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Into the unknown with Killian Tillie

The injury bug has struck hard on the talented forward out of Gonzaga, and the Grizzlies have a roster decision to make soon. Will Tillie be the odd man out?

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the NBA, Killian Tillie was described as “lottery talent with a game built for the NBA”, but the injury history held him back. His fall out of the 2020 NBA Draft led to the Memphis Grizzlies nabbing him on a two-way contract.

He returned to Memphis on a two-way deal at the start of last season, and he quickly had his contract converted to a main-roster deal in December. Tillie has shown flashes, especially during the span towards the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. However, a back injury has hindered him, and he’s still recovering from a back procedure.’

And now, we enter this unknown with Killian Tillie.

One thing for sure with Tillie is he’s a good player that impacts winning basketball on the floor. He’s generally been effective and a net-positive player on the floor. In non-garbage time minutes, the Grizzlies outscored opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possession, per Cleaning the Glass. Without the archetype of most 3-and-D wings, he possesses similar traits. Although he’s been a 31.1% 3-point shooter from his career, he’s shot 40% and 38% from 3 when playing regular rotation minutes, per Cleaning the Glass. In addition, he’s shown strong chops defensively as a forward that can keep his man in front of him and create defensive plays with his quick hands. You want those guys in your rotation.

However, this back injury has sidelined him since March, and now there’s suddenly a logjam at his position. Since then, the Grizzlies have drafted Jake LaRavia and David Roddy — two “combo forwards,” an archetype Zach Kleiman has coveted, especially in last year’s draft. So now is there even room for Tillie in the mix? It’s unknown.

It’s such a drag to see, because he has the talent and fits the mold of someone that could’ve been a rotation player this year — and perhaps the injury replacement for Jaren Jackson Jr. as the opening night starting 4. It’s plausible to think this, too. He has good size as a stretch-4, creates defensive plays, knocks down 3’s, and there’s evidence that the Grizzlies are a positive with him on the floor.

Now, after the injury bug strikes yet again, we don’t even know Tillie’s immediate future. The Memphis Grizzlies have 16 players on the main roster, and they’ll need to crunch someone out to make it 15 before opening night. After being perceived as a waive candidate, Danny Green is a lock to stay around as a veteran presence. They could technically trade someone like Xavier Tillman, who hasn’t been in preseason action yet, for a second-round pick to keep Tillie on the main roster. Perhaps, they could waive him and re-sign him to a deal with the Memphis Hustle — similar to Sean McDermott last season — to keep him in the organization. That wouldn’t be surprising, as it’s clear they’re high on Tillie.

However, his injury status may have him on the outside looking in. It sucks, injuries suck.

So as Killian Tillie enters his 3rd year with the organization, we’re into the unknown with him — in the way where we don’t know if he’ll return to making the impact he makes when healthy, or if it’ll be with the Grizzlies come opening night.

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