Name: Xavier Tillman
Age: 21 years old (January 12, 1999)
College: Michigan State (junior)
Height/Weight: 6’8.5, 245 pounds
Position: Center/Combo Big
Statistics: 13.7 PTS, 10.3 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.2 STL, 2.1 BLK
Shooting Splits: 55% FG, 26% 3FG, 66.7% FT
Draft Stock: 30-40s
My Raptors Big Board Rank: 4th
Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher are all free agents this summer. Whether they’ll re-sign or not, it became pretty clear that the center rotation is thin, especially with the injury problems that the Raptors faced this season. OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson were all sharing minutes at the 5, and while it was a cool experiment, the team doesn’t need those guys to be banged up. There is enough reason to believe that the Raptors will be looking to choose a big with the 28th pick, and they should look no further than Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, whose IQ, defensive versatility and passing ability fits perfectly with the team.
The skills needed for bigs to be positive players in the league has drastically changed. They must be able to protect the rim, be able to play multiple pick and roll coverages, stretch the floor, pass the ball and have ball-handling ability. If a big man could do at least 4 of these things at a high level, then their salary is most likely over 20 million a year. Gasol is 35 years old and could probably still get that amount of money in this upcoming free agency (in normal situations, not during a pandemic). Tillman can do all 5 of these things at a moderate-to-high level, and that type of versatility is extremely rare to find, especially in comparison to the other bigs in the draft.
The main reason why I like Tillman as a Raptors prospect so much is his passing ability. His IQ is off the charts and it’s not hard to see that he could be an offensive hub in the NBA. Post up possessions are rewarded to bigs who can pass out of it, so he’ll get plenty of opportunities to facilitate from the low block. His accuracy, timing and reads are very advanced, and he’s extremely unselfish. The Raptors have a lot of athletes on the team who are capable cutters, but not creators. Anunoby, Jefferson, Patrick McCaw and Oshae Brissett could feast off Tillman’s playmaking in the post. This wrinkle in the offense creates easy points for the offense and overall just keeps players engaged on both ends. He could improve in avoiding double teams, but that’s easy to fix at the next level.
He’s also a very capable short roll passer as well. He sets solid screens and developed a dangerous PNR duo with Michigan State PG Cassius Winston (58th pick?). Instead of being a processor, he reacts to the defense. If the help slides over, he’s hitting the open man in the corner. If the defense just stunts, then he’s going up with it. He’s a quick decision maker, and is almost instantly aware of open teammates. His ball handling ability allows him to be more mobile when making these decisions, and he’s capable of performing live dribble passes as well, so that opens up a lot of opportunities for playmaking.
Tillman could come off the bench and have the offense run through him. His unselfishness, IQ and quick reaction timing are reasons for this. The Raptors lack playmaking in bench units, and he could step in and fix that issue right away. If Gasol stays, he could take Tillman under his wing and share some of his wisdom and savvy tricks. Bigs who can pass are valuable, and it’s a very underrated skill to have at that position.
Last season, Tillman had an elite defensive performance against Zion Williamson. The number 1 pick was quoted saying that “Obviously I don’t focus on individual battles, but he played great, solid defense,” Tillman won the Big 10 Defensive Player of The Year award this year. He was an elite interior defender and rim protector in college. While he may be undersized, 7 footers failed when trying to bully and post him up on the block. His strength is insane for his size, and he literally “Demarcus Cousins to Karl Anthony Towns” them when they dared to post him up. He’s an avid film watcher and someone that studies the tendencies of his matchup to gain an advantage. He knows what shoulder they prefer to shoot the jump hook over, or how many dribbles they take before they make a move. This skill will likely translate due to his immense strength, but it’s less valuable in today’s NBA due to the post up dying.
He was a really good rim protector in college, but will probably be a bit worse when he gets to the league. NBA players are bigger, faster, and stronger. As good as he is positionally, his lack of length and jumping ability will cause some trouble. However, his timing and ability to always be there is exceptional. That’s much more valuable than just jumping at every shot attempt at the rim and hoping for the best *cough* Whiteside *cough*. He’ll probably be a slightly above average rim protector, but his size and athleticism issues can be made up for. Big wings are able to contain drives and stop offensive players to get to the rim in the first place. They’ll also be able to impact plays from the helpside. Anunoby and Siakam are extraordinarily good at this. Additionally, Lowry and VanVleet don’t let much players get by them either. The Raptors don’t need an elite rim protector to be a good defensive team, and Tillman is really good at being active and using his size and length to deter shots at the rim. I’m not worried about his rim protection at the next level, especially if he ends up getting picked by Toronto.
Tillman is not much of a scorer, and he doesn’t need to be. His impact in every other facet of the game is more than enough to make up for the lack of points that he’ll put up. He was an impressive finisher at the rim last season, shooting 72.1% according to bartorvik.com. Even though he doesn’t have any vertical explosion at all, he uses his size and craftiness to create space around the basket. His ambidexterity and excellent touch is also a factor of his success in the paint. As mentioned in the rim protection section, he won’t find the same success at the next level finishing at the rim. The rim protectors in the league are just more lengthy and athletic and he won’t be that effective against the Embiid-AD-Lopez’s of the world. He’s not one to force up shots at the rim though, and with centers being smaller nowadays, could still be a solid finisher at the rim. He could also add a floater game pretty easily since his touch is so elite. It worked well for Brandon Clarke in the league, so he should add that to his game.
There is a swing skill that he has to hit to maximize his value on the court, and that’s shooting ability. His best bet to be a factor offensively is to be a floor spacer. He needs to be able to shoot the 3 at an average level. Looking at his 3 point and free throw percentage this year, there isn’t much belief that he’ll be a respectable shooter in the NBA. However, there are other indicators when evaluating shooting projection. His form isn’t broken and even though the elbow is sticking out a bit, this can be easily tweaked. It’s also a matter of reps, and he’s spoken about working on his jumper since he knows that teams would be more interested in him if he improved on that. The Raptors don’t mind shooting percentages in college, Since 2010, every Raptors prospect shot below 35% from 3 in their college/overseas the season before they were drafted (with the exception of Terrence Ross and Delon Wright) The development staff has a track record of developing shooters and tweaking mechanics. Tillman takes threes and long twos, but it’s at a low volume. He also seems hesitant to shoot it sometimes, so teams will have to encourage him to let it fly. He shot 13-50 from 3 (26%) and 23-71 from the midrange (32.4), while all of these shots mainly coming from pick and pops. His touch is amazing enough to buy him as a shooter at the next level. He’s spoken of focusing on his jumper and I wouldn’t be surprised if he came into his rookie year as a passable shooter, due to his amazing work ethic. With or without being a spacer, Tillman will still be a positive rotational big, but he’ll likely be a slight negative on offense. If the Raptors believe they could fix his shooting, then he could be a starter level player.
He’s pretty mobile for his size, but he has athletic limitations. His weight was beneficial for him in college, due to him having had to deal with a lot of burly bigs on the block, but the NBA is all about pace and space now. He’s 240 pounds at 6’8, so it’d be nice if he got to around 230 to guard pick and roll coverages better. He’s decent on the perimeter, but doesn’t turn his hips well. Don’t think that he’ll be exposed by guard at the next level, but it would improve with his defensive versatility, and closeout on shots better. He’s still good enough to play multiple pick and roll coverages, but I wouldn’t say he’s some demonic switch big like Bam Adebayo for example. His IQ on both ends covered up for his athletic limitations, and it will do the same in the league as well. He’s a great team defender and is early on rotations, which would fit great in Toronto’s system. If you watched just one Too Much Hoops video on YouTube, then you would know that the team loves to be in scramble mode and value players who can cover other people’s mistakes. He’s also great in the passing lanes and could make guards pay for throwing risky passes, reflected by his 2.1% steal rate.
Tillman is a winning player. He’s invested into the little things and wants to make everyone around him better. He has a great attitude and provides a lot of energy on the court. He’s always caught smiling all the time and making extra passes, or setting strong screens for his teammates to score. His work ethic is proven, and he’s had a positively unexpected development curve during his three years in college. “This past offseason, coaches asked him to improve his shooting. He has taken three times as many two-point attempts this season and is shooting a half percentage point better than a year ago on those shots. After not shooting a single three as a freshman, he’s become somewhat of a threat from behind the arc. Coaches asked Tillman to shed some weight last year. He dropped 30 pounds over the course of a single summer.” (David Gardner, April 6, 2019) He watches a lot of film and it shows on the court, since he’ll cut off what his opponents like to do before they actually do it. He can be a defensive anchor surrounded by big wings on one end, and someone who can be a secondary playmaker off the bench. Behind James Wiseman and Obi Toppin, Xavier Tillman is the best big in the class. He checks all of the boxes of being a Raptors prospect, and he’d be a great addition to the team. If you love what Gasol does for the Raptors, then you would be enamoured with Tillman’s approach to the game.
Bad shooting numbers
— Robel (Sub Me In Coach) (@robeltussin) June 7, 2020