Xavier Tillman Sr. fell to the 35th pick in last year's NBA Draft because nothing he does leaps off the page, grabs your collar, and shouts in your face. But not being extraordinary at any one thing does not preclude one from being very good at most things. And that's what Tillman, a 6-foot-8 power forward enjoying his first extended run with the Memphis Grizzlies, brings to the floor each and every night.
An ability to do a little of everything slightly better than you expected him to do it.
He briefly enjoyed the first double-double of his burgeoning NBA career last night until a stat correction left him with 10-point, nine-rebound final line. There will be plenty more in the future, especially if he proves himself capable of playing more and in key minutes. Which I'm supremely confident he will.
Through 10 games, there is a lot to like. His stifling defense carried over from his Michigan State days, as has his ability to guard at least four, possibly five positions. Here he is in isolation against Chris Paul, more than holding his own.
Tillman is certainly nowhere near a fully realized weapon on the offensive end, but he's managed to come out of the gate as a reliable option, averaging 8.5 points per game in just over 21 minutes. Though there is much work to be done perfecting an outside shot, Tillman is converting on 55 percent of his attempts from the field, and has made 29-of-48 (.604) since Jan. 11.
It's entirely unfashionable to brand someone a winning player, but that's exactly what Tillman was in East Lansing. He does things that don't necessarily show up in the stat sheet yet are intensely helpful. It has to mean something that he's been on the plus side of the plus-minus in 90 percent of his early action.
Memphis looks like a viable contender in the Western Conference. If the season ended today — and honestly that's something that could happen in the COVID world — they'd have homecourt advantage in the first round. Ja Morant is well on his way to becoming an All-NBA talent and the team features incredible depth, as evidenced by no fewer than 11 players average at least 8 points per contest. They'll also get Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. back before the spring.
Of course, that could mean a reduction in Tillman's minutes. But what a blessing to have him as one of the last guys off the bench. In some ways he's showing the same DNA as someone from the Spurs dynasty who is incredibly competent and then elevates their game for a bit in the postseason or when pressed into further duty.
All of this to say, Tillman is progressing quite nicely. Ahead of schedule. Buy low and watch his stock soar.