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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, arizonawildcats.com, Saint Joseph's Athletics, Around the Horns VCU Athletics, CBS Sports, mlive.com, and virginia.sportswar.com)