The Memphis Grizzlies end what was a fantastic season, and in doing so, officially declared the rise of a new era. Now let’s review rest of the prospects who people may not be as familiar with yet. This group is lead by Killian Tillie, Jontay Porter, Tim Frazier, and Sean McDermott.
“They wouldn’t have been available, if they were any good!”
Well that’s an outdated way of thinking considering how many guys breakout every year who weren’t coveted when they first got to the pro level. Ask Fred Van Fleet, or even Brooklyn Nets’ own Mike James. Everyone’s opportunities come in unique timing. Both Jontay Porter and Killian Tillie would certainly have been drafted, if not for their injury reports scaring teams away. Don’t get it twisted, those two fellas can ball — and efficiently at that.
We’ll start off with one of my favorite rookie prospects of the 2021 class: the versatile skilled, savvy, and surprisingly agile defender from Gonzaga, “KILL TILL” aka Killian Tillie. Tillie averaged 10 minutes along with 3.3 points & 1.3 rebounds per game. He didn’t play in the G-League bubble, but when he was cleared to play, he averaged the most minutes and tied with Sean McDermott for the most games played of the four prospects of topic today. The numbers don’t necessarily tell the tale for Killian in terms of efficiency. If you went strictly by the numbers, he shot only 33.3% from the field and an even-worse 30% from 3 point territory.
“Men Lie, Women Lie, Numbers don’t!”-Jay Z
Yeah but small samples can be very misleading. Context matters.
However anybody who has watched Tillie play even 30 seconds can clearly see he’s a far better shooter than his rookie season statistics indicate. Killian has textbook shooting form much more consistent, with the 3-6 three point shooting he displayed in the Grizzlies final home game of the regular season. Tillie started that game and scored 16 points on 5-13 from the field over all.
“He needs to get familiar with the local Barbeque and wing spots in Memphis!”
Touché, if for nothing else but to partake in “Grit N Grind” culinary arts.
“Too light in the tail! He’s only 6’9” and 220 pounds. That’s why he’s been injured so often!”
These are some of the things said in his critique, as Killian struggled to finish at the rim at times. Adding in his rebounding woes goes hand in hand. Now to Tillie’s defense, he’s a heavily perimeter-oriented stretch forward, so he can only crash the boards so much from the perimeter. However, if he got even marginally stronger, his activity, physicality and thus rebounding would improve along with his finishing ability near the rim.
“Well what if stronger Tillie equals slower Tillie?”
Great question, so which one benefits his game the most? Well we’re certainly in an offensive-oriented era of basketball today. With that said Killian shot 2-7 in two point shooting in the season finale against Sacramento. Very consistent with his season efficiency inside the big arch. Also how much slower would a slightly more solid build of Tillie? If only slightly slower, I think I take those chances for my career.
Now let’s move on to one of my favorite draft prospects in recent years in Jontay Porter.
“It’s just our luck to end up with “the other” Porter brother!”
Well if you’ve watched this kid play as long as I have, you’d know some experts were more intrigued with Jontay than his older brother Michael Porter Jr., before Jontay suffered multiple serious knee injuries. As a result, Jontay went from being a once projected lottery pick to undrafted. Luckily for Memphis having a keen sense of identifying savvy talent, they jumped on him before anybody else did, and he hasn’t disappointed thus far. Fortunately for Porter, he was able to give Memphis some sort of a scout on him in Atlanta via the G League bubble. In nine G-League games, Porter averaged 16.8 minutes, 7.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 1.0 steals per game. Porter’s stint in Atlanta earlier this season shows him to be a highly aware and active player on the court.
Most importantly he continues to prove himself to be productive even in terms of filling up the stat sheet. His per-36 mins in the G League is somewhere along the lines of 16 points, 12 rebounds, and nearly three assists with over two blocks and two steals per game. Talk about a motor and natural hoops IQ.
“Well he couldn’t do it efficiently!”
Yes he did have his shooting woes in the bubble. That said, it should be expected from a guy who hasn’t played a regulated game in two years. He’s coming off of two torn ACL injuries back to back. Also consider Porter improved over the last five games of his first G-League stint and much better in the NBA although in even smaller samples. The 6’11, 240-pound Porter proved to be a highly skilled player who is more of a stretch big. In comparison, “Kill Till” is more so a stretch forward. Killian maybe slightly more effective from the perimeter in terms of switchable defense and outside shooting. Now Jontay can certainly shoot well. Although, he's more natural around the rim than “Kill Till” in terms of rebounding & finishing.
Jontay showed this season that he has recovered from a career-threatening stint of injuries. In fact, if you haven’t seen him prior to the injuries, his mobility and agility wouldn’t lend you to believe he’s ever suffered any injury. Jontay runs the floor smooth as a Buick. He’s also a lefty which usually is an indication of craftiness and/or shooting ability. He also shot 53% from the field this season, although in a very small sample of only 11 games. He’s a natural “stat stuffer” in every sense that makes every second count on the floor. He also has the size to bounce from forward to center. I would like to see him continue to work on adding muscle, so that he can be more viable of a center option next season if he returns (fingers crossed he will).
“What does Memphis need both Jontay AND Killian for? They already have Jaren and Brandon who are both very similar to the former two?”
Well both Killian and Jontay are big upside plays that have intriguing versatility in the modern NBA. As similar as they can be viewed as, they also can play together as well, in many different ways with others. “Kill Till” can play 3 positions (3-5) if nothing else in short stints right now. Killian and Jontay both are solid passers for their size. Maybe even slightly more so than Jontay, Killian showed he has the prowess to be a highly productive and efficient scorer in terms of shooting.
Jontay has the potential to be the solution next to Jaren upfront or certainly the main understudy if need be. They’re interchangeable with one another if you will. Porter does a couple of things well that we’ll just say compliments Jaren tremendously. Jontay rebounds pretty well. His NBA per-36 mins has him clocking just over nine rebounds per game, mostly all at the forward spot. He wasn’t even playing as much around the rim as he would at center. He’s also a decent defender. However, like Jaren, Jontay can stand to use some time working on defensive timing & reaction which should lower both player’s respective foul troubles although Jontay hasn’t had nearly the time Jaren has had even this season alone to tighten up.
Playing at the five spot would certainly result in more rebounds for Porter — if nothing else — and I think he may have enough rim protection potential and frame to hold it down defensively inside. Imagine what he has the potential to do if he adds a little more muscle on his frame and can remain as agile and healthy. His turnovers were a little high, so he has to take better care of the ball. That said, anything close to a “maxed out” version of Jontay, makes Jonas Valanciunas expendable as he heads into the “dirty thirty” club. Killian would be an ideal backup to Jaren, if Brandon Clarke improves to become a starter or if the Grizzlies move on from him later on — although Zach Kleiman recently stated they’re still high on “BC” and rightfully so. I wouldn’t start Killian with Jaren being that “Kill Till” doesn't compliment Jaren in terms of rebounding duties.
Next up is Sean McDermott out of Butler. McDermott played in a six game G-League stint, where he performed like a fringe G-League star. The former Butler alum averaged 18 points 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He seemed to thrive as a high-volume shot-taker. He didn’t shoot too well from three at only 32% per game, but he was pretty solid in terms of true shooting percentage and most of his scoring inside the arch.
“Well he didn’t get enough time to get in rhythm!”
McDermott tied with Killian for the most appearances of this bunch in the NBA regular season, with 18 games played. In limited time of nine minutes per game, he had a 7.2 PER so he isn’t the most active nor aware of game flow for starters. Also, when McDermott got up to the next level, his lack of efficiency and skill was truly exposed on the big stage. He already doesn’t serve as much of a defender to say the least. He also shot only 39% from the field, a woeful 22.7% FG3% and only 47% eFG.
His lack of shot creation, off-ball awareness and on-ball skill became evident, and his offense suffered. Time after time, we witnessed McDermott not being able to knockdown wide-open three-point shots, something he simply can’t afford to do in the limited opportunities he may or may not get again. Sean isn’t quite NBA-ready yet, and with his lack of size, skill, athleticism, and preparation at his ideal positions, he must take a page from Dillon Brooks book in terms of working extra hard to improve and thus overachieve on offense — especially shooting. The same can be said for defense but to a lesser degree of course. That is if he wants to stick to a team, IF he gets another shot anywhere.
Next on the list is Tim Frazier. Timmy is an interesting case. He only played five games and didn’t get to play a lot in that time. He did make one thing clear if nothing else, and that’s prove himself to be a reliable ball handler. Tim averaged over three assists despite playing only 12 minutes per game in Memphis. He came in and immediately generates offense by simply taking what the defense gives him.
He also knew how to identify weaknesses in the opposing defense and create offense based off of the ones he identifies. Despite not getting many reps to build chemistry, Tim still managed to pull off 9.3 assists per 36 min this season. However, without a reliable jumper, Frazier is essentially limited to ball handling. That means very little to no scoring, limited floor spacing, and not much versatility at his measly height of 6’1.
He’s also thirty now & barring some late improvements in his shooting, has likely peaked in terms of what he is capable of producing. That said he certainly wasn’t the worst player to suit up for the Grizzlies this season, but I’d rather use such a spot be used to develop a young prospect to potentially replace the inconsistent Tyus Jones.
More coming up on that statement in the Tyus Jones review which I will be doing as well.