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2020-2021 Memphis Grizzlies Player Previews: Killian Tillie

The hope for the Grizzlies is that talent will finally triumph over injuries for Killian Tillie.

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When comparing the Grizzlies offseason in 2019 to their offseason in 2020, Memphis (as expected) was much quieter in terms of the frequency and significance of moves. However, the Grizzlies certainly continued to build upon their success from 2019 by extending the stay of players already on the roster and selecting and signing sensible and talented additions through the draft.

Both Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman could offer significant future value for where they were selected in the 2020 draft. However, another player who the Grizzlies acquired on draft night is Killian Tillie. And though it may be hard to say Tillie could be just as and perhaps even more intriguing of a fit in Memphis than Bane or Tillman, there are a few valid reasons as to why that idea is not far-fetched.

Unlike most undrafted free agents and players who start their careers on two-way contracts, the questions surrounding Tillie are not based on his talent. Its mainly based on his extensive injury history, an unfortunate but legitimate concern that likely dropped Tillie from a first round pick to an undrafted rookie. Many draft analysts feel that if Tillie can overcome his injuries, he could emerge as one of the best steals of the 2020 draft. The main reason for that outlook is the other reason as to why Tillie is such an ideal fit for Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies.

Tillie was one of the best shooting bigs the NCAA has seen in decades.

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs San Francisco Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2019-2020 Overview

Much like Bane and Tillman, Tillie played over 100 games during his college career at Gonzaga. Tillie really emerged as an NBA prospect as a sophomore during the 2017-2018 season. However, over his final two years, injuries really made their impact. While Tillie played 36 games as a sophomore, he played in only 39 combined games as a junior and senior (COVID-19 also played a part). However, once Tillie was able to regain his full health, he once again showed his promise during the 2019-2020 season. For the season, Tillie averaged 13.6 points, five rebounds, one block, and nearly two assists and one steal per contest in route to earning ALL-WCC first team honors.

While Tillie certainly had plenty of success in both his sophomore and senior year, the main intrigue about him as a prospect was his ability to shoot from distance. In each of his four seasons, Tillie shot better than 40% from beyond the arc. Furthermore, he did that as his volume continued to increase at an eye-opening level, to the point that he averaged nearly four threes per game his senior year. Though his percentages dipped a bit as his volume went up, his confidence and intelligence as a shooter also improved as well. Overall, Tillie made 44.4% of his 239 3PA during his time at Gonzaga.

Tillie’s production certainly was rare for a player of his size. Only ten forwards/centers have made 40% or more of their threes while attempting at least 20 3PA each of their four years in college since 1992. Only Killian Tillie and Steve Novak are 6’10” among that group. The other impressive aspect of Tillie’s shooting is that he has shown highly effective shot selection. Since 1992, Tillie is one of ten college players to attempt at least 225 threes and produce a 3PFG% of 44% or better and a TS% and eFG% of 62% or better each. Two other encouraging names who stand out on that list are Novak and Kyle Korver. Overall, Tillie has certainly developed into a highly reliable marksman from distance.

PROJECTED ROLE

Despite his eye-opening production from distance as a big in college, Tillie’s injuries simply were too tough to ignore, and his NBA career begins on a two-way contract with the Grizzlies. Naturally, it is hard to expect any type of significant or consistent role in the Grizzlies rotation for Tillie this season. Though that would likely result in a featured role with the Hustle in Southaven, the details of their G-league season remain to be seen. As a result, Tillie likely is a true end of the bench option with Memphis currently.

With so many other proven or intriguing frontcourt options, Tillie’s chances with the Grizzlies will likely occur in games where Memphis is either leading or losing by a wide margin. However, Tillie’s projected role as a perimeter based front court option is certainly an ideal fit for Taylor Jenkins system. The hope is that, if health can cooperate, opportunities will emerge for Jenkins to see if Tillie can be a difference-maker as a shooter whom Jenkins can utilize now and into the future in different rotations.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

SEASON BEST CASE SCENERIO

The previous sentence is likely the best case scenario for Tillie in Memphis. Logically, if Tillie were to receive any type of consistent playing time with the Grizzlies, it is as a result of a less than ideal health situation in the Memphis frontcourt. Though he may not receive significant minutes over long stretches, the hope is that Tillie shows his significant potential as a shooter with his chances. Beyond his ability to shoot, the hope is that Tillie can offer value in other areas of his game when on the court, adding to his production as a shooter instead of taking away from it.

As the season progresses, Tillie will hopefully show how good of a fit he his for Taylor Jenkins system on many occasions. An ideal scenario could be John Konchar’s 2019-2020 season. Though he played less than 200 NBA minutes overall, Konchar showed impressive across the board potential between Southaven and Memphis. If Tillie can show similar promise across both locations, especially with his shooting, perhaps it will result in a long-term commitment from the Grizzlies like Konchar received this offseason.

SEASON WORST CASE SCENERIO

It seems a good time for Tillie to begin to show his talents would be the preseason. However, he has missed the first two games due to hamstring soreness. This is exactly the concern many had for Tillie as he began his NBA career, that injuries would prevent him from making the most of clear chances to play at the NBA level.

If Tillie were to miss any significant stretches of time due to injuries or be limited due lingering ailments, it could be a negative development for multiple reasons. For one, it would continue to raise the already established perception of Tillie as an injury-prone player. A lack of availability would prevent Tillie from gaining valuable experience and opportunities to spend time developing in Jenkins’s system, an ideal fit for his skill set. If Tillie were to remained sidelined for a long stretch or multiple times this season, it could certainly cause a negative impact to the outlook of his career.

NCAA Basketball: Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

OVERALL EXPECTATIONS

As mentioned above, the questions surrounding Tillie’s college career and emergence as an NBA prospect have never been about his abilities as a player.

It has centered on his availability to show those abilities on the court.

Given his two-way contract status, the overall expected impact of Tillie is low in the general scheme of things. However, it would likely surprise very few in the Grizzlies’ organization if

Tillie showed how good of a fit he is in Memphis with Taylor Jenkins if given the opportunity. He simply needs to remain healthy to do that. Hopefully, Tillie can come back from his current hamstring injury and produce when given the chance. If he can, he could begin to show how much of a “steal” he can be in comparison to his fellow rookies going forward.

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