NBA

3 Undrafted Free Agents Who Will Make an Impact in the NBA

y-Shon Alexander #5 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the basket during a college basketball game against the Georgetown Hoyas at the Capital One Arena on January 21, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

After the Bucks selected Sam Merril at the 60th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the formal draft ended after an exciting night. However, for many undrafted prospects, the night had just begun. Teams began to sign undrafted free agents to two-way contracts as soon as the draft concluded. With many talented players going undrafted, franchises will find excellent value out of these low-risk contracts. The player also gets a great chance to prove their worth on the big stage. It is a win-win in most situations; just ask the Toronto Raptors and Fred VanVleet. Here are three undrafted free agents that will make an impact for their team this season.

Killian Tillie, F/C, Memphis Grizzlies

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Killian Tillie (33) during the NCAA basketball game against the Pepperdine Waves on Jan. 4, 2018 at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, Calif.
Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire

The Memphis Grizzlies have been building one of the best, young core of players for a few years now. Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, and Dillon Brooks are some of the Grizzlies’ most encouraging draft picks to date. They made two selections in the actual draft with TCU shooting guard Desmond Bane and Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman. However, the biggest value may have been with the signing of undrafted free agent Killian Tillie.

Tillie, a senior out of Gonzaga, was projected to go mid to late second round before the draft. After all sixty picks, Tillie remained on the board and thus became a free agent. The Grizzlies quickly scooped him up and signed him to a two-way contract. 

Tillie enjoyed a productive four years at Gonzaga, especially in his sophomore and senior years. A member of the All-WCC team this past season, he averaged 13.6 points per game, five rebounds, and shot 40% from 3. At 6’10, 220 pounds, his ball-handling is above average, and he makes good decisions with the ball. On defense, he moves his feet well when defending the pick and roll. Tillie only allowed 0.30 points per isolation possession on defense, which ranked in the 95th percentile. 

Concerns with Tillie

Durability concerns are one of the primary reasons that Tillie fell out of the draft. In his four seasons with Gonzaga, Tillie missed 38 games. His various injuries over the years include a knee injury that required surgery, a stress fracture in his ankle, and multiple torn ligaments in his foot. 

Teams were also concerned about his ability to match up with the most physical centers in the NBA. The post defense is less of a concern than the injuries. In today’s NBA, defending on the perimeter is more critical than post defense as a center as the game continues to expand beyond the arc. 

Current Roster Fit

The Grizzlies’ current center, Jonas Valunicunas, is a more traditional, back to the basket center. Tillie can come in alongside Brandon Clarke and provide a different dimension for the Grizzlies. His ability to create will also be valuable in a team that has many shooting threats in addition to Tillie. 

Tillie is very similar to Milwaukee center Brook Lopez and Washington forward Davis Bertans. Both Lopez and Bertans are big men who can stretch the floor for their respective teams and play competent defense. Lopez signed a four year, 52 million dollar contract with the Bucks last offseason. Bertans signed a five year, 80 million dollar contract with the Wizards this offseason. The market for players like Tillie in the NBA is a lucrative one, and Tillie has the opportunity to be the next big man to sign a big deal.

Ty-Shon Alexander, SG, Phoenix Suns

Creighton Bluejays guard Ty-Shon Alexander (5) passes into the post during the men's college basketball game between the Butler Bulldogs and Creighton Bluejays on January 5, 2019, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Like the Grizzlies, the Suns have made many great moves throughout the offseason. The headliner was the trade to acquire veteran point guard Chris Paul. Paul and Suns star shooting guard Devin Booker immediately become one of the best backcourts in the entire league. Phoenix also made a lottery selection, selecting Maryland big man Jalen Smith at the number 10 slot. However, the Sun’s acquisition of undrafted free agent Ty-Shon Alexander should not go unnoticed. 

Alexander Draft Profile

A shooting guard out of Creighton, draft analysts projected Alexander to go in the second round of the draft. After getting limited time in his freshman season, Alexander flourished when given more opportunity. In his final two seasons at Creighton, Alexander averaged 16.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and shot an outstanding 38% from three on 7.2 attempts. 

On top of his offensive output, Alexander is an outstanding defender. When defended by Alexander, opponents shot a porous 30.3% from the field. He plays with intensity and can defend the pick and roll very effectively. Myles Powell, a shooting guard for Seton Hall, was one of the most prolific scorers in the entire country this season. In two conference games against Crieghton, in which Powell was guarded primarily by Alexander, Powell averaged some of his worst numbers of the season. Alexander limited Powell to just 13.5 points per game on 31% from the field and 17.6% from 3.

The main knock on Alexander was his lack of playmaking ability. On the Suns, this deficiency will be hidden by the surrounding talent. Paul and Booker will be the primary ball handlers on the team. This means Alexander will be able to play to his strengths: spot-up shooting and playing solid defense. Alexander will be a valuable piece for the Suns as Phoenix looks to make a run at the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference. 

Nate Hinton, SG, Dallas Mavericks

Houston Cougars guard Nate Hinton (11) towers over Cincinnati Bearcats guard Jarron Cumberland (34) as he attempts a second half finger roll during the basketball game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and Houston Cougars on February 10, 2019 at the Fertitta Center in Houston, Texas.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

The Mavericks had one of the best classes in the entire league. Selections of Josh Green, Tyrell Terry, and Tyler Bey will significantly boost the Maverick’s championship aspirations. Dallas also signed Houston shooting guard Nate Hinton as an undrafted free agent. Hinton slides in perfectly alongside the pieces the Mavericks already have on their roster.

Hinton is a team player through and through. He plays with high energy on the defensive end of the floor and uses his 6’7 wingspan to pester the ball handler. Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones, guards from the University of Memphis, are two of the highest-ranked guards in the entire country. In two conference games against Houston, both Ellis and Quinones had some of their lowest overall offensive output of the season. Hinton played a significant role in shutting down two very talented guards, harassing them all over the floor. 

Hinton averaged 10.6 points per game and shot 38% from 3 on 3.8 attempts in his last season at Houston. He crashes the boards hard on both ends of the floor. He averaged 8.7 rebounds per game and had 84 offensive rebounds through 31 games last season. 

Hinton struggles as a creator offensively. His ball-handling and shot-creating out of the pick and roll are limited. However, since Dallas already has a plethora of ball handlers, including Luka Doncic and fellow rookie Terry, Hinton can play to his strengths. The Mavericks recently traded away shooting guard Seth Curry. While Hinton won’t be able to replicate the shooting efficiency that Curry brought to the team, his defensive capabilities are already far superior to the undersized Curry. Hinton is in a position to be a key contributor to what is an ascending Mavericks team.

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