Raptors Draft Profile: Grant Riller

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Mar 16, 2018; San Diego, CA, United States; Charleston Cougars guard Grant Riller (1) moves the ball against Auburn Tigers guard Jared Harper (1) during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Viejas Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This is the first post from Robel Taame, who will be helping RR cover the upcoming draft. Follow him on Twitter at @Robeltussin and at his YouTube channel Sub Me In Coach.

Name: Grant Riller
Age: 23 years old (February 8, 1997)
College: Charleston (senior)
Height/Weight: 6’3, 190 pounds
Position: Combo Guard
Statistics: 21.9 PTS, 3.9 AST, 5.1 REB, 1.6 STL, 0.3 BLK 
Shooting Splits: 49% FG, 36% 3FG, 82.7% FT%
Draft Stock: 30-40s 
My Raptors Big Board Rank: 3rd

In a draft class that lacks space creation, Charleston’s 6’3 point guard Grant Riller stands out. The combination of advanced shot-making, explosiveness and all-time finishing ability makes him worthy of a mid-first round pick. 

A friend of mine (@abovethebreak3) described his playing style as NBA 2K-like, and I couldn’t agree more. Something that the Raptors lack is event creation, It’s a fair thing to say that the offense gets a bit stagnant at times. Enter Riller with the 28th pick, who is one of the most talented offensive players in the draft. 

Let’s get this out of the way first: Riller is the best at-the-rim finisher in the class. Sure, there is an argument for Obi Toppin, but I’m giving Riller the edge here since he does not benefit from the size and positional advantage that Toppin does. Riller shot 71% at the rim this season (!!!) while only 13.9% of those attempts were assisted. This number is otherworldly, and the low percentage of assisted baskets proves that he gets to the rim at a high rate without needing much help. 

His explosive first step leaves defenders in the dust, and his high level of burst makes it extremely tough for his assignment to recover. He’s a skilled ball handler, but he doesn’t have to consistently rely on it because using a quick rip-through move was usually more than enough to create an advantage. Will he face better defenders in the NBA? Of course, but the first step is high-level even by NBA standards, and he can be an advantage creator in other ways, which will be touched upon later. He’s proficient at getting to the line, shown by his 6.9 free throw attempts per game, and he hits those at a healthy 82.7% clip, too. The constant rim pressure that he puts on the defense will open shots up for his teammates, since it will take multiple defenders to stop him from getting to the basket.

His athleticism, footwork and coordination allow him to perform a wide variety of advanced finishes. He contorts his body well to avoid rim protectors, but is also willing to use his strength to power through the defense. The vertical pop is there as well, and even though he’s not looking to posterize anyone, the bounce is very functional during the course of a game. His ambidexterity and soft-touch add on to his finishing versatility, and it’s a pretty safe bet that this skill will translate smoothly to the NBA. 

Alongside being the best finisher in the class, Riller is probably the best space creator off the dribble as well. He’s a true 3-level scorer who is a threat anywhere on the floor. Having a wide array of moves in his arsenal or “bag,” Riller is able to consistently create an advantage. He chooses which one he’ll use depending on what the defense is giving him, so he’s playing off reaction. That’s a great sign for projecting him as a shot creator at the next level because the NBA is much faster-paced on both ends of the floor. Quick thinking is needed, and Riller has a great feel for scoring the basketball. 

He’s a great scorer in isolation, displayed by his 87th percentile rank according to Synergy. If the defender sags off, he’s more than happy to hit them with a quick sidestep or stepback jumper. He shot 36% from three while taking a lot of tough off the dribble shots, so that’s especially impressive. Some of the shots that he made were Damian Lillard-like. If the defender is playing the jumper, he’s ripping through them and getting to the line, or finishing at the rim. It’s essentially picking your poison when guarding Riller.

The shooting versatility makes him especially dangerous. He can shoot off movement, off the dribble and while spotting up. He was a career 40% shooter on spot-up threes, which is a sign of him being able to play off the ball efficiently. He does need a bit of work when it comes to running off screens, but this could be taught rather easily in the NBA. 

The reason why I buy him as a primary initiator is because of him being a threat as a pull-up shooter. The defense can’t give anything up when he’s in the pick and roll, which is what makes Riller more intriguing than other guard prospects such as Tre Jones and Devon Dotson, who have struggled in this regard. Point guards must be consistently able to punish the drop coverage, or else their equity on the ball severely diminishes. High-level pull-up shooting is also extremely hard to develop, and this draft class especially lacks it. Riller stands out because he’s one of the few that possesses the skill. 

The passing ability is there, but I wouldn’t say that he’s a facilitator. He shows flashes of advanced reads, but he would’ve been a certified lottery pick if he was a consistent playmaker. He’s already 23 years old, so it’s doubtful that he could improve much on this skill. However, we’ve seen VanVleet improve on his playmaking ability, and I would never underrate the Raptors’ organization’s ability to develop players, so I will maintain optimism. 

Riller’s scoring gravity and the rim pressure that he brings creates open looks for teammates in itself. If he can consistently get by his man, it creates 4-5 situations. He doesn’t need to be able to warp the defense with skip passes or no-look passes to the roller, because him being a threat to score on the court already has the defense out of their comfort zone. This separates him from the other point guards in this class, because while a lot of them are better passers, they have to be because they can’t manipulate a defense with their scoring ability. 

Riller can make basic reads in the PNR, but it’s nothing special. He also misses the roller at times, which could frustrate his NBA bigs. There were some flashes of skip passes, but it’s not something that he often uses. He has nice touch on his dump off and lob passes though. Riller tends to get tunnel vision at times and could take an ill-advised shot even though someone else is open. 

He was the #1 option on his team with a 33.9 usage rate, so it’s clear that he had to carry the offensive burden. Will he pull back the ambitious shot attempts, and be more of a willing passer? I believe he would if he gets drafted to a playoff team. He’ll never get close to that type of usage that he had in college, and he won’t have the same green light, so I’d imagine he’d be more conservative and balance his scoring and facilitating ability more. If he sees himself as a microwave bench scorer, then he would probably play the same way though. So it’s all up to him to decide his NBA role. It all depends on what type of player teams see him as. Either way, he’s able to provide positive value whether by being a starter or a 6th-man spark plug off the bench. 

After hearing these things about Riller, you may wonder why he’s projected as a late first/early second round prospect. A combination of age, lack of facilitating and defensive ability answers your question. Riller is a lackadaisical defender. As mentioned before, his enormous offensive burden led him to take breaks on the defensive end. He refuses to get in a defensive stance at times, and it looked clear as day as he wasn’t willing to expend energy at that end. 

Having said all of this, I believe that he could potentially be a positive on-ball and team defender in the league. The athleticism and explosiveness show up on both ends of the floor, he can slide his feet extremely well, has solid strength and frame, and his 6’3 size and plus wingspan is good enough for him not to be a positional liability. There were lots of flashes of him cutting off drives and forcing tough shots off the ball, making defensive rotations, and baiting the passer into a turnover when he’s the help defender. 

He clearly wouldn’t get starting minutes right away for the Raptors, and he’ll quickly realize that the only way Nick Nurse will play him is if he locks in on the defensive end. He’ll have more energy to expend, so I’m betting on the fact that he’ll try a lot harder in the league. 

I’ve been advocating for the Raptors to pick Riller for a while now. Out of all non-lottery guard prospects, he’s most likely to be a primary initiator in the league. He doesn’t have to be a lead guard for the full 48 minutes though, because they have a jumbo initiator in Pascal Siakam, whose pick and roll reps and playmaking duties will likely increase. Riller would be a great fit next to Siakam, since he’s someone that can create for himself, others and could provide as a floor spacer off the ball. His rim and scoring gravity will help young guys like OG Anunoby and Terence Davis get open looks as well. While Kyle Lowry is still insanely good, 34 years old is…34 years old. I love VanVleet and want the Raptors to re-sign him, but he’ll be an attractive option for teams in a weak free agency class. Riller can fit in a role as a backup point guard and succeed right away, removing Patrick McCaw from a decision-maker role. Riller and Davis would wreak havoc on second units, and could potentially be the starting backcourt in the near future. 

While the defensive issues might turn off the Raptors organization, I believe that it could be overlooked. Riller didn’t play in a great conference either, and that’s a fair criticism, but the skills that he possesses are NBA calibre, which is why he torched every single player in front of him. Some people have written him off due to his age, but the organization has a track record of preferring older prospects. If the Raptors are looking at a guard, then Riller should be the 28th pick. 

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