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Grizzlies getting closer look at Killian Tillie outside the G-League Bubble

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Memphis Grizzlies’ two-way player Killian Tillie wasn’t on the Memphis Hustle roster, as his counterpart Sean McDermott was. I investigate why that’s the case, and why the coaching staff is excited about Tillie.

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2020-2021 Memphis Grizzlies Content Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

“We’ve talked about about a lot of our rooks so far, right?” Coach Taylor Jenkins asked. “Like Des and X — guys that go out there and make the right play, make winning plays.”

And Coach Jenkins continued to bring up another one of his rookies: Killian Tillie.

NBA G-League teams have arrived in the Orlando bubble (or the Gubble, as Grizzlies President of Basketball and Business Operations Jason Wexler would call it) for the regular season. As the Memphis Hustle announced their roster, there was one notable exemption from the list: Killian Tillie.

Though the Grizzlies are sending two-way player Sean McDermott down to the bubble, Tillie — Memphis’ other two-way signee — will stay with the main roster. It drew a lot of questions, since Tillie isn’t getting any game run on the main roster, and he’d surely be the Hustle’s primary focal point on offense.

The decision makes sense though from a team-building standpoint and a basketball one.

If Killian Tillie is on a one-year deal, it makes sense to keep him on the main roster. They can get a closer look at him against the main roster to see if they want to promote him next season. And what we’ve seen from the inactive report thus far (both with injuries and “health and safety protocols”), the “next man up” has been a thing for the Grizzlies, and having a 6’10” shooter that can also be a secondary playmaker is a nice weapon to have in the back of the rotation.

From a basketball perspective, there is a ton of optimism around Killian Tillie from Coach Jenkins and the Grizzlies organization:

“We’re really excited about Killian. We think he’s a perfect fit from a basketball standpoint and obviously from a personal standpoint.

The excitement with Tillie is easy. Over the course of his college career, he established himself as one of the country’s elite 3-point marksmen — shooting a blistering 44.4% from deep in his four-year tenure. Shooting is a premium in today’s NBA, and big men that can provide that are luxuries.

His shooting efficiency is easy to marvel at, but what has stood out to the coaching staff thus far is Tillie’s playmaking.

“From an offensive standpoint, his versatility at the big spot to score from the outside, obviously he has really great potential to be an elite shooter, but he’s an elite playmaker,” Coach Jenkins said. He also praised Tillie’s ability to make the right reads at a high-level, something he’s shown in group play during practice time.

Shooting and playmaking are vital parts of the Grizzlies system. Coach Jenkins even said after Friday’s practice that instead of “small-ball,” he wants to play “playmaking-ball” to get as many playmakers on the floor as possible. The fact that Tillie is considered elite at those skills bodes well for his place in the Grizzlies’ system.

As a big man, he can space the floor and create pick-and-pop opportunities. In addition, he can make good reads out of the top of the key — where most Grizzly big men are positioned in the offense — to create for others through dribble hand-off’s or off cuts to the rim. Whenever Tillie is “the next man up” (through a growing inactive list or with potential trades on the horizon), he should be able to thrive and contribute to winning basketball.

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Killian Tillie being off the G-League bubble roster doesn’t mean he can't, or won’t, go down there. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him go down to the bubble to get some in-game reps under their belts — going about 2 years with full-run basketball games doesn’t seem good for development.

However, it’s also a sign that Tillie has made a noticeable impression within the organization to keep him on the main roster, despite the early injury misfortune. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either, as most talent evaluators pegged him as a “lottery talent” with a bad history of injuries.

The Grizzlies see his talent thus far, and Coach Jenkins has a vision for his role going forward — being an unselfish, two-way player that makes “impactful” plays.

“That’s what has really jumped out to us,” Jenkins said of Tillie’s ability to make plays. “That’s what we fell in love with when we were studying him through the pre-draft process, and we’re definitely excited about his future here in Memphis.”

If he can stay healthy, Killian Tillie has the chance to be another gem in Zach Kleiman’s treasure chest of young players. Now, he’s going to get a chance to prove to this organization that he belongs in the team’s future plans... up close and in Memphis (for now).

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