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2020 NBA Draft Coverage: Three Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

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Three impact players who could fly under the radar on draft night

Michigan State v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz may only have one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but they love to find ways to claim overlooked players during every offseason. In the last Draft, the Jazz traded for both Jarrell Brantley and Miye Oni during the second round.

In every NBA draft, there are players who are overlooked. Sometimes they’re undersized, sometimes they’re too raw, and sometimes they just don’t catch the attention of the NBA scouts. Whatever the reason, they are drafted far later than they should be, and they make the teams who picked them look really smart. Here are some of my favorite picks to the surprises of the 2020 NBA Draft, and potential targets for the Jazz.

Xavier Tillman Sr.

Age: 21

Position: PF/C

Height: 6-8

Weight: 250 lbs.

Wingspan: 7-1

Strengths

Xavier Tillman is a rare player. He has a combination of skills that few of his size possess. He is an elite defensive presence, a high level finisher at the basket, and a remarkable passer from the F/C position.

Tillman’s ability to either finish at the rim or make a quick pass to a shooter makes him a serious threat in the pick and roll at the NBA level. He has the skills and footwork to get shots for himself if well defended on the roll, and he has the vision and IQ to make quick passes to shooters in the short roll. Tillman’s passing ability really sets him apart from other big men in this draft. He can pass from the roll, in transition, from the post, and even a bit as a ball handler himself.

Defensively, Tillman is a monster. He was awarded the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year last season, as he averaged a very impressive combination of 2.1 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 10.3 rebounds per game. Tillman is a smart player who sees the plays develop and rotates accordingly. He is a very strong team defender while also showing high level ability as an individual defender against many different types of big men.

Weaknesses

The main drawbacks against Tillman are his size and his shooting. At 6-8 many see him as too small to play at the center position. While he certainly plays big and doesn’t back down to a challenge, there aren’t many NBA centers his size. His shooting, or lack thereof, then becomes a problem if he is playing as a power forward. His measly 26% on 50 three point shot attempts last year certainly leaves something to be desired. His career 69.5% from the free throw line isn’t awful, and his form looks decent, so there may be avenues for growth in that area, but I certainly wouldn’t expect him to be a high level shooter any time soon. These are valid concerns.

Verdict

It is certainly no guarantee that Tillman reaches his potential. Players who can’t shoot well from the outside need to truly stand out in other areas in order to survive in the NBA. Xavier Tillman has the tools to do just that. Tillman could be a high level impact player, and even maybe an unconventional star in the NBA, if he is given the right fit of teammates and coaching. He could be a Draymond Green/Marc Gasol hybrid that truly fits in the modern NBA.

Ty-Shon Alexander

Age: 22

Position: PG/SG

Height: 6-4

Weight: 195

Wingspan: 6-8

Strengths

Ty-Shon Alexander is a winning player. He fits the mold that is so often talked about of a player who will leave it all out on the floor. He is a scrappy defender who forces turnovers and gets under the skin of his opponents. You may see Ty-Shon deflect a pass and then rotate to the rim and block a shot in the same play. Watching him play defense at Creighton might even remind you of Marcus Smart when he was in college.

Outside of Alexander’s defense, his shooting ability is the next thing that is drawing attention from NBA teams. Shooting 39.9% from three last year, Ty-Shon certainly fits on paper as a 3 and D combo guard. He has a fluid and smooth shooting stroke, and has raised his shooting percentages in each of his three years at Creighton. He has shown the ability to shoot at a high level, not just in catch & shoot situations, but also off movement, in dribble hand-offs, and even off the dribble. Ty-Shon showed he can both score in the pick & roll, and make timely passes to the roll man, particularly lobs for above the rim finishes.

Weaknesses

Ty-Shon Alexander draws that same criticism that many sleepers do. He is too small. He plays like a wing, but in a league dominated by big wings like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard, he may be too small to play that position. This means he projects as a guard in the NBA, and that raises the question of whether he has the scoring and creating chops to really carve out a role for himself. Alexander showed a tendency to make poor decisions at times in college play. He was turnover prone and had questionable shot selection. NBA teams will wonder if he can improve in those areas, because if he can’t, he could have a hard time finding rotation minutes.

Verdict

Ty-Shon could become a starting level 3 and D guard in the NBA. He could be game changing perimeter defender, and a knock-down shooter. He could also struggle to find a place as a guard who isn’t a great ball handler or passer. He is definitely worth a second round pick. So much comes down to fit for players like Ty-Shon, but if he can find the right fit, he could be seen as the steal of the draft.

Killian Tillie

Age: 22

Position: PF/C

Height: 6-10

Weight: 220

Wingspan: 6-11

Strengths

Killian Tillie is a shooter. He is the ideal stretch four or stretch five. He shot over 40% from three in all four seasons at Gonzaga, with a career average of 44.4%. Tillie is an elite pick and pop big. He knows where he needs to be, and he can get his shot of quick. He is comfortable spotting up in the corners, on the wings, and at the top of the key. If defenders chase him off the line, he’s comfortable driving to the basket and finishing in traffic.

Tillie is a polished scorer. He has a deep arsenal of pull-ups, floaters, hook shots, turn-around jumpers, and strong finishes. He displays touch that is rare among bigs, and even rarer among college bigs. He has underrated guard skills, with a decent handle he sometimes displayed in transition.

Tillie projects to be a positive defender. He has shown ability to protect the rim, and he has impressive skills as a perimeter defender when switched onto wings and guards. He should be able to fit with just about any team. There is no doubt that Killian has first round talent.

Weaknesses

Has he sounded too good to be true? With the talent that Tillie has, there must be some catch, some reason why he is projected to go in the second round, right? Well, there is. During his four years in college basketball, Tillie suffered through a knee surgery, a torn ligament in his foot, a stress fracture in his ankle, multiple sprained ankles, a broken finger, and a hip injury. NBA teams rightfully worry that he may not be durable enough to use a first round pick on him. He’s always been able to come back from injury and produce, but with his already limited athleticism, teams may be reluctant to take a chance on him.

Outside of his injury history, there are also questions about his athleticism, his rebounding, and his inability to use his left hand. If he is played as a forward, alongside a true big man, he may be able to get away with unimpressive rebounding numbers. But if a team plans to run him at the five, he’ll need to learn to improve in that area.

Verdict

There seems to be one or two players in every draft that are in a situation like this. They have loads of talent, but their injury history scares teams off. Last year it was Michael Porter Jr. While he seems to have worked out so far, it was no guarantee that would be the case. This year, it’s Killian Tillie. If he manages to stay healthy, then some team just got themselves a first round talent with a second round pick. If not, he may be out of the league before too long.