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‘Hoop Portraits’ Gives A Compelling Look At The 2020 NBA Draft Process

An overwhelming element to the NBA Draft, if you left yourself go there, is how many lives come to converge and hang in the balance of one fateful night and its seemingly split-second decisions. Two hundred or so young men, who have worked for years to get there as much as they have worked to tamp down on doubts, wait to hear if one of their names will be on the impossibly short and final list of 60. Every one of them with a story of how they got there or maybe almost didn’t, stories we might come to learn in the years to come depending on who makes it, but most that we won’t.

In a new anthology documentary series, Hoop Portraits, co-producers Taylor Sharp and Holland Randolph Gallagher of Blue Cup Productions, hope to offer a compelling look at a handful of such stories.

Blue Cup Productions

The pilot episode, titled Two Ways to the League, follows North Carolina standouts Ty-Shon Alexander (Creighton) and Josh Hall (Oak Hill Academy and Moravian Prep) in the lead up to the 2020 NBA Draft. The two lived and trained with one another in the pre-draft period, extended due to the pandemic, and the episode traces their development under former NBA player and UNC star Jeff McInnis as much as it does the challenges of staying mentally motivated and physically focused during such a prolonged period of uncertainty.

In one of the clips, Alexander and Hall catch and shoot, over and over. The audio is Hall’s agent, Nate Conley, talking about how when Hall’s up at the combine and upcoming pre-draft team workouts, he’s only going to have the blink of a window to showcase his shooting, that the habit of it needs to be as natural as breathing. The video is rhythmic, focused only on each of them from the waist up as they catch and release again and again, the building soundtrack behind it just the feathery thud of the ball hitting their hands, an exhale and a split second later, the echoing answer of nylon folding in on itself offscreen as the ball swishes through netting. It’s beautiful as much as it encapsulates the years of steady work that go into one career-defining moment, and all the pressure that demands to be contained.

In another, Alexander works out with a trainer on a light-filled court. He moves through catch-and-shoot drills, footwork and dribbling drills, his clothes soaked with sweat. Through the wide, garage-door style window to either side of the basket low palms sway, green fronds flashing in the sun. There’s a pool sitting still and empty, a lone inflatable mattress drifting across its surface. A cat can be seen slowly ambling by. It’s a perfect juxtaposition of the focus and sacrifice players in Alexander’s anxious position are in, necessarily zeroed in while the distracting and idyllic parts of the world they’ve opted out of exist at the periphery.

Blue Cup Productions

Catching his breath, Alexander mentions he has an interview with the Pistons. The video cuts to Alexander sitting down at a desk in an office where a laptop is waiting, he pulls on an NBA Draft embroidered button up, still wearing his basketball shorts. The camera has pulled back, just out of the room, but Alexander is visible from the side as he angles the screen, does all the things anyone familiar with taking an important video call is familiar with: set his arms on the desk, quickly pulls them off, sits up a little straighter. Suddenly his face lights up, he gives a confident nod, “How you doing?” He asks whoever it is on the other side, deciding how his fate might align with theirs.

Blue Cup Productions

On Draft night, the main event the episode builds steadily towards, both Hall and Alexander don’t end up having their names called, but both have since gone on to sign two-way contracts — Hall with OKC and Alexander with Phoenix. After spending the first month of the NBA season with their respective teams, Hall and Alexander will be competing in the G League’s bubble in Orlando beginning February 10th.

Sharp, who doubles as the series’ director, and Gallagher, are both North Carolina natives, and while the first episode’s storyline runs close to their hearts, the remainder of the series will focus on a variety of stories, from a top high school prospect to retired players. If the features to come are handled with the same nuance, care of story and visually striking treatment of the pilot, then Hoop Portraits promises to be a critical as much as tender look into the stories behind the sport.

The pilot episode premieres virtually tonight, February 8th, at 8 p.m. ET in partnership with the NBA G League, and will live stream via the NBA’s Twitch channel as well as the G League’s YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch channels.