By Rob Reheuser, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 12 2012 12:36PM
PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- For some players, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is reminiscent of the SATs -- you earn points for simply showing up and spelling your name correctly.
Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor falls into this category.
A consensus All-American following a brilliant junior season in which he averaged 18.0 points, 4.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds, Taylor seemed destined to be the latest in a long line of high profile seniors to skip the PIT, seen more by many as a proving ground for those who may have slipped through the cracks.
Taylor didn't slip through any cracks playing in the Big Ten, but his game did spring a bit of a leak this season, with his numbers and shooting percentages dropping across the board. The Badgers still won 26 games and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the drop-off in production, it was largely assumed that Taylor would eventually turn down his invitation to Portsmouth and choose to rest on his past accomplishments.
With a bevy of scouts and a handful of general managers -- Mitch Kupchak (L.A. Lakers), Daryl Morey (Houston Rockets) and Rick Sund (Atlanta Hawks) to name a few -- in attendance, Taylor took to the court in the second game of Wednesday's opening session at Churchland High School and finished with 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals, as Cherry Bekart & Holland defeated K&D Rounds Landscaping, 85-73.
If you subscribe to the theory that point guards are born, not made, then Taylor, with his heady play and penchant for taking care of the ball -- he led the nation in assist-to turnover ratio (3.83) as a junior -- is the kind of player that can never really hurt his stock by electing to compete.
Though his upside might be limited based on his average physical profile, Taylor's toughness, basketball I.Q. and commitment to defense are popular traits among NBA decision-makers when identifying potential backup point guards.
After missing his first six shots and committing an uncharacteristic three turnovers in a rugged first half that featured 20 turnovers and poor shooting from both teams, Taylor adjusted to the way the game was being played, took better care of the ball, made several spectacular passes and got his team into the win column. Point guards often have a difficult time at the PIT, trying to adapt to their new teammates on the fly. Give Taylor credit for fighting through a tough night and coming out on top.
Long Beach State's Larry Anderson led Cherry, Bekart & Holland with 14 points, while Georgetown's Jason Clark added 13 points and six rebounds.
Despite averaging 12.0 points on 48 percent shooting as a junior, Clark wasn't selected to any of the Big East's preseason All-Conference teams. Using the snub as motivation, he led the Hoyas in scoring (14.0 ppg) as a senior, earned All-Big East First Team honors, and also received the conference's Sportsmanship Award.
At 6-foot-2, Clark is undersized for the shooting guard position, and doesn't have the requisite ballhandling skills to be trusted at the point. But he's an above-average athlete who plays bigger than his size, and he's a pesky defender. Coaches always appreciate a player like Clark, who keeps his mouth shut, stays faithful to the team concept and is all about winning.
Middle Tennessee's LaRon Dendy led K&D Rounds Landscaping with 15 points. Fairfield's Rakim Sanders added 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
After spending his first three seasons at Boston College, Sanders transferred to Fairfield, and had to sit out the 2010-11 season under NCAA transfer rules. He turned in one of the best individual seasons in Fairfield history, grabbing a school record 303 rebounds, while averaging 16.6 points on 50 percent shooting.
Hardly a slouch playing for Boston College in the highly competitive ACC -- he averaged double figures in scoring in all three seasons -- Sanders clearly benefitted from a change of scenery. Impressive physically (at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds), Sanders knows how to use his size to create space and was very efficient, taking higher quality shots as the game wore on.
From an aesthetic point of view, the evening's first game was a lot more pleasing, with more assists, fewer turnovers and some intriguing individual performances.
Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy scored a game-high 27 points, while Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn, the hero of his team's shocking upset of Missouri in the NCAA Tournament, added 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks to lead Portsmouth Sports Club past Norfolk Sports Club, 88-76.
Murphy, who averaged 20.6 points as a senior, wasted no time in revealing his strengths as a prospect, namely his ability to put the ball in the basket. He recorded two dunks before the game's first timeout. He pulled-up from mid-range. He made both of his 3-point attempts. When the smoke cleared, Murphy shot 11-for-14 from the field, and was clearly the day's standout performer.
From his size (6-foot-7), to his fluidity and length, to his ability to make shots from anywhere, to his haircut, one couldn't help but think of the L.A. Clippers' Nick Young, who's carved a successful niche in the NBA as a stone scorer. This mentality has worked for Murphy in the Ohio Valley Conference, and while the NBA is always in the market for guys who can put the ball in the hole, teams will also want to see Murphy contribute in other areas this week.
That wasn't a problem for O'Quinn, who played with purpose from the opening tip, establishing his presence in the post on both ends. At 6-10, 240, with considerable length, O'Quinn looks the part of NBA big man. Getting him to play the part consistently appears to be the challenge, which is often the case with big men from smaller conferences, who were able to overwhelm the competition just by showing up.
Portsmouth is always a great test for a player like O'Quinn, whose impressive performance came against South Florida's Gus Gilchrist and Buffalo's Mitchell Watt, two of the more active bigs in this year's field.
The same was true for Georgetown's Henry Sims, who, playing alongside O'Quinn, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for Portsmouth Sports Club. A late bloomer who played sparingly over his first three seasons with the Hoyas, Sims had a very productive senior campaign, averaging 11.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and a team-high 3.5 assists.
Unlike O'Quinn, Sims struggles a bit with contact and is at his best when playing away from the basket. He also isn't as engaged defensively as a player with his size and length should be at this stage of his development. When evaluating his NBA potential, there are questions whether his white collar DNA can survive in the trenches of the most physical league in the world.
New Mexico State's Wendell McKines led Norfolk Sports Club with 16 points, while South Dakota's Charlie Westbrook added 15 points.
Playing out of position at point guard, the 6-foot-4 Westbrook managed only one assist, but showed off some eye-popping athleticism. Clearly a player who looks for his own shot, his physical attributes are impressive.
The same is also true for IUPUI's Alex Young, who with his solid frame and quick lefty trigger on his jumpshot, draws comparisons to Michael Redd. Unfortunately, Young never really got it going, finishing with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting, while only registering one assist and one rebound.
|All-Star Saturday: Top 10|
Count down the Top 10 plays from All-Star Saturday night.
|All-Star Saturday Night: The Fast Break|
Recap all of Saturday's amazing action with The Fast Break.
|Gordon Reacts to Dunk Contest |
Aaron Gordon talks with the media after the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.
|Nightly Notable: Zach LaVine|
Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends his title successfully in the Verizon Slam Dunk Championship fending off a tough effort from the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon.
|Play of the Day: Aaron Gordon|
Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic tries to play spoiler with a dunk over the Magic mascot while going beneath his legs to score a perfect 50 with his first dunk in the finals of the Verizon Slam Dunk Championship.