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The curious case of Xavier Tillman

Can X crack the rotation in any capacity this season?

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NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Joe Rondone-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier Tillman’s role with the Memphis Grizzlies going forward remains a mystery. His performance in the summer league did not leave any optimism about his game and fit with the team, and that is a weird place to be in.

As I stated in my 2021-2022 player review of Tillman, his performance got worse coming from his rookie season going to his sophomore season. His minutes (18.4 to 13.2), points per game (6.6 to 4.8), rebounds per game (4.3 to 3), field goal percentage (55.9% to 45.4%), and 3-point percentage (33.8% to 20.4%) all took significant hits. Of course, his circumstances changed with Jaren Jackson Jr. being present all season, unlike his rookie season, and both Steven Adams’ and Brandon Clarke’s performances hurt his minutes as well.

Although that was his situation during the season, the playoffs provided a different opportunity for Tillman because of matchups. Steven Adams was played off the floor in the 1st round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves leading to the versatile Tillman getting more starts (3) in that series alone than he did the entire regular season (2).

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Six Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

With the added responsibility at the most important time of the season, Tillman produced similar numbers to his regular season numbers. He averaged 4.4 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game but he shot well on his very limited attempts to the tune of 72% on 2.8 field goal attempts per game in 9 playoff games. Although he was useful and was ready when the time for him to play was needed, he still left a lot to be desired.

Tillman’s sophomore campaign lead to the now 3rd-year center playing in the 2022 Summer League where, again, his performance didn’t go as expected for 3rd-year players. He went into the Summer League campaign noticeably bigger but his rebounding (5.4 rebounds per game), shooting (0 threes made on 6 attempts), and scoring efficiency (43%) at the rim in 5 games was not where you would want it to be. In my opinion, you would want a 3rd-year player to dominate the summer league and that just was not the case with Tillman.

2022 NBA Summer League - Memphis Grizzlies v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

Now what to expect from him this season? It is hard to imagine a role for him considering the depth of talent in the frontcourt. His shooting taking a deep dive in the wrong direction has really hurt his value. Also, Santi Aldama’s improvement —along with the return of both Steven Adams (extension signed) and Brandon Clarke (likely to be extended) — has made Tillman expendable.

I believe he can still be useful as an end-of-bench guy that knows the system and can step up in case of injury and matchups as previously, but his play has turned south for the worst, and it might be too late for him to earn a consistent rotational spot on this team. Xavier Tillman has extra hurdles to climb now and the clock is ticking on his chances to be a significant core piece on this team.

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