2023 PIT CLASS MAKES IMPACT IN NBA AND NBA G LEAGUE
BY CHRIS EKSTRAND
Players from the 2023 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament have already started to make an impact in the NBA and in the NBA G League in the early days of the 2023-24 basketball season.
Toumani Camara of Dayton, a second-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft who earned All-Tournament honors at the 2023 PIT, has recently entered the starting lineup for the Portland Trail Blazers. Camara, a 6-8, 225-pound forward, was drafted by the Phoenix Suns, but he was included in the massive 3-team trade that sent superstar Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. Camara immediately carved out a role for the young Blazers with his defensive versatility, as he proved able to defend both forward positions. With Portland undertaking a significant rebuild, Camara has seized his opportunity to play and recently made his first two NBA starts.
Craig Porter Jr. of Wichita State, a 6-2, 180-pound guard who signed a two-way contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was expected to play the majority of the season in the G League for the Cleveland Charge, since the Cavaliers have a deep and talented roster that made the NBA playoffs last season. But early-season injuries to Cleveland’s guards opened a door for Porter to play NBA minutes, and he surprised NBA watchers by showing off his athleticism in a 22-minute stint against the New York Knicks. In that game, Porter was a factor at both ends of the court, scoring 10 points and adding 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot.
Three other outstanding players from the 2023 PIT signed NBA contracts and are poised to spend the season shuttling between their NBA team and the team’s NBA G League affiliate.
Hunter Tyson of Clemson, the 37th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, signed a multi-year contract with the Denver Nuggets and has played for both the Nuggets and the Grand Rapids Gold of the NBA G League. Tyson, a 6-8, 220-pound forward, scored his first NBA basket in a game against Minnesota on November 1. Less than two weeks later, Tyson showed his shooting prowess when he delivered 24 points and 9 rebounds for the Gold in a game against the Motor City Cruise. Since Tyson is playing behind young forwards Christian Braun and Peyton Watson on the defending NBA champion Nuggets, it is likely most of his action this season will be with Grand Rapids, with occasional opportunities with the Nuggets.
2023 PIT MVP Sir’Jabari Rice of Texas signed a two-way contract with the San Antonio Spurs. Rice, a 6-5, 170-pound guard, immediately impressed the organization with his advanced offensive game. Rice gave the first clues to his enormous potential playing for the Austin Spurs on November 12. In that game, Rice collected 22 points, making 4-of-7 3-point attempts, and also added team-highs of 7 assists and 3 steals, to lead Austin to a victory over the Osceola Magic.
D’Moi Hodge of Missouri signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. Hodge is an appealing prospect due to how well he fits the modern “3-and-D” profile of players who are dangerous 3-point shooters while also providing suffocating perimeter defense. A 6-4, 180-pound guard, Hodge scored the first 3 points of his NBA career November 8 for the Lakers against the Houston Rockets. While Hodge made one appearance for the South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers so far have opted to keep him primarily with the NBA team, for whom he has made three appearances.
While 5 members of the 2023 PIT alumni class are playing on NBA contracts, there are 23 players from the 2023 PIT who began the season in the NBA G League, which has become one of the best basketball leagues in the world. While every single one of these players has succeeded in starting their professional careers in such a competitive environment, 10 of them have already delivered performances that underscore just how much talent was on display at the 2023 PIT.
K.J. Williams of LSU, a burly 6-9, 250-pound forward, had an unforgettable buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer that he banked in from about 28 feet to send the Oklahoma City Blue to a 129-127 win over the Memphis Hustle. Williams finished the game with 20 points and 8 rebounds. While there was some luck involved in his amazing shot, Williams is an intriguing prospect precisely because he possesses the bulk to bang bodies close to the basket while also being a legitimate 3-point threat, having shot 41% from deep at LSU.
Hunter Maldonado of Wyoming played his collegiate career mostly out of the spotlight, but the 6-6, 195-pound guard is a player who can be deployed as a team’s primary point guard or operate as a wing. He can shoot and pass, but the more you see of him the more you notice how many things he does well on the basketball court. In his first-ever G League game for the OKC Blue, Maldonado registered 17 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists to lead his team to victory over the Texas Legends.
Trey Jemison of UAB played alongside a lot of talented scorers while he was in college, and never averaged double figures in scoring as a result, instead concentrating on rebounding and blocking shots. With all NBA teams watching at the 2023 PIT, Jemison showed he could score with jump hooks in the post and catch lobs and finish above the rim. At a sculpted 6-11 and 260 pounds, Jemison is a big factor in the paint on both ends of the court. He signed with the G League affiliate of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Birmingham Squadron. In his first game, Jemison demonstrated his skills with 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, adding 7 points. Jemison was not in the conversation as being a draftable player, but now he’s in conversations as someone who might play in the NBA soon.
Nathan Mensah of San Diego State came to the attention of casual basketball fans when he helped the Aztecs to an inspiring and unlikely run to the NCAA championship game. But the 6-11, 225-pound forward and center was appointment viewing for scouts during his five seasons at State due to his memorable blocked shots and dunks. It didn’t take Mensah long to ingratiate himself to his new team, the Greensboro Swarm of the NBA G League. Mensah posted a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, adding 4 blocked shots and 2 steals against the Long Island Nets. Mensah displayed a fine midrange shooting touch at the PIT, where he averaged 13.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 2 blocks per game. Mensah looks like a modern big man, able to shoot facing the basket and able to defend smaller players away from the basket.
Kendric Davis of Memphis had always been an eye-catching performer through his college days at SMU and Memphis, combining incredible quickness and innate scoring ability. If Davis were a couple of inches taller than his listed 5-11 height, he would have been in the NBA from Day One. After playing very well in the NBA Summer League for the Golden State Warriors, Davis elected to stay with the organization and play for the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors. In the second game of the season, Davis collected 20 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in a win over Salt Lake City. More performances like that one are a mortal lock. It’s what Davis has always done. Now it’s just a matter of time before he’s competing at the highest level.
Timmy Allen of Texas was a “stat sheet-stuffer” at both Utah and Texas, and he performed the same way at the PIT, earning All-Tournament Team honors after averaging 17 ppg, 8 rpg and 4.7 apg. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, Allen is the prototype of the modern player, as he defies positional categories and can be found defending point guards and postup players in equal measures. Once coaches find out how many things Allen can do, they start to design their teams around his skills, instead of trying to find where he fits. Allen didn’t even start in his second-ever NBA G League game for the Memphis Hustle, but ended up playing 31 minutes and contributing 11 points, 10 rebounds 5 assists and 2 steals against Rio Grande Valley. If Allen improves his 3-point shot, he can play in the NBA. It’s really that simple.
Darius McGhee of Liberty is about 5-10 and 150 pounds, and when someone that size wins Conference Player of the Year honors three times, everyone has to take notice. McGhee will always be a crowd favorite for his 30-foot three-pointers, but his ability to exploit defenses as a playmaker a bit closer to the basket is just as important. McGhee didn’t even shoot the ball particularly well in his debut for the Indiana Mad Ants, but he collected 15 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in a fine all-around effort that brought Indiana a win over Sioux Falls.
Pete Nance of North Carolina is the most recent addition from a famous basketball family that includes NBA great Larry Nance, who played 13 NBA seasons and scored more than 15,000 points, and current NBA player Larry Nance Jr. of the New Orleans Pelicans. Nance, an agile 6-10, 220-pound forward, played most of his college career at Northwestern before moving to North Carolina as a graduate transfer. Nance is a late bloomer physically but he has many of the same attributes of his father and brother. Playing for the Cleveland Charge of the NBA G League, Nance posted 19 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Wisconsin.
Javan Johnson was a bit of a vagabond in college, playing for Troy, Iowa State and finally DePaul. No matter where he played, however, Johnson could always score. When he played at the 2023 PIT, he showed what he could do, averaging 15 ppg and shooting 44% from 3-point range. It didn’t take Johnson long to produce for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the NBA G League. In his second game, Johnson came off the bench hot, hitting 3-of-6 from 3-point range and scoring 14 points and adding 6 assists in 26 minutes. The more Johnson can show other talents, like playmaking, the more likely he is to ascend in the basketball world.
Jake Stephens of Chattanooga was one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball the last few years, but when you consider that he’s 7 feet tall and 270 pounds, his shooting prowess is even more impressive. Stephens didn’t get many opportunities at NBA Summer League with the Sacramento Kings, but he’s determined to make the most of his opportunity with their G League affiliate Stockton Kings. In his first chance in the G League, Stephens hit a couple of three-pointers, drew a bunch of fouls and scored 14 points in just 18 minutes of play to help Stockton rout Salt Lake City.
Here’s a look at where other prospects from the 2023 PIT are playing in the NBA G League:
Baugh, Damion, TCU, South Bay Lakers
Collins, Yuri, Saint Louis, Santa Cruz Warriors
Gardner, Patrick, Marist, Long Island Nets
Goodwin, Dane, Notre Dame, Stockton Kings
Joiner, Jarkel, NC State, College Park Skyhawks
Jones, Tevian, Southern Utah, Birmingham Squadron
Kalscheur, Gabe, Iowa State, Capital City Go-Go
Kinsey, Taevion, Marshall, Salt Lake City Stars
McConnell, Caleb, Rutgers, OKC Blue
Obanor, Kevin, Texas Tech, Raptors 905
Singleton, David, UCLA, College Park Skyhawks
Stevenson, Erik, West Virginia, Austin Spurs
Walker, Jordan, UAB, Texas Legends