Everything You Need To Know About Xavier Tillman

Xavier Tillman has some of the most impressive intangibles in this draft. His leadership, basketball IQ, communication, and work ethic will be welcomed into any rotation.

Intangibles are some of the most challenging traits to measure with draft prospects because they have a wide-ranging definition and can be highly subjective. In the 2020 NBA Draft, few prospects have as impressive intangibles as Xavier Tillman.

Tillman won't fill up a stat sheet or take over a game independently, but his leadership, basketball IQ, and work rate will help him carve out a role and contribute to winning basketball. I know this isn't the sexiest sales pitch on a prospect you've ever heard but finding a legitimate rotation contributor in the late first or second round is easier said than done.

If you look exclusively at Tillman's stats, it may underwhelm you. His stat line this season of 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.2 steals is solid but doesn't scream NBA talent independently. Tillman is one of those players where his film's nuances, not the numbers, tell the story.

For a big man, Tillman is an impressive passer. He won't be a primary playmaker, but his unselfishness and vision contribute to the offensive flow. He regularly makes the extra pass and is always looking for the open teammate.

Here, Tillman shows his mobility out of the pick-and-roll combined with his eagerness to pass. Tillman initially slips the screen and immediately looks for the weakside dribble handoff. Tillman's teammate makes a well-timed cut because of his defender overplaying the passing lane. Tillman delivers a bounce pass to the cutter and then relocates to the perimeter. This relocation doesn't allow the defense to quickly recover after a rotation like they could have if Tillman cut to the rim. Once Tillman receives the ball back, he immediately swings it to his open teammate, a better shooter, instead of taking the open jumper.

Again, we see Tillman's comfortability and mobility as the screener in the pick-and-roll. After setting a good screen, Tillman looks to get the ball back to Cassius Winston first via handoff then via Winston's cut. Both actions are well defended, but Tillman uses his mobility to take advantage of his defender shading towards the cut, subsequently creating a Tillman driving lane. Tillman then delivers a drop pass to his teammate for the layup while also avoiding a reckless charge.

The big man's responsibility in the pick-and-roll continues to grow in the NBA. They are asked to finish lobs, slip the screen for jumpers, pass out of the short roll, and dislodge the point-of-attack defender. For many young players, it takes years to be competent at just a few of these asks. From day one, Tillman will be a quality screener who will make the play after setting the screen.

This season, Tillman scored 0.974 points per possession (PPP) (47th percentile) as the pick-and-roll big man, per Synergy. On the surface, this isn't promising. However, when Tillman rolled to the basket, he scored 1.413 PPP (83rd percentile). We saw him create for his teammate, but Tillman also has impressive touch and body control, which allow him to finish.

The weakside defense here isn't overly impressive, but Tillman does an excellent job of capitalizing for the layup. Tillman's screen forces his defender to commit to the ball-handler. Then, Tillman's slight hesitation on his roll to the rim freezes the defenders from rotating to cut off his path to the rim.

Despite being a good finisher after rolling out of the pick-and-roll, Tillman's overall scoring efficiency is diminished when he pops instead of rolling. When Tillman popped out for a jumper after setting the screen, he shot 0-12.

Tillman's inefficiency in this area shouldn't be surprising, though, as his outside shooting has never been a strength. During his time at Michigan State, Tillman shot only 27.3% from three on just 0.7 attempts. He also ranked in the 7th percentile with only 0.562 PPP on three-pointers this season. The hope would be that Tillman develops into an adequate outside shooter, but there aren't any signs that point to this happening. If Tillman can't develop a reliable jumper, his offensive game will be incredibly limited.

There are plenty of players who find a way to make an impact without a jumper, though. A significant way for big men to make an offensive impact outside of the pick-and-roll or shooting is with their cutting. Having spatial awareness to navigate the baseline, paint, and dunker's spot is essential to create easy scoring chances.

This season, Tillman ranked in the 80th percentile when cutting with 1.337 PPP. He has balletic footwork and does an excellent job of sliding into spaces where his teammates can find him.

Tillman does a great job of sneaking behind his defender to get in the middle of the paint. Using a simple shot fake, Tillman dispatches two defenders and then a lightning-quick spin move to create the layup.

Tillman's offensive role in the NBA will be as an ancillary contributor. He will be an effective screener, quality ball-mover, and consistent interior finisher. He won't be relied on for any particular skill, but his willingness to do the dirty work will help his teammates create easy opportunities.

Tillman's most recognizable impact, however, will come on the defensive end. He won't be considered an All-NBA level defender, but he is someone teams can rely on to be the defensive floor general. He is a great communicator and has excellent defensive awareness.

This season, Tillman allowed 0.695 PPP (87th percentile) overall and 0.704 PPP (87th percentile) around the basket. Tillman is far from an explosive athlete, but he uses his timing, strength, and verticality to be an effective rim protector.

Tillman does an excellent job here of denying one of the best scoring big men in the country last season. Tillman uses his strength to avoid getting bullied in the post. By holding his ground, Tillman neutralizes his man's ability to elevate, allowing Tillman to time his block perfectly and force the turnover.

Tillman's responsibility in defending post-ups like this will be less in the NBA, but it will still be necessary. The more critical area of defense will be how Tillman navigates the pick-and-roll. The awareness and mobility we saw from Tillman in the pick-and-roll on offense also translates to the defensive end.

Here, Tillman defends the pick-and-roll perfectly. Seeing his teammate is slow to get through the screen, Tillman contains the ball-handler while still giving himself an angle to recover to the roll man. Tillman times his release from the ball-handler perfectly and recovers to his man to block the layup.

Again, Tillman shows his activity and communication while defending the pick-and-roll. Tillman furthermore contains the ball-handler long enough for his teammate to recover while also dropping enough to cutoff a lob attempt. Tillman then quickly fronts the post-up attempt and steals the sloppy entry pass.

Whether he is hedging or playing drop coverage or momentarily switching, Tillman has the awareness and mobility to be an effective defender in the pick-and-roll. He shouldn't be expected to switch on the perimeter regularly but switching and recovering isn't a foreign concept.

Going forward, Xavier Tillman will be the definition of a role player. He won't fill up a stat sheet, but he will routinely execute the little things contributing to winning basketball. Tillman's most significant limitations are his lack of athleticism and his jump shot. To make up for these, he focuses on his timing, footwork, and communication.

There are few, if any, rotations that Xavier Tillman won't fit into. His leadership, basketball IQ, and work ethic will be eagerly welcomed into any rotation. Whatever team ends up calling Tillman's name will be getting a big man in the second round who is more than happy to do the dirty work and who will contribute to winning basketball right away.

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