San Antonio Spurs should consider Xavier Tillman with the 41st pick
By Dylan Carter
No team makes use of their second-round draft picks the way the San Antonio Spurs do and MSU forward Xavier Tillman would be a solid two-way prospect.
The San Antonio Spurs’ focus is and should be on first-round prospects with their first lottery pick in decades, but that doesn’t mean their scouting department can take it easy on late-round prospects. In an NBA Draft class that’s less top-loaded than a year ago, there seems to be tremendous draft value later in the first round and into the second round.
This is where Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman projects to fall in this year’s draft, putting him in a perfect position to be selected by the San Antonio Spurs at No. 41 overall. A 6-foot-8 forward with a high motor and great basketball IQ, Tillman plays with the heart and wit of a veteran at 21 years old.
Modernizing the roster is key in this draft as the silver and black slowly adapt to the times with their lineup choices. Adding a low-risk, high-floor prospect like Tillman to the roster is a great way to move forward without taking a complete swing on someone who may never pan out. At his baseline, Tillman is a great screen setter and off-ball facilitator who’s going to keep moving on both sides of the floor, positioning himself to make impact plays for his team.
Offensively, Tillman is a bit limited compared with many of his contemporaries. He’s great at finishing near the rim with succinct footwork and an array of post moves that he uses to gain position down low. Beyond that, Tillman is a wonderful pick-and-roll partner for his excellent screen-setting ability and anticipatory timing with his movements. If he can just work on his shot, which is barely a factor at this point, Tillman will be a fantastic pick-and-roll contributor.
Where Tillman can make his greatest impact for the San Antonio Spurs is on defense. Timing is key and Tillman is fantastic at it, serving as a weakside shot blocker and one-on-one defender who swatted 2.1 shots per game in his junior season. Beyond that, Tillmanstays active in passing lanes with deceptively quick hands that resulted in over a steal per game in his most recent season. While he’s not someone I necessarily want defending the perimeter, he’s capable of switching onto ball-handlers and keeping pace with them at the collegiate level.
What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with hustle. Tillman will be the first man to dive on the floor for a loose ball or leap out of bounds to save it in order to make a smart play. He’s someone who values winning just as the San Antonio Spurs do, assuring that his body will be put on the line to put his team in a position to succeed.
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That aspect of his game shines as a playmaker. Tillman isn’t necessarily the best ball-handler himself, but he reads the floor very well and rifles accurate passes to teammates from the forward position. He’ll be excellent at executing dribble handoffs as a pro, which we’ve seen become an increasingly critical play as Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat came within two games of an NBA title this season.
As part of their push to modernize the roster, the San Antonio Spurs need to be willing to take on players with unconventional skill sets. Tillman brings that with a high basketball IQ that makes him a valuable contributor to his team. Advanced statistics prove that he was the most valuable member of an MSU team that featured college basketball star, Cassius Winston. Tillman led his squad in Box Plus/Minus (12.6) and win shares (5.8) while posting a Defensive Rating that was 6.8 points per 100 possessions better than his team’s average.
Even if the San Antonio Spurs were to sign him to a two-way contract as they did with Quinndary Weatherspoon last year, it’d be a great way to get Tillman in the door and learning from the team’s development staff in Austin. When looking at Tillman’s raw skills and competitive willpower, it’s clear that a proper path toward NBA-level development is going to help him become an impactful rotation player down the line.
With a comparatively weak fonrtcourt, the San Antonio Spurs can’t miss with Tillman at No. 41.