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Matchup with Bertans a Learning Opportunity for Grizzlies’ Killian Tillie

During the Memphis Grizzlies’ 49 point blowout of the Houston Rockets, a seismic shift overtook the nerdiest pockets of Memphis Grizzlies Twitter (my own profile very much included). Bells were rung, torches were lit, and we scrambled to our emergency positions, desperately clutching our Bud Light GIFS. Tillie Tillie everybody! After nearly four months of waiting, Killian Tillie was finally able to make his debut in Beale Street Blue, much to our delight.

As for his actual play on the court, Tillie more or less flashed what one might consider a realistic yet promising performance from a nervous stretch four making his NBA debut. Though the rook airmailed his first three-point attempt, he cashed in on his subsequent triple and produced a couple of impressive hustle plays, including a strip steal and a defensive rebound that I thought was about to send him right back to the injury report. Was the performance anything outstanding? Admittedly not, but having dealt with major injury setbacks to even make his debut, Grizz Twitter’s moment of Tillie celebration was well-earned.

However, minutes for the Frenchman will be difficult to come by going forward. This isn’t his fault, but let’s face it–Memphis isn’t going to be blowing teams out by 40+ each night, and they already struggle to find minutes for well-established guys like De’Anthony Melton. As such, learning from the bench will be paramount for Tillie’s development, a skill that Taylor Jenkins has already praised the rookie for throughout his rehabilitation. Noting Killian’s penchant for hard work and adaptability, Jenkins made it clear that Tillie is going to be a factor for this team going forward, just not immediately.

While he waits for a consistent rotation spot to clear up, getting a first row seat to the Grizzlies’ faceoff with the Wizards’ Davis Bertans on Tuesday might be one of Tillie’s most important learning experiences of the season. That’s because in his fifth NBA season, the Latvian Laser (I’m going to milk that nickname for all it’s worth) embodies what one may expect Tillian’s finished product to resemble. The duo have extremely similar shooting profiles, both with abilities shooting the triple off the catch, as a screener, or even maneuvering around picks. Don’t believe me? Here’s Bertans’ career shot chart via the wonderful minds at Statmuse:

Now compare that with Tillie’s college shot chart, this time provided by and the folks over at Synergy.

While the right-corner efficiency does vary slightly between the two, my conclusions are still the same: 

Admittedly, there are some notable differences between their games. Bertans is pretty much only shooting threes (he attempts a mind-boggling one two-pointer per game), whereas Tillie’s post proficiency and size will have him playing from the interior a significant amount. Bertans also has a lethality off the dribble, catching unsuspecting defenders off guard with stepback J’s and deep bombs in transition. Tantalizing as the thought is, that weapon simply isn’t in Tillie’s wheelhouse at the moment. 

That said, it’s the idiosyncrasies that Tillie yields over Bertans that make him such a tantalizing prospect. For one, the Gonzaga product has a clear edge in the playmaking department. In college, he averaged 4.2 assists per 100 possessions, miles ahead of Bertans’ season mark of 1.8–a good sign that Tillie won’t be a stopgap like some stretch fours. For reference, Bertans is a black hole when it comes to ball movement, one of the few players in the NBA to average less than one pass per minute, and his mark of 20.6 passes per game would rank dead last among Memphis’ rotation players.

Perhaps it’s his playmaking that also contributes to Tillie’s success in the pick and roll. As a roll man, Tillie generated 1.37 points per possession in college, good for 92nd percentile in the entire NCAA.  Meanwhile, Bertans hasn’t even been used as a screener in the pick-and-roll ten times this season despite his 6’10” frame. With Ja Morant running around screens galore, Tillie will fit right in with the Grizzlies’ assortment of bigs who’re threats to both roll and pop away from a screen.

“I’m very happy for him. Two months ago me and Killian were grinding and rehabbing together, coming in early, staying late. He helped me get back to where I am now, and playing one-on-one and allowing me to foul and be physical and try to get some of that defensive defensive rhythm and offensive rhythm back. I feel like I’ve been able to help him through his process as well…it was great seeing him out there today, just that confidence that he plays with, being able to airball a shot and come right back and hit the next one, just play so free. So, I’m happy for him, but just as much as I’d like to believe I helped him he’s helped me out just as much as well.”

Regardless of Tillie’s minutes, it’s clear that he’s beloved up and down the roster. “I’m very happy for him,” said Justise Winslow on Tillie’s debut. “It was great seeing him out there today, just that confidence that he plays with, being able to airball a shot and come right back and hit the next one, just play so free… just as much as I’d like to believe I helped him [through his recovery] he’s helped me out just as much as well.”  If Tillie continues to grind and develops into a Bertans-like player, don’t expect the Grizzlies to continue their run as one of the league’s worst shooting teams for much longer. With a squad of snipers around threats like Ja Morant, Tillie’s growth represents the unlimited potential of the Next Gen Grizzlies.

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