Two years ago, when Akil Mitchell was an athletic but raw sophomore, still working on transitioning from wing player to big man, any talk about a future in the NBA would have seemed laughable. Now, with appearances on the ACC third team, ACC defensive team, and an ACC Championship under his belt, Akil Mitchell will surely have the opportunity to continue his basketball career, and will get a legitimate look from NBA rosters.
This weekend, Akil starred at the Portsmouth Invitational, an event for college seniors that features scouts from all 30 NBA teams. Players are divided up into 8 teams and play 3 games each, in a tournament format. Mitchell's squad, which was assisted by Jerry Stackhouse, went 2-1 at the event. In 3 games, Mitchell combined to 37 points on 17-27 shooting, 26 rebounds, 10 assists, 7 steals, and 4 blocks, per the Daily Press's David Teel.
But, as Virginia fans had come to expect, scouts were most impressed with his defense. Here's a piece of the full report from Draft Express's Mike Schmitz after the tournament's second day (out of three):
The 6' 9" Virginia big man proved to be one of the most fundamentally sound defenders both on and off the ball in the tournament, racking up four steals and two blocks while limiting his man both on the block and on the perimeter.
Mitchell possess excellent feet that allow him to hard hedge and recover to his man quickly, something he did on multiple occasions on Thursday, one of which led to a steal and eventual alley-oop finish in transition. He also showed excellent closeout technique and the ability to keep quicker players in front of him, an ability that bodes well for him at the professional level. Sporting a fairly thin upper body, Mitchell isn't the strongest power forward out there but his thick lower body allows him to bang in the post.
Mitchell is also an excellent team defender, keeping his head on a swivel off the ball and making sure he's in help position on baseline drives. He didn't get a lot of steals and blocks at Virginia (1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks per 40) in part due to his average wingspan (6' 11.25") and Virginia's pack-line defense. Mitchell's awareness, along with his above average athleticism, also helps him as a rebounder, where he posted 10.9 rebounds per 40 (3.0 offensive and 7.9 defensive).
Schmitz did go on to note that Akil Mitchell is, relative to the rest of the field, limited offensively. He won't make a roster because of the moves that, while often successful at Virginia, won't always fly in the NBA. He won't make a roster because of his FT shooting. But, especially after shutting down future lottery pick (whether this year or next) Jabari Parker in the ACC Championship game, it's clear that Mitchell could defend with the best of 'em; as a specialist/role player, it's possible that Mitchell could find a spot.
Don't hold your breath for Akil Mitchell's name to be called during the NBA Draft this June. Same goes for Joe Harris. Akil Mitchell ranks #99 in DraftExpress's ranking of top prospects, with Joe Harris coming in at #70. Rather, both are likely to be able to go undrafted, but look to sign a contract with a team in the offseason in a place they could fit best. From there, both will have legit shots to make an NBA roster (or could go overseas and have plenty of success there if things don't work out).