolm Miller, Southern
Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri St.
Trevor Releford, Alabama
Mike Moser, Oregon
Josh Huestis, Stanford

Anticipated Declines:
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Adreian Payne, Michigan St.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita St.
Deonte Burton, Nevada
CJ Wilcox, Washington
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Patric Young, Florida
Dwight Powell, Stanford
Devyn Marble, Iowa
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Russ Smith, Louisville
Keith Appling, Michigan St.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Devon Collier, Oregon St.
Markel Brown, Oklahoma St.
Alec Brown, Wisconsin Green-Bay
CJ Fair, Syracuse
Joe Harris, Virginia
Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Cameron Clark, Oklahoma
Juvonte Reddic, VCU
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Casey Prather, Florida
Akil Mitchell, Virginia