As many of you know by now, the NBA is indeed coming back (well, unless Kyrie Irving hijacks the plane before it lands in Orlando, Florida). While the league continues to iron out the remaining details of their “return to play” proposal, the one bit of clarity us fans now have is that whatever ultimately happens down in Disney World, the Minnesota Timberwolves will NOT be a part of it.
For now, the basketball world continues to remain at a standstill, meaning the Wolves still technically hold the third-worst record in the league and could fall anywhere between the first and seventh pick. You can see those odds below. They also cradle Brooklyn’s first pick, which is currently at #16.
With that in mind, there is never a good time to stop analyzing prospects. In the ninth edition of Canis Hoopus’ Draft Radar, it’s Gonzaga big man Killian Tillie who gets shoved under the microscope.
Draft Age: 22.29
Position: Power Forward/Center
Weight: 230 pounds
Per Game: 24.6 minutes, 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, 1.0 turnovers, 53.5% FG, 40% 3PT, 72.6% FT
Per 36 Minutes: 19.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 1.5 turnovers
Advanced: 63 TS%, 61.3 EFG%, 22.9% Usage Rate, .264 WS/40, 12.0 BPM, +4.2 PIPM
After helping the French Under-16 National Team to a gold medal and claiming the tournament MVP back in 2014, it was clear Killian Tillie had the talent to rise through the ranks. Despite foot, ankle and knee injuries hampering his four-year college career, the 6-foot-10 combo big is finally ready to make that leap. In his last season with the Zags, Tillie was named First Team All-WCC.
In the various mock drafts around the web, you can find Tillie going anywhere from the 35th pick to the 55th pick. If he was to land in Minnesota, it would be with their second-rounder (33) or perhaps if they trade back into the second round.
For a player who projects to play at either big man position in the pros, Tillie has just about the silkiest stroke you’ll find in the 2020 class. Over the course of his four years in Spokane, the Frenchman shot 100-239 (44.4%) from behind the arc. That includes 47.9 percent on 2.6 attempts in sophomore year, 43.8 percent on 2.1 attempts in his junior year and 40 percent on a career-high 3.8 attempts per game in his senior year, per Sports Reference.
He doesn’t have much creation as a pull-up or off-dribble shooter, but Tillie excels as a catch-and-shoot bomber. His buttery mechanics immediately stand out when you watch the 22-year-old let it fly, with perfect feet and body balance, a quick release and a clear intention to always stay shot-ready.
You will likely see Tillie used heavily in pick-and-pop action in the NBA, just as he was for the Bulldogs. He isn’t a bruising screen-setter, but even without making contact to free his teammate, he is super light on his feet and spins into the open space with expert technique. Combine that with his ability to launch into his shot instantaneously and it makes for high-level pick-and-pop projections.
Tillie ranked in the 79th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations nationwide with 1.51 points per possessions (PPP) and 75th percentile (1.00 PPP) on all jump shots. With increased volume and experience, it’s not hard to imagine him becoming a deadly shooter in time.
Outside of screening actions, Tillie has had rare flashes of off-movement shooting ability, but his mobility — which is still impressive for a lumbering big man — isn’t quite at the level that allows him to run off screens and tire out his man on the perimeter. However, he does have real potential to nail triples as a trailing big.
He also can run the floor and get early position inside, but when he is slower to get up the court, you simply cannot leave him with this much space to fire. In the NBA, he should get his fair share of these trailing trifectas.
We all know shooting is such an important skill set for a big man to have in today’s NBA, and Tillie projects to be truly effective in that area.
At Gonzaga, head coach Mark Few has consistently enabled one of the best offenses in the country, and that was no different this season. They finished at the top of the pile in offensive efficiency and ranked 3rd in the Associated Press Top 25 when play was cancelled.
While they excelled in a bunch of areas on both ends of the floor, one of the key reasons that offense hummed was Tillie’s ability to facilitate from the top of the key and the high-post. Already a threat as a scorer, the 22-year-old’s knack for getting teammates involved and making the correct read elevated his game to another level.
At first glance, Tillie’s 1.9 helpers per game are fairly uninspiring. However, to do so in under 25 minutes a night is, historically, not so easy to do. Of all forwards who have been drafted to the NBA since 2011, Tillie ranks in the 78th percentile for assists per 40 minutes, the 68th percentile in assist percentage and the 96th percentile in turnovers per 40 minutes, per NBA Draft Comp.
The primary way Few gets his French stud involved as a passer is to run high-low post action. This sees Tillie catch the ball at the nail or top of the key and dish to his fellow big man on the low-block. Tillie has fantastic touch on these types of passes, which are required to be inch-perfect to avoid the turnover.
With post-up plays diminishing by the year, high-low sets are an uncommon theme in current NBA landscape, but that doesn’t mean Tillie can’t use his top-of-the-key vision in more modern ways. In these two examples, you can see how he uses his height to survey the court from above the defender and pick out the perfect pass to a cutter. This is a handy skill to possess with present-day floors being stretched to the maximum, providing cutters with more space than ever.
Despite his ability to find cutters and post-ups consistently, Tillie didn’t thrive as a short roll passer to corners or teammates in the dunker’s spot or a playmaker from the post. However, with his touch, vision and decision-making all at an advanced level, it seems unlikely he won’t continue to develop in those areas.
He isn’t — and probably won’t ever be — at the level of a Nikola Jokic or a Marc Gasol, but Tillie has the potential to reach a level just below those top-tier guys. As we’ve seen with the aforementioned bigs, there is real upside to having a big who can set the table and sparingly run an offense through.
- Post Game
He isn’t going to bully guys down low and live at the rim, but Tillie’s feathery touch and above-average footwork translate from the perimeter to the block. A low center of gravity and a strong/wide frame assist him in getting and keeping position, but it’s his ability to finish in a variety of different ways that give one incentive to buy Killian Tillie post stock.
The former Zag flashed the ability to work into the middle or along the baseline, often finishing from either block with either hand. Obviously, the NBA is a different beast in terms of strength and technique defensively, but you can see how easily Tillie turns this 20-foot catch into a deep post opportunity.
From there, the footwork on the spin is solid and, despite the hand remaining in his face, he is able to knock down an effortless right hand hook.
Overall, Tillie scored 1.15 PPP on post-ups, good for the 85th percentile nationwide. In this example, the shimmy and threat of that baseline spin throws his defender off-kilter, allowing Tillie to get back to the middle and hit a silky turnaround jumper. Again, observe the early positioning and then footwork to create space.
With his 3-point proficiency and the dying art form of the post-up, it’s unlikely Tillie will spend a lot of time on the block when he takes the leap to the big leagues. There is simply too much value in having him as a pick-and-pop big who can create advantages as a passer to have him stuck under the hoop.
However, it’s nice to see that the big man has more layers to his offensive game. It’s unsurprising, though, as you don’t get to be 6th in the country in offensive box plus/minus without a multifaceted skill set.
At 6-foot-10 with a fairly short wingspan and a bulky, slow-footed athletic profile, it’s hard to see Tillie ever becoming the sort of defender who changes games and builds a wall around the rim. Although, with his high basketball IQ, strong frame and excellent technique and feel for the game, expect him to become a sneaky plus defender as he matures into an NBA player.
Unlike some of the less technically adept players in the 2020 class, Tillie won’t send back shots as an athletic, rim-protecting help-side defender. What he will do, though, is provide solid awareness of a team concept and defensive smarts that extend beyond just the basic defensive package.
Tillie is prone to struggles as a drop scheme defender in pick-and-roll coverage, where his athletic deficiencies and wingspan can be exploited by quick and crafty guards. When he is allowed to get out and bother ball-handlers in hedging systems, he tends to make his mark felt more often. Tillie has good hands and moves his feet well despite his size, which can lead to impressive and successful traps like this.
Forcing a turnover is the high-end outcome for a hedge, but Tillie has shown the uber-important ability to recover back to his rolling opponent after getting out on the perimeter and providing the ball-handler with something to think about. In this example, he expertly back-peddles to the roll man, before rotating off again and providing copybook verticality on the shot contest.
As a post defender, Tillie is again solid-yet-unspectacular. He isn’t going to make a ton of defensive plays, but he will hold his ground and rarely give up an easy deuce. According to Synergy Sports’ defensive metrics, which contain as much noise as any defensive statistic, Tillie gave up 0.75 points per possession as a post defender, grading him in the 65th percentile.
This stifling of Oregon sophomore Francis Okoro is a nice example of Tillie’s defensive upside on the block. You can see how he bodies up, moves his feet well to mirror Okoro’s movements and gets a hand up at the right time, all while avoiding making contact to the arm and causing a foul.
Of course, he isn’t the perfect defender, and you don’t want Tillie heavily involved in a switching concept. He can hold his own at times, but he doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence when he is left on an island against a guard. Here, he transfers his weight onto his heels and gets frozen by the hesitation, which is enough for any guard — even at the collegiate level — to torch him and force the defense into rotation.
With his offensive expertise looking like it could help any NBA team, Tillie doesn't need to be an elite defender to make himself super-valuable as a rotation player. It looks like he has a good shot at maintaining neutral-to-plus defense, which would be a big win for whatever team he ends up with on draft night.
Before you examine what he can and can’t do on the hardwood, you must first acknowledge the extensive and worrying injury history that lurks in Tillie’s past. After staying relatively healthy during his freshman season with Gonzaga, the injury bug hit the Frenchman hard and often.
It started with a hip pointer ailment, which not only derailed his sophomore campaign, it squashed any hopes he had of being drafted after a breakout season. Things only got worse in his junior year, where a stress fracture in his ankle and a partially torn plantar fascia limited him to only 15 games and zero starts. Preventative knee surgery in the offseason before his senior year added to his injury tally, and recurring ankle sprains and knee soreness have plagued him to boot.
It’s never promising to see a big man with such an extensive injury history, especially when they are knee, ankle and foot problems. Hopefully, he can stay healthy for the bulk of his NBA career, but his second-round projections likely have a lot to do with teams fearing the worst.
- Getting To The Rim
Despite his well-rounded offensive game, there is one glaring flaw for Tillie: his inability to get all the way to the rim and finish when attacking closeouts or diving to the rim in the pick-and-roll.
Tillie is far more mobile than meets the eye, but he isn’t a burst player, which allows defenders to stay with him and funnel into rim-protectors. It’s unlikely he will be asked to slash or even be a high-volume roll man in the NBA, so this isn’t the biggest issue, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.
He makes the shot here, so it’s not the perfect example, but you can see how Tillie settles for the runner instead of using his big body to get to a more efficient part of the floor. Getting the hard-closing defender to fly past with the nifty pump-fake is awesome to see, but relying on floaters when you’re close to 7-foot is a concerning practice.
His aversion to rim pressure directly impacts how often Tillie gets to the line for freebies. His free throw rate of 27.0 percent is well below-average and hinders some of his offensive upside. In terms of points per possession, free throws are the most efficient shot in the league, and missing out on them is a detriment to any team’s offense. He will likely get by without becoming a force at the rim, but if Tillie enhances his ability to provide rim pressure, he will significantly boost his upside.
Fit With Minnesota
Tillie’s fit with the Timberwolves depends on where you envision Tillie playing position-wise. As a center, his shooting, playmaking and defensive soundness could easily springboard him into an effective backup and potentially a better player than the incumbent Naz Reid from day one.
He would slot seamlessly into the five-out system that sees Karl-Anthony Towns operate from the top of the arc. Tillie’s shooting gravity would draw defenders and open up the floor for cutters and other shooters, while his passing would take some pressure off the Wolves’ guards. However, if the Timberwolves see him as a power forward, it makes less sense. President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas has been stern about his one guard-three wings-one center outlook, and likely won’t waiver for a second-round prospect.
If they do think he can fit and end up snagging him on draft night, Wolves fans should be excited about Tillie’s skill set and overall potential.