The Memphis Grizzlies have low-key established another type.
They’re known for adding high-character players that with smart playmaking, sound defense, and winning intangibles. However, this other type is in a positional archetype. Over the past 2 years, we’ve seen Zach Kleiman target these big men with versatile skillsets that could play either the 4 or the 5, but are best-suited at the 4 — Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman, Killian Tillie, Santi Aldama, and Yves Pons.
But let’s talk about two of these players in particular, Tillie and Pons — the team’s two-way players. You know, it seemed confusing at first to ink Pons with a two-way, because of the positional overlap with Tillie and with presumable “redshirt” Aldama. However, it looks like they’ve identified a structure with this team. They want as much versatility and interchangeability on the floor, fielding lineups with very mind to positional slots. As a “position-less” basketball connoisseur, I absolutely dig this.
With players like Tillie and Pons under the two-way contracts, they have the versatility to make this achievable. The two Frenchmen each have contrasting skillsets that achieve versatility in some form, and there’s room for them to grow into NBA contributors. With the Hustle, the two can continue honing in on their frontcourt and perimeter skills, for whenever a main-roster opportunity arises.
Tillie’s two-way contract took people by surprise. Last season, he surpassed Justise Winslow in the rotation, earning some rotation minutes towards April and May when the injury list piled up a bit. He impressed with his smart offensive play and sneaky defensive chops on the perimeter.
This defensive sequence from @KillianTillie was awesome. Switches on Clarkson off the drive, hangs with him off the Gobert DHO, manages to poke the ball out on the shot & forces a shot-clock violation.— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) April 1, 2021
Sometimes it's about flashes w/ young guys, and this was a bright flash pic.twitter.com/RfLpPRBEDH
Given his role last season and his restricted free agency last offseason, surely either the Grizzlies or another team would offer him a main-roster deal. However, the Grizzlies inked a second two-way deal with Tillie. People might question why, but it seems pretty simple. There must be a mutual interest between the two parties that this is the right situation for Tillie to expand his game. More importantly though, he didn’t get any minutes with the Memphis Hustle last season, because of the bubble experience — and I wrote about why Tillie wasn’t sent down there last season.
Nonetheless, Tillie will be a two-way player with the Grizzlies and Hustle this season and will likely emerge as the go-to guy in the G-League. He has the skillset to do so. He’s a big forward that can stretch the floor, shoot the 3 at volume, and he can also put the ball on the floor to create looks for himself or for his teammates in small doses. Now, Jason March and company will be looking to tap into Tillie’s offensive versatility to see how he can sharpen his perimeter creation tools and expand his 3-point shot portfolio — more movement shooting off dribble hand-off’s or pin downs.
Some areas of improvement to monitor down here will be his 2-point scoring, accessing how effective he could be if his 3-point shooting isn’t on. He’ll also need to tap more into his defense, particular as a paint defender as well. That’ll likely involve finding ways to be an efficient paint defender without booming athleticism or huge size.
Killian Tillie has talent. If it wasn’t for injuries, he was likely going to be a first-round pick. However, injuries have him in this situation. If he could stay healthy, he could eventually find himself into a promotion down the line, while becoming a potential rotation player as well.
If there’s anything to take from Yves Pons’ game at the moment, it’s his energy. He’s a perfect fit for a team named “Hustle.”
Yes, Yves Pons is still a cheat code on defense. pic.twitter.com/ZkqxUVPzt1— Barstool Rocky Top (@BarstoolTenn) October 10, 2021
Yves Pons Early Candidate for Block of the Summer League pic.twitter.com/W8EkQWbUBT— Bryson (@CaptainCIutch12) August 6, 2021
What’s fascinating with Pons is, he has this elite athleticism, but he has a high motor as well. That’s going to make for some eye-popping plays with the Hustle — dunks and blocks galore. Blocks and athleticism aside, he’s a good defender that can guard out to the perimeter, defend in switches, and stay in front of his man.
When you couple those elements together, you have an interesting “two-way contract” prospect. Those traits alone may garner some “energy big off the bench” consideration down the road, but sticking in the NBA will come down to how he sharpens his skillset.
Offensively, it seems pretty simple. To play the 3 or the 4 at the next level, Pons is going to need to become an outside threat, or a plus-level playmaker that can create off short rolls. He’s going to need to develop a consistent jumper to make defenses pay, and there’s promise for him to do so (34.9% on 86 total attempts, roughly 2.8 attempts per game, at Tennessee his junior year). He doesn’t need to become a marksman, but can he shoot well enough to generate closeouts and attack them?
Defensively, Pons was already described as one of the better defenders in his draft class, for the reasons mentioned above. Now, he’ll need to harness his energy and avoid defending without falling for fakes around the basket. In addition, he’ll need to pick up the lingo and application of NBA defensive schemes, which includes defending in space more often than he would in college.
Yves Pons already has a strong local following with his Tennessee ties, and his fanbase will continue to grow with the show he’ll put on in Southaven.
The goal of the two-way contracts is to find diamonds in the rough to see what you could turn them into. Teams like the Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers have done a good job of that recently — Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus, and Shake Milton. The Grizzlies have done well in that regard too with John Konchar, and former two-way contract Yuta Watanabe has become a good fixture with Toronto.
So the Grizzlies are going to look to strike again with Killian Tillie and Yves Pons. These two players are versatile frontcourt players that can impact winning basketball, and now they’ll get plenty of opportunities to expand the horizons of their games in hopes of progressing towards the next stage of their NBA careers.