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Xavier Tillman becoming a solid pro in Year 3 with the Grizzlies

Xavier Tillman cannot be stopped.

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Xavier Tillman
© Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier Tillman has been on fire over the past couple of weeks, putting up some career numbers. Will we see this continue?

The NBA isn’t kind to everyone, especially second-round picks or undrafted free agents, Xavier Tillman has found a way to excel.

Selected No. 35 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Grizzlies, Michigan State fans were elated to see Tillman join his best friend and former Spartan Jaren Jackson Jr. in Memphis. The Grizzlies could have an all-MSU frontcourt, but that would be based on Tillman growing into a legit pro.

Through his first two seasons, he was just a decent role player and nothing more. He averaged 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds on 56 percent shooting from the floor as a rookie and then his numbers dipped in year two, averaging 4.8 points and 3.0 rebounds on 45 percent shooting. There was doubt that he was going to grow into a legit starting-caliber big man for Memphis.

And then an opportunity presented itself on a silver platter in year three with Steven Adams getting hurt and a spot in the starting lineup opening up.

Tillman has seized the opportunity.

In fact, he’s been playing the best basketball of his young career in recent months, averaging 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds on 61 percent shooting in February before improving that to 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds on 64 percent shooting in March. Though he’s had a slow start to April (six points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes vs. the Bulls before dealing with a nagging injury), he’s really showing that he can be a legit starting piece on a contender.

Tillman is shooting an efficient 63 percent from the floor since the start of March and he’s playing really good defense. He’s a high IQ player, as we all know, and Memphis is 12-3 since March 9 with him playing big minutes.

Is Memphis a better team with Tillman starting instead of Adams? That’s not clear as Adams is the superior rebounder and one of the biggest bodies in the league, but Tillman has a better offensive presence and he has gelled really well with the rest of the starters.

We’re seeing Tillman become a legitimate starting-caliber pro and a starting frontcourt of him and Jackson Jr. is very possible moving forward.

Writer, co-owner of Spartan Shadows. Michigan State and college football expert at FanSided and formerly of The Detroit News. Expert on all things Michigan State. Connor Muldowney has written about Michigan State since graduating from the university with a degree in journalism back in 2013. Ten years of experience as a Michigan State writer/reporter.

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