Xavier Tillman isn’t the youngest prospect in the country, as he just finished his junior season at Michigan State, and isn’t an elite athlete. All reasons why he isn’t viewed as a first-round prospect, but based on what he brings to the table, I think he deserves to be.
At 6’8 and 245 pounds with a 7’1 wingspan, Tillman won’t ever be an all-star, but he is THE biggest sleeper in this draft and can be a starter in this league. Let me explain why.
Tillman averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.2 steals per contest last season at Michigan State and does most of his damage in the pick and roll game. After setting a screen for the primary ball-handler, Tillman uses his light feet to roll to the basket, as he is very effective catching the ball after rolling off the screen, as he shot 68.1% around the basket down low on the season, and 79.4% on rolls to the basket.
He is very underrated with the ball in his hands, as he can put the ball on the floor for a few dribbles and get to the basket, but also uses the dribble to set up his best attribute to his game, in my opinion, his passing.
Big men who are plus playmakers are such a luxury to have, just ask the Heat, Warriors, and 76ers about their big men of Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green, Michigan State Alum, and Al Horford.
Being able to catch the ball from a guard after setting a screen for him and scoring is a must-have for teams, but big men who can catch the ball, put the ball on the floor and attract opponents and make the correct pass to an open teammate is rare and a game-changers. Tillman is in my opinion, the best passing big man in the draft. His high basketball IQ helps him succeed on not only the offensive side but on defense as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, he uses his high basketball IQ and quick hands to deflect balls in the passing lanes, and gets good positioning and has good timing to swat shots away. Like on offense, he’s also versatile on defense, as he is a big that can switch onto perimeter players and hold his own, as he has good lateral speed to do a solid job against guards and wings.
Bam Adebayo is a big than can switch onto guards on defense, and can put the ball on the floor and score on offense, but also provides a great passing ability. Tillman obviously isn’t as good of an athlete and has more limitations, but you’re getting a similar skillset from a big man at a second-round price, which is elite value.
From day one, he can be an immediate producer for a team like the Boston Celtics, who have a couple of late first-round selections, as he can switch onto guards and wings, and is dominant in the pick and roll on offense, attacking the basket, but also being a great passer out of the pick & roll.
He’s a smart, high IQ player, with a very high character that will give maximum effort each time he steps on the floor. For a guy that could be taken in the second round, Tillman can be a starter in this league, and be a glue guy for 10 plus years for an NBA team.
Sam Merrill is 24 years old, which is around four years older than my draft comparison for him, Tyler Herro. The age, lack of elite athleticism, and no NCAA tournament are all reasons why there are NO discussions of him being a first-round pick and is considered a second-round prospect, or even, potentially undrafted.
Why do I have him compared to Tyler Herro? Why do I think if there was an NCAA tournament he’d be considered a late first-round, early second-round prospect? Let me explain below.
Averaging 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in college, while shooting 41 percent from three, Merrill does everything you want a shooter to do. He can run off screens, dribble handoffs, and be a deadly spot-up shooter. But he’s more than just a shooter, like Tyler Herro, he can do those things well, but can also be a primary ball-handler and create open looks for not only himself, but his teammates.
He shot more jumpers off the dribble than he did off of the catch and shoot situation, and he is comfortable going left to right or right to left. He was also Utah State’s highest usage player and finished the season with a turnover rate of just 10.9, which is non-existent for a guy that had the ball in his hands as much as Merrill did. He’s a very solid decision-maker, rarely ever turning the ball over, with a 2.50 assist to turnover ratio.
Comparable to Tyler Herro, he can be a combo guard that can play off the ball, but he is more than a spot-up shooter. He has the ability to create with the ball in his hands and is a good decision maker passing the ball. But why do I think not having March Madness ruined his potential draft stock??
In the Mountain West tournament, Merrill averaged 27.7 points and hit the auto-bid clinching three beating San Diego State, who was 30-2 and a highly ranked team last season, led by another fan-favorite draft sleeper, Malachi Flynn. Winners of three in a row before the season stopped, beating the Aztecs, with their best player, Merrill going absolutely nuclear, Utah State could’ve potentially been a sweet 16 bound team in the tourney, on the back of Merrill, as he could’ve showcased why he’s a first-round talent.
You can never have enough shooting in the league, and Merrill gives you a guy that can be lethal off the ball like Tyler Herro but can also be effective putting the ball on the floor to create open looks for himself and others.
He will have defensive limitations like the likes of Herro and Duncan Robinson alike, but will see the floor just like them in the league, for doing what they can do shooting wise, and has a solid 6’5 205-pound frame to work with, as he won’t just be pushed around in the league. (Herro is 6’5 195 pounds)
Sam Merrill will be a name to watch on draft day and watch what he does in the summer league, as I guarantee you he will put on some great performances and get playing time in year one.
Lets play a little blind resume game:
Player A: 15.1 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.9 spg, 2.6 bpg 3pt%: 30.8 (Strength of schedule: 61)
Player B: 15.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.9 bpg 3pt%: 32.5 (Strength of schedule: 78)
Player A is Paul Reed, and player B is… Precious Achiwua. My question here is simple. How does Paul Reed, who did more against stronger competition, who’s just around three months older than Achiuwa, considered a second-round prospect, while Achiuwa is this young, exciting lottery selection, especially when they bring similar traits to the table? Let’s dig deeper into Reed’s game.
Reed is 6’9 220 pounds, with a 7’2 wingspan, and has the ability to be a versatile big man on both sides of the floor, inside and out. Active and athletic, Paul Reed is a menace on defense thanks to his speed, length, and athleticism.
He is most effective on help side blocks, but can also use his length and vertical pop to heavily contest, and even block some three-point shots. His athleticism and mobility allow him to make things difficult for guards and he excels at using his active hands to bat balls away. He can play the passing lanes, setting himself up for where he’s most effective on offense, which is in transition.
In a half-court setting, he has shown good flashes of being a player that can be successful on the perimeter, as he can put the ball on the floor some and has a solid handle to be able to score. He could be a mismatch with his speed and athletic ability against some NBA big men.
What we’ve talked about already is enough for most NBA teams, as they get a versatile defender that can switch anything and hold his own, and uses his athletic ability to be a mismatch problem on offense. He could have an upside of being a big man, however, who in his prime in the NBA, could average 15 points, 9 rebounds, and a steal, block, and assist per contest, if he continues to work on his shot, becoming much harder to guard on the perimeter, if teams have to worry about the three-ball.
Paul Reed is one of the most underrated prospects in the draft, who should be viewed as at least equal to the likes of Achiuwa and Jalen Smith.