We often get caught up in the extremes of draft prospects -- stud or dud? Steal or bust? -- that the safe bets to succeed often get overlooked in the exhaustive scouting process.
Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis is this year's best example. The SEC Player of the Year averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game this year, but is slotted somewhere in the middle of the first round in mock drafts without much discussion.
That should change. The 6'11 sophomore played a significant role in Arkansas' revival, eventually leading them to a No. 5 seed and a chance to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Portis struggled in the SEC Championship Game against Kentucky, but the 20-year-old big man still proved his worth over the course of the weekend. If the Razorbacks can get past Wofford, a high-profile matchup with North Carolina awaits. A good performance there could dramatically improve Portis' stock.
Before he breaks out, let's learn more about him. We closely watched his three SEC Tournament games to get the full picture on his strengths and weaknesses.
Friday vs. Tennessee
Portis shined against the Volunteers, scoring 26 points on just 13 shots. He showcased his ability to drain catch-and-shoot jumpers, a necessity for modern power forwards.
Portis is shooting 35-for-79 on catch-and-shoot opportunities this season and 46 percent specifically on 3-point catch-and-shoot jumpers, per Synergy Sports Technology. Portis uses "the hop," an increasingly-common jump-shooting mechanic that allows players to get in rhythm and release quicker than more traditional one-two step. This will be crucial for his success at the next level.
One concern: his percentage drops nearly 11 percent when defenders play him tighter, per Synergy. A shooting guru should improve hand and wrist mechanics: they flop around when he shoots, so his release is inconsistent. While his overall numbers are satisfactory, he's bound to face even stiffer competition in the NCAA Tournament.
Then again, Portis will surely receive even less defensive attention as a rookie in the NBA, and the pro game's spacing should lead to more open looks.
Portis' tenacity is impressive. On the play below, he gets switched onto a guard and does his best Kevin Garnett impression, getting into a low defensive stance and annoyingly clapping his hands.
What happens afterwards is more important. Portis slides and stays in front of the ball handler in the first example, causing an impossible shot on the first clip. The Volunteers score on him in the second example, but he does a nice job of recovering, despite getting beat initially and forces a difficult shot.
Those clips show his potential for defending well on the perimeter once he improves his fundamentals. Some coaches may even feel comfortable letting him switch onto smaller players, a tactic that's become more common in the NBA.
Portis runs the floor like a gazelle. Even though he is not the best leaper, his speed and hustle are notable.
Portis is mobile when showing hard on the pick-and-roll, using his 7'1.5-inch wingspan to rip the ball away and bring it all the way up the court for a slam. For a man his size, Portis has excellent quickness in the open floor.
In the second clip, Portis uses solid fundamentals to contest Tennessee's shot at the rim without fouling, then explodes into a sprint to get in position for a pass or offensive rebound. His teammate got fouled in this case, but this kind of effort has frequently been rewarded with scores this season. Portis is in the 81st percentile in the country in transition scoring efficiency, per Synergy.
Saturday's Stinker: 1-for-14 vs. Georgia
Low Post Defense
Portis has good defensive fundamentals for his age. He's usually in the proper positioning down low, can hedge on the pick-and-roll and deny entry passes to the low post. He struggled with foul trouble against Georgia, but that's a rarity: he commits only 2.7 fouls per 40 minutes pace adjusted, per DraftExpress. Fouling is an issue for many young bigs, so this suggests he's ahead of many contemporaries.
But Portis is still underdeveloped physically and must add muscle to his frame. Despite having the knowledge of how to do it, he's not yet able to consistently finish plays defensively. Opponents have shot 50 percent in the post against him, per Synergy.
Players two inches shorter are able to easily back Portis down and score in the above video. Portis doesn't have poor fundamentals like many other young big men, but he will be matched up against stronger, quicker and savvier players in the NBA. Whoever drafts him must be patient until he can add strength to his upper and lower body.
Even here, progress is being made: Portis weighed only 215 pounds coming out of high school and now checks in at 242. He hasn't lost any of his agility as he has gained weight, which is a good sign.
Low Post Offense
Portis was not very good in the low post as a freshman, but improved significantly this year, going from below-average to above-average among power forwards in scoring efficiency, per Synergy.
But Portis still has plenty of work to do. He's proficient from both the left and right block, but too often settles for his jumper. His footwork is occasionally clunky and robotic.
Portis is typically a sound decision maker, but his choice to dribble away from the post after being double-teamed and then take a jumper is questionable. He should have been more patient and attacked the smaller defender after the trap ended. Even when he does attack, he sometimes fails to use counter moves when he's defended properly. The defense was able to sit on his baseline attempt and block his shot in the second clip.
Sunday's Scraps: two rebounds vs. Kentucky
Portis was quiet offensively against Kentucky's stount frontcourt (who isn't?), but his passing skills were on display. He had three turnovers to only one assist, but the box score lied.
Only one of these sharp passes resulted in an assist, which says a lot about Kentucky's stifling defense. Portis has very good vision from the post and is able to anticipate his teammates breaking free on cuts to the rim. He commits a turnover on under nine percent of the possessions when he's on the court, a very strong number.
Portis is a very good offensive rebounder, ranking 12th among power forwards in the country in pace-adjusted offensive boards per 40 minutes, per Draft Express. He tracks balls well and can elevate over defenders to finish at the rim.
The same can't be said on the defensive end, though. Though he usually displays strong awareness by finding his man to box out, the same problems that plague him defending the low post appear on the boards. At times, he just gets overpowered. That's the most troubling part of his rebounding letdown against Kentucky.
Portis is beat by longer and stronger big men in both examples. Yes, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns are two of the five best college big men in the country, but Portis will be facing players like them on a more consistent basis in the NBA. As a below-the-rim athlete, Portis will likely never be a great natural rebounder, so he'll need to maximize his skills boxing out.
Portis is an elite college scorer. Only 15 players score more points per possession, per Synergy, and only two of those players are top draft prospects (Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor).
That's because of Portis' ability to drive when defenders close out on him. Since he is a threat from outside, he has the skill to put defenders on skates when they recover to stop his jump shot.
Portis isn't an elite ball handler for his size, but he can get to the rim on straight-line drives when defended by a slower big man and that's usually all that matters.
Any team that drafts Portis will use him in the pick-and-pop regardless of their system. Setting strong screens without fouling will be key for his development, but he already has the upper hand on other prospects due to his shooting ability.
A solid, well-rounded profile
Bobby Portis doesn't stand out in any particular category. He's not a star post scorer, shot blocker or explosive athlete. That might explain why he flies under the radar. When a player doesn't have a single obvious skill, we wonder if he lacks the upside many other big men possess.
That said, his all-around game will easily translate to the NBA. By all accounts, Portis is a hard-working player that wants to maximize his potential, and his growth from his freshman to sophomore season supports that. He has strong fundamentals and a high basketball IQ at a young age, which will allow him to gradually improve at the next level.
His ceiling is unclear, but his floor is high. NBA teams looking for solid contributors in the middle of the first round should look closely at him.