Xavier Tillman Sr. on Adapting, Offseason Developing, and More | Michael Wallace Interview

Xavier Tillman Sr. on Adapting, Offseason Developing, and More | Michael Wallace Interview

Grizzlies Center Xavier Tillman Sr. talks to Grind City Media’s Michael Wallace about his biggest takeaway on how this team developed, developing in the offseason, being the youngest team, and transitioning from year 1 to year 2.

(0:00) Intros
(0:17) Biggest Takeaway on How the Team Developed
(1:00) Developing offseason
(1:41) Being a Young Team
(2:30) Transitioning From Year 1 to Year 2

Effort over ego with Xavier Tillman Sr.

On this week’s episode of Just Grizzlies, Kelcey is joined by Grizzlies sophomore Xavier Tillman Sr. who talks about the blur that was his rookie year, what he brings to the team, his mentality as he prepares for games and much more. He plays a game to test how well he know his teammates, and he then he opens up about why he’s deleted the Twitter app off of his phone.

Beyond Grit - S4:E1 | Hot Grizz Summer League ft. Jitty, X-Man, Des & The Rooks

Beyond Grit – S4:E1 | Hot Grizz Summer League ft. Jitty, X-Man, Des & The Rooks

In the season four premiere of #BeyondGrit, Coach Jenkins speaks on his philosophy of team development highlighting the growth of players John Konchar, Xavier Tillman, Desmond Bane, and rookies Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama.

MikeCheck: Grizzlies big men Tillman, Aldama using NBA summer stage to expand do-it-all ‘toolbox’

When he arrived as a second-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Xavier Tillman brought with him a reputation as one of the nation’s most rugged and effective defenders.

A year later, the former Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year is emerging as one of the more clutch offensive performers and playmakers among the Grizzlies’ young core.

So what’s been the source of Tillman’s encouraging transformation?

“Definitely development,” the Grizzlies’ rising second-year big man insists. “Just working day in and day out, and then having the coaching staff and the video guys always in my ear. They’re saying, ‘Take those shots. We want you to shoot those shots. We see you working day in and day out, so just be confident in it.’”

Tillman’s comfort level and confidence continues to grow as he rounds out his game with each opportunity he steps onto the court for the Grizzlies. Building on an encouraging rookie season during which he blossomed into a steady rotation role, Tillman is currently branching out as one of the leaders on the Grizzlies’ summer league team.

The burly, 6-foot-8 Tillman is no longer simply the big man setting vicious screens, snatching rebounds and banging in the post at the power forward and center positions. His voice as a vocal leader has always resonated, even during his rookie season when he played in 59 games, earned 12 starts and averaged 6.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot 55.9 percent from the field.

Just working day in and day out, and then having the coaching staff and the video guys always in my ear. They’re saying, ‘Take those shots. We want you to shoot those shots. We see you working day in and day out, so just be confident in it.’

Xavier Tillman

Tillman is using this summer league stint to showcase other aspects of his game as one of the team’s featured players. In his debut two weeks ago in Salt Lake City Summer League, Tillman had 11 points and 13 rebounds. He opened this week in Las Vegas at the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League with a team-high seven assists while initiating offense in a ‘point-center’ role.

And the offense continued to shine on Wednesday with another seven assists to go with three steals. Tillman has also knocked down timely shots, including three-pointers, during key stretches of the games Memphis has played in Salt Lake City and Vegas so far.

The playmaking responsibilities have been needed on a summer league team that lacks a traditional point guard. The Grizzlies have been using rising second-year shooting guard Desmond Bane at the point this summer, and have also used versatile wing player John Konchar on the ball. Grizzlies summer league coach Darko Rajakovic is seeing a mix of progress and growing pains as players adjust to different assignments in the spirit of development.

John Konchar looking for a pass
LAS VEGAS, NV – AUGUST 9: John Konchar #46 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball during the 2021 Las Vegas Summer League. Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images.

“It’s a challenge for them and it’s a challenge for me and my coaching staff,” Rajakovic said. “But at the same time, it’s fun to see those guys develop a little bit outside of their comfort level and go through some growing pains. It’s positive, and they’re expanding their boxes. And that’s what this is all about; it’s about player development and continuing their growth.”

More growth opportunities are in store this weekend as the Grizzlies face the Kings on Friday night and the Bulls on Sunday in Vegas. Memphis is coming off a 97-94 double-overtime loss to the Heat on Wednesday, but the outcome is hardly what these games are about in the summer.

But at the same time, it’s fun to see those guys develop a little bit outside of their comfort level and go through some growing pains. It’s positive, and they’re expanding their boxes. And that’s what this is all about; it’s about player development and continuing their growth.

Darko Rajakovic

For the Grizzlies, growth is measured by incremental progress within their development system. During summer league, sometimes a practice session behind closed doors can produce more breakthrough moments than the actual games on national television.

Those non-game days have been essential for the Grizzlies, who are working to expand the games of their returning roster players while also aggressively on-boarding their incoming rookie class. That latter group includes first-round picks Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama, who have pushed through two practices and two games in a span of five days already this week.

“It’s a whole new world,” Aldama said of his first taste of NBA summer league action. “Ziaire, he’s a great kid and he’s trying to help me out, and I’m trying to help him out. We’re both rookies, so everyone has been helping us. Summer league is really fast and different from what I’m used to. It’s a learning experience just to play games here and get used to the NBA world.”

For newcomers such as Aldama, the final first-round pick of last month’s draft, or young vets like Tillman, the NBA world this time of year is all about adjustments and adapting.

“When I’m in games, I’m just playing and doing what I do – I try not to think too much about it,” Tillman said. “And if I see something on film, I go out and try to correct it the next day.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Grizz Decimate Jazz Blue, Yves Pons & Romeo Weems Impress in Debut | NBA Summer League

Grizz Decimate Jazz Blue, Yves Pons & Romeo Weems Impress in Debut | NBA Summer League

Michael Wallace and Kelcey Wright Johnson discuss Xavier Tillman’s and Desmond Bane’s Summer League dominance coming in with NBA experience and rookies Yves Pons & Romeo Weems turning heads with notable debut performances against the Utah Jazz Blue. Mike and Kelcey then preview strategy and who to watch for in tonight’s matchup against a 1-0 Utah Jazz White.

(0:00) Grizz vs Jazz Blue
(0:55) Bane & Tillman
(4:11) Yves Pons
(4:50) Romeo Weems
(5:52) Jazz White Preview

Grizzlies 2021 Off-Season Outlook: Bigs ~ Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr, Xavier Tillman, BC

Grizzlies 2021 Off-Season Outlook: Bigs

Grind City Media’s Michael Wallace and Eric Hasseltine analyze the phenomenal outputs of Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr. rookie Xavier Tillman, and Brandon Clarke.

Grizzlies rookie Xavier Tillman on League Fits snubs, team's consistency | JUST GRIZZLIES Podcast

Rookie Xavier Tillman on LeagueFits snubs, team’s consistency

Xavier Tillman joins host Kelcey Wright Johnson to discuss how the team approaches the final week of games before the All-Star break. He also coughs up some information about what he’s learned about his teammates during the first half of the season, and who got the biggest League Fits All-Star snub.

Xavier Tillman

Passion & Personality with Xavier Tillman Sr.

On this week’s episode, Kelcey Wright Johnson is joined by rookie Xavier Tillman Sr. as he helps fans get to know his teammates better by describing their personalities one by one. He also chats about his lifelong friendship with Jaren Jackson Jr., and what he is passionate about outside of basketball.

MikeCheck: Bane, Tillman rotation impact ‘not surprising’ as Grizzlies rookies thrive in early roles

MEMPHIS – Hours of conversations, weeks of background checks and months of intense scouting and evaluation all culminated in a strong hunch.

But there still were no guarantees.

The meticulous work coach Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies front-office staff invested in trading into the first round of last fall’s NBA Draft – then moving up in the second round to acquire two top-35 picks – clearly displayed the confidence in who they were targeting.

But deep down, we knew these guys were going to be really good contributors. It’s hard to predict, but with all the studying we’d done . . . it’s not surprising they’re able to translate really well early on.

Taylor Jenkins

However, what the Grizzlies would get out of those prospects and how soon they’d get it were hardly a sure bet. But barely a dozen games into their NBA careers, rookies Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman are on a fast track to being high-impact rotation players.

With each game, high hopes for these rookies are transforming into loftier expectations.

“Honestly, it’s hard to predict when guys come into their rookie seasons,” Jenkins said of the impressions Bane and Tillman have made a month into their NBA careers. “But deep down, we knew these guys were going to be really good contributors. It’s hard to predict, but with all the studying we’d done . . . it’s not surprising they’re able to translate really well early on.”

An encouraging youth movement continues as the Grizzlies (5-6) aim to extend their winning streak to four games when they face the Timberwolves for the second time in three days. Memphis will try to sweep the set between the NBA’s youngest teams, with the Grizzlies (24.3) second behind only the Timberwolves (23.9) in average age of players on the active roster.

Desmond Bane against the Brooklyn Nets
MEMPHIS, TN – JANUARY 8: Desmond Bane #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on during the game against the Brooklyn Nets. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.

While Minnesota boasts the No. 1 overall pick in swingman Anthony Edwards, whose 12.5 points per game is second among all rookies in scoring, arguably no team in the league is getting more impact from its rookie class right now than Memphis.

Bane, the No. 30 and final pick of the first round, entered the two-game series in Minnesota this week essentially ranked second among rookies in three-point shooting. And Tillman, the No. 35 overall pick, was fifth in plus-minus impact among newcomers overall.

During the Grizzlies current win streak, Bane and Tillman have combined for nearly 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals the past three games. In Monday’s 101-91 win in Cleveland, they collectively shot 8-for-10 from the field. And during Wednesday’s 118-107 victory against the Timberwolves, Tillman and Bane helped spark a second unit that produced 50 bench points on a night the Grizzlies also set a franchise record with 80 points in the paint.

I just want to learn and improve every way I can. Whatever comes with that, comes with that. You can easily see areas where you need to improve. That’s my tool to get better.

Desmond Bane

The sample size is small, and it’s still early in the development process.

But progress is steady and trust is building.

The same stroke that allowed Bane to lead the Big 12 in three-point shooting at TCU last season has translated well to the NBA, where the 6-foot-6 swingman is shooting 46.3 percent from deep. Bane also opened his career by making multiple threes in six consecutive games, which was the second-longest streak to start a career in NBA history.

As an offensive threat, Bane’s playmaking and scoring contributions are desperately needed as the Grizzlies scramble to fill voids created by the injury absences of catalysts Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant in addition to veteran Justise Winslow. But the defensive strides Bane have made within the team’s concepts are what keeps him in the primary rotation each night.

“Coming into the season, I was just focused on learning and I didn’t really want to put any goals as far as accolades or numbers or anything like that,” Bane said. “I just want to learn and improve every way I can. Whatever comes with that, comes with that. You can easily see areas where you need to improve. That’s my tool to get better.”

Whereas Bane was basically a regular in the rotation from the outset, Tillman endured an early setback as he battled knee soreness that sidelined him after the first game of the preseason. Out of action for nearly three weeks, Tillman focused on improving his conditioning and embracing a demanding NBA treatment regimen.

I was able to see what I could bring to the table I felt we were missing. I knew, OK, we need guys who can get our guards open. So bet, I can come in and do that.

Xavier Tillman

As a former Big Ten Defensive player of the year and Sixth Man of the year at Michigan State, Tillman impressed the Grizzlies with his versatility on both ends of the court. His study habits, high basketball IQ and communication on the court allowed Tillman to carve out a role as soon as his body was healthy enough to return to the mix.

Over the last three games, Tillman has moved ahead of productive veteran Gorgui Dieng as the first big man off the bench. Having celebrated his 22nd birthday this week, Tillman is mature beyond his years in both his preparation for the game and his impact on the court. In the past week, he’s met the challenges of defending DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond and Karl-Anthony Towns – all elite-level NBA centers who are significantly bigger than Tillman.

And when you study winning basketball, they just make the right plays. Those guys have been solid contributors. They’re watching a lot of film, doing a great job of taking something they saw the day before and applying it the next game. That’s a good sign of development. They’ve gone out there on both ends and are making unselfish, team-oriented plays. And that’s why we’re excited about them steadily getting better.

Taylor Jenkins

“What helped me was that I was paying attention while I was out, I was locked in on what the team was doing offensively and what our schemes seemed to be defensively and where I could fit in,” Tillman said. “I was able to see what I could bring to the table I felt we were missing. I knew, OK, we need guys who can get our guards open. So bet, I can come in and do that.

“We need guys who can defensively communicate on ball screens and know what they’re supposed to do,” Tillman continued. “Bet, I can do that, too. Being a guy who paid attention and executed that when I got my opportunities.”

Xavier Tillman boxing out Jarrett Allen
MEMPHIS, TN – JANUARY 8: Jarrett Allen #31 of the Brooklyn Nets and Xavier Tillman Sr. #2 of the Memphis Grizzlies fights for position during the game. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.

At this rate of rookie production, those opportunities are likely to keep coming.

“Studying them in college, we knew they impacted winning,” Jenkins said of Bane and Tillman. “And when you study winning basketball, they just make the right plays. Those guys have been solid contributors. They’re watching a lot of film, doing a great job of taking something they saw the day before and applying it the next game. That’s a good sign of development. They’ve gone out there on both ends and are making unselfish, team-oriented plays. And that’s why we’re excited about them steadily getting better.”

So far, Bane and Tillman possess three key ingredients of the Grizzlies’ developmental recipe.

They arrived with the necessary grit.

They’re showing the ability to grind out games.

And there’s tremendous growth potential still ahead.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.