Tillman Maximizing His Time With Memphis


Injuries are common place in the NBA, with the Memphis Grizzlies being no exception.

It’s how a team reacts after their roster has been ravaged with said injuries that can be quite informative.

How a team performs when their guys are down ultimately is indicative of an organization’s ability to develop their players.

Memphis has long since familiarized themselves with the ‘Next Man Up Mentality’. Look no further than last year.

The thing is, if a team’s reserves aren’t serviceable, you can throw this way of thinking out the window. If there’s a significant drop in talent, whoever is designated this ‘Next Man Up’, typically falls flat on their face.

Thank goodness this isn’t the case with Xavier Tillman Sr.

In fact, there may not be a better reserve on the roster than Memphis’ third year man out of Michigan State.

A reserve is defined as “a supply of a commodity not needed for immediate use but available if required”.

When you wind up being the tenth or eleventh guy in the rotation like Tillman, this is exactly the need you fill on a roster. Not needed for immediate use? Check. Available if required? Also check.

What’s so interesting about what X has done during his time in Memphis is two-fold.  He has not only perfecting the Grizzlies’ 11th spot on the roster, but he’s also solidifying his worth to this organization.

As the season lengthens, the odds of a team losing a player to injury increases. Lucky for Memphis, they are in better shape than most when it comes to weathering any sort of health distress during the season.

Tillman is a big reason why.

He’s proven time and time again that when the Grizzlies call his number, you best bet he’ll be ready to produce.

When The Lights Are Brightest

After being selected 35th overall in the 2020 draft, Tillman wasted little time before getting to work.

In his rookie season, he averaged 6.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18.4 minutes per game. The numbers during his sophomore season would also hover right around this line (4.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists across 13.2 minutes per contest).

With the Grizzlies reaching the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, however, it would be his postseason performances that would stand out. Specifically what he was able to do against Minnesota in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

Realizing after one game that playing Steven Adams against the Timberwolves would not be an option, Coach Jenkins readjusted on the fly. Ultimately this would lead to increased minutes for Tillman and Brandon Clarke.

The results? Well, Memphis won the series against the T-Wolves in five games. X averaged 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds over 15.6 minutes per game that series.

These stats don’t tell the entire story, however.

I was lucky enough to be in attendance for the Game 2.

When I tell you the energy Tillman brought to this series was unmatched by any single member of this roster, that’s not an over-exaggeration. The pop X received each time he saw the floor was unrivaled.

The beauty in this is that it always felt genuine. Fans are keenly aware of the time that Tillman puts in— there may not be a harder working guy on the roster.

X’s capabilities as a reserve — on any stage — are an absolute boon for the Grizzlies.

Putting In The Work

The primary reason Tillman maintains his quality of play is simple. He isn’t afraid to put in the work.

Is this an oversimplification of what X is doing? No doubt. Regardless, his work ethic and desire to improve is unlike any other player on this roster.

Heck, it may be unlike any other player in the league for goodness sakes.

I mean have you ever heard of a player requesting G-League reassignment? Cause I haven’t. Yet, before the start of the season that’s exactly what X did.

The level of maturity exhibited here is fascinating.

Not only is Tillman aware of his place on this roster, but he’s clearly accepting the role as well. Additionally, he’s smart enough to know how to hone his craft.

For X, that meant taking his game to Southaven.

A G-League reassignment could be misconstrued as a demotion for a third-year player. It’s unfortunate, because if utilized correctly, a player can easily work towards developing their game.

Xavier Tillman should honestly be the G-League poster child.

The way X sees it, “If we don’t have a game that day, I can definitely go down there and play and get some good minutes. And that’s been a blessing for me to just, honestly, keep my flow of playing.”

He makes it sounds so simple, doesn’t he?

During his time with the Hustle, Tillman was able to hone in on his intangibles while also expanding his game as a whole. In his five-game stint with the G League this season, X averaged 17.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks over 30.7 minutes per game.

Tillman used his time in Southaven to maximize his skill and potential. Other reserves league-wide should follow his lead.

Available If Required

Xavier Tillman knows his function on this Grizzlies team.

Take it straight from the horse’s mouth: “When I got my opportunity called — like now due to injury — I was ready to go and ready to help the team in all ways.”

For his part, he’s yet to be surprised when that opportunity came a knocking. On the season, X has already gotten the start in twelve games.

All twelve of these starts came in relief of Steven Adams. The big Kiwi had been out of action since sustaining a knee injury on Jan. 22 in Phoenix.

While starting in replace of Adams, Tillman is averaging 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals across 27.8 minutes per game.

For comparison’s sake, Adams was averaging 8.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 blocks over 27.0 minutes per contest on the season before he went down.

This is hardly a major loss of production. On the contrary, take away the rebound numbers (Adams’ 5.1 OREB/game still ranks first in the league despite missing the last 17 games) and the production remains eerily similar regardless if its Adams or Tillman seeing the floor.

Don’t expect with Steve-o missing more time things will be much easier on X, though.

With Memphis losing Brandon Clarke for the rest of the season to an Achilles tear, expect for opportunity to keep on knocking elsewhere too. The driving force of the Grizzlies’ bench, Clarke was averaging 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists over 19.5 minutes per game before going down.

Again, not a significant dip in production at all.

Memphis’ roster is thin when it comes to their bigs. As this newest rash of injuries depletes the roster further, Tillman remains poised to answer should opportunity knock.

A Chance For Tillman To Show His Quality

As Xavier Tillman nears the end of his three-year contract, he’s done well prioritizing his time in the league. Wisely, he took the time and the effort to prove his worth to Memphis.

Because of this, the Grizzlies will have a couple options to consider.

Elect to pick up the fourth-year team option on his contract? They’d be wise to do so. The cost vs. the value that exists within the team option is extremely desirable. Picking up the fourth year of X’s contract would only cost the Grizzlies $1,930,681.

Deciding to go this route will give them until Jun. 29 to settle on a decision.

If Memphis doesn’t reach a resolution by this date? Tillman will walk. They’ll lose him during free agency, and they’ll lose him for nothing. It would be a critical blow to the roster.

There’s no need for them to let it get this far. We have several instances of X not only rising to the occasion, but putting in the work to ensure that he’s able to do so.

He’s one of the hardest workers on the roster, and maintains a level of professionalism regardless of what Memphis may ask of him.

Every single team in the NBA should covet players like Xavier Tillman. If you can fill out the fringes of your roster with players in his vein, why would you not?

X continues to prove his worth to this team with every opportunity he’s able. He’s clearly not going to make things easy for Memphis.

His play will make this decision tough. And as it should.

Capitalizing on every start, Tillman has made himself an indispensable piece of this roster’s future plans.

Grit, grind and heart make this guy the bane of the opposing team’s existence. Show out for Bluff City with this Desmond Bane Memphis Grizzlies 2022 City Jersey Bobblehead. Shop here today and take 15% off at checkout with ‘LSM15’.

About Luke Hatmaker

Luke is based out of Nashville, TN where he lives with his cat, Dr. Alan Grant. In addition to contributing to Grizz Lead, he is one of the hosts of the No Bluffin' Podcast for the Grizz 901 Podcast Network and is also a cast member the RPG Radio Show Podcast.

    Recommended for you

    Powered by