After a successful trial in the All-Star Game, should the NBA adopt the Elam Ending in more meaningful games?

Killian Tillie is the spotlight of today’s NBA draft target. Not too long ago was this Gonzaga star mentioned as a possible lottery pick. But injuries hijacked much of Tillie’s opportunities in Spokane. Coming off a relatively healthy season, Tillie must prove that those injuries are now a thing of the past. Thus changing the conversation around this highly productive player. 

A UNIQUE BACKGROUND

Killian Tillie is not your typical college prospect. The 6’10” forward arrived to Gonzaga by the way of Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France. But it is not just the location that makes him one of the most unique prospects in the draft. Tillie comes from a family with an extensive volleyball background. While his path led him to basketball, it does not take much to see some of those traits in his game. Tillie is a finesse player, one that utilizes a variety of skilled maneuvers to get his points. Soft floaters, jump hooks and pristine footwork are all part of his diverse portfolio. 

At Gonzaga, Tillie joined a massively talented recruiting group that included future NBA players in Zach Collins and Rui Hachimura. But as the Bulldogs enjoyed tremendous on-court success, Tillie’s career fluctuated between stellar play and crippling injuries. A hip ailment in 2018 caused him to miss Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss to Florida State. The following year he played 249 minutes in part to an ankle stress fracture and a plantar fascia ligament tear. A knee procedure this year was Tillie’s last hurdle before leading the Bulldogs to a highly successful campaign. In all, Tillie played in only 37% of his possible minutes at Gonzaga. This lack of availability makes projections tricky. Can Tillie’s body handle the physical demands of the NBA? Or is he a player destined for spotty minutes and regular DNPs? 

STRENGTHS

  • Highly skilled near the rim. Tremendous foot work and touch around the basket. Possesses some back to the basket moves.
  • Moves well off the ball primarily as a rim runner. Provides a big target and can benefit offensively from playing alongside a great passer.
  • Heavy usage in the pick-and-pop game as a stretch 4. High release point can comfortably rise over defenders.
  • Creative and very willing passer primarily from the elbow and top of the key. Can see over defenses and find easy points under the rim. 
  • Willing and engaged defender. High IQ to anticipate passing lanes and provide value as a weak side shot blocker. 

WEAKNESSES

  • Stiff and limited handle. Is an easy prey for turnovers around traffic.
  • Low athletic burst on the ball. Provides little value as a shot creator off the dribble.
  • Primarily a one position defender. Limited mobility and functional strength to switch across the floor. Teams will test him thru screens and motion.
  • Lacks agility to shoot off screens and dribble hand-offs. Shooting impact comes mostly in spot up situations. 
  • Defers to teammates often and does not attack advantageous match-ups on a regular basis. 

DECIPHERING TILLIE’S ROLE AS A STRETCH BIG

Some of Killian Tillie’s best work at Gonzaga has come in the form of a stretch forward. This season the front-court partnership with Filip Petrusev was a massive success. Gonzaga utilized Tillie in a variety of different ways. Understanding how is a critical component to projecting his role in the NBA.

THE PICK AND POP 

Close to 30% of Tillie’s possessions comes in spot up opportunities (per Synergy). Head coach Mark Few did a tremendous job scheming Tillie open. One way is to play him off dribble penetration. Tillie is decisive shooter. His ability to set sound screens and rise off the catch puts bigger defenders in a tricky spot. Teams that match Tillie with size have to deal with his expansive shooting range. Just pay attention to how slow Michigan is to react to this simple action.

Gonzaga leaned heavily on his pick and pop ability. As a 44% career three point shooter, Tillie brings tremendous floor spacing potential. It will be interesting to see how NBA teams utilize him at the next level. The Bulldogs did not have an elite PG that could collapse defenses off the dribble. Pairing him with one at the next level could yield all types of open opportunities from other areas of the court. In particular, from the hot corner. 

RIM RUNNER

But it is not just within the scope of the spot up game where Killian Tillie thrives. Tillie also utilizes his off ball activity to get to the rim. His size is a big advantage. Against a smaller Isaiah Livers we see that element of his game again play out in the pick and roll.

His activity and length puts smaller defenders at a tough position to challenge the shot. His touch near the rim is exquisite. Per Synergy, Tillie finished 52 roll man opportunities at an elite 1.365 PPP (92nd percentile). Playing off his high level of skill at the rim is a significant outlet in the half court.

FLOATERS OFF THE DRIBBLE

While Killian Tillie’s handle can be awkward, he is able to leverage well enough and create for himself. Again we see how the combination of skill and size is a difficult match-up for a smaller Livers.

Tillie’s sudden nuances to his game are intriguing. In this instance, a simple dribble hesitation is enough to create a driving lane. Again we see the skill and soft touch near the rim. While longer and quicker NBA defenders will make it much harder, there is hope that his ability to finish from all three levels will translate well in the pros. 

DOWNHILL PASSER AT THE TOP OF THE KEY (OR ELBOW)

Killian Tillie is also a thinker. In the half court that shows up primarily as a passer. Tillie was often used as an anchor from the top of the key or elbow. As a willing passer, he has plus vision to see cutters and open scoring opportunities. Against Washington we get a glimpse of how his vision initiates offense for Gonzaga.

Utilizing him from those key areas creates an abundance of motion opportunity offensively. It is a considerable attribute for teams looking to integrate more movement within the scope of the offense. 

WHAT IS KILLIAN TILLIE DEFENSIVELY? 

Heavy criticism will be placed on Tillie’s potential to be anything other than a one position defender. His lack of functional strength is an issue when defending bigger guys. To alleviate some of those concerns, head coach Mark Few paired him alongside a center in Filip Petrusev. This however did little to hide Tillie’s defensive shortcomings. The main one centers on his lack of agility. The NBA is a cruel world, and offenses will target him in space. To get an understanding of what we are talking about here, just pay attention to how stiff and upright Tillie looks attacking this close-out.

Yikes! Matching up against quicker ball handlers will most certainly be a recipe for disaster. In a switch-heavy league this limits his impact defensively to a great extent. But teams should not be entirely discouraged by his defensive potential. Where he lacks in athleticism he makes up in IQ. Anticipating the next play is the name of the game. Tillie’s defensive awareness flashes in bunches. In a critical moment against Washington, he steps into the passing lane for a game-clinching steal.

These type of plays must become a staple for Tillie to find a role at the professional level. The often under-appreciated work that drives wins can go a very long way to carving up playing time.

POSSIBLE FIT – SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Smart. Polished. Skilled. International background. Perhaps no other franchise personifies these attributes more than Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. For a team built on the foundation of team oriented basketball, Killian Tillie is the idea fit. In San Antonio, Tillie would have an ideal environment as the team slowly transitions into the post DeRozan and Aldridge era. 

On the court Tillie brings a lot of elements that should entice San Antonio to take a look. The Spurs are only one of five teams to post up over 8 times per game. At Gonzaga, Tillie ranked in the 93rd percentile in post up possessions (per Synergy). San Antonio also ranked 28th in three point attempts prior to the season’s postponement. In Tillie, the Spurs would have a willing and capable shooter to expand on those opportunities. Pairing him with young and enticing ball handlers such as Derrick White could be one way to usher a new era of San Antonio basketball.

STAT NUGGETS

  • Shot 92% from three (13 for 14) in the 2018 West Coast tournament.
  • Since 2013, 1 of 3 players to post an OBPM > 5.5 with a usage rate < 21% and a true shooting percentage > 64% (on 2000+ minutes).
  • 2nd all time in the West Coast Conference in BPM (10.1).
  • 1.318 points per pick and pop possession last season (93rd percentile).
  • Exceeded 30 minutes in only 5 games last season. 0 times in 2018-2019. 

FINAL VERDICT

Drafting Killian Tillie will require an infrastructure in place that will limit his physical limitations and mitigate health concerns. Slotting him into a high usage role could be the road map to a short NBA career. Tillie brings tremendous polish into the draft. There is enough offensive talent there to be considered a late round one prospects. While his ceiling may be limited to a top of the rotation piece, Tillie comes at a low developmental cost. That is, a heady basketball player who will likely absorb and execute a team driven concepts to great precision. If you are looking for a guy to stress defenses and move the ball, Tillie may just be what the doctor ordered. 

You can find the rest of our draft evaluations below!