Xavier Tillman

Southwest Notes: Murphy, Williamson, Brooks, Tillman

Pelicans wing Trey Murphy tore the meniscus in his left knee in September, missing the first 19 games of New Orleans’ season. The injury was a major setback for a player who had increased his scoring average from 5.4 points per game in 2021/22 to 14.5 last season, establishing himself as one of the Pelicans’ key rotation pieces.

Murphy made his 2023 season debut on Friday, immediately picking back up where he left off. He scored 18 points in his return and helped the Pels to a 15-point victory over the Spurs.

He’s been a big part of our success the last two seasons,” coach Willie Green said, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. “We all were rallying for him to get on the floor and get back. It was like he didn’t miss a beat. Now it’s about building that chemistry with everyone on the team.

The Pelicans, who have dealt with a litany of injuries over the past few seasons, are getting healthier and healthier. The only rotation player currently dealing with a long-term injury is Larry Nance Jr., who is out four-to-six weeks, a far cry from what the injury report has looked like in season’s past.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson is expected to play in the team’s Saturday matchup against the Bulls, according to Green (Twitter link via ESPN’s Andrew Lopez). Lopez notes that this would be the first back-to-back Williamson has played this season. The two-time All-Star is averaging 23.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists this season.
  • The Rockets entered Friday tied for the fourth-best defense in the league, in large part to wing Dillon Brooks‘ contributions on the floor, according to The Athletic’s Kelly Iko. Iko breaks down Brooks’ unique approach to defense, including the fact that he guards players in an unconventional way — by clapping in their face. “I feel like everyone in the league knows I slap people’s hands on jump shots after the ball’s released,” Brooks told The Athletic.So it puts a thought in their mind that when I close out, you’re not getting a free shot. When they work out, they’re so used to following through. But when I close out, I like to mix in different things like that.
  • Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman played in Memphis’ Friday matchup with the Mavericks (Twitter link via team), playing 21 minutes and helping the Grizzlies to a 14-point win. Tillman had appeared in just one game since Nov. 3, so his return to the lineup is welcome for a Memphis team that won back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Southwest Notes: Kennard, Tillman, McCollum, Thompson, Eason

The Grizzlies, who have already been ravaged by injuries this season, got some more bad news on Monday. Wing Luke Kennard has a left knee bone bruise and will be reevaluated in two weeks, the team’s PR department tweets. Kennard was off to a slow start, but the Grizzlies will miss the perimeter threat of a 43.5% career 3-point shooter.

Meanwhile, Grizzlies big man Xavier Tillman is considered week-to-week as he recovers from a left knee injury. He’s averaging 9.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists this season.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • CJ McCollum remains out indefinitely due to a collapsed lung. Pelicans head coach Willie Green offered an update on McCollum on Monday, relayed by Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times Picayune (Twitter link). “They are still working it out with the doctors,” he said. “They want to make sure CJ gets to the floor healthy and safely. … Once they give us his timeline, we will know more. Right now, he can work out. But it’s really in their hands.”
  • Rockets rookie Amen Thompson, who has been out since Nov. 1 due to a right ankle sprain, is not close to returning, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Thompson has not been cleared to practice and the Rockets will gradually ramp up his activity until he’s ready to play.
  • Rockets forward Tari Eason is still being eased back into action after suffering a stress reaction in his left leg during the preseason, Feigen reports. He’s playing an average of only 17.2 minutes per night and has been limited in practices. That has prevented him from getting into a rhythm in the games he has played. “I feel all right,” said Eason, who sat out Monday’s game against Golden State. “Right now, we’re going to do injury prevention, stuff like that. So for me, it’s just been hard to get my groove, not be able to get certain extra reps and being able to play and practice. My only time to really be able to play basketball is in games.”

Grizzlies’ Marcus Smart Out 3-5 Weeks With Foot Sprain

Grizzlies guard Marcus Smart is expected to miss three-to-five weeks after being diagnosed with a left foot sprain, the team announced in a press release (via Twitter).

Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link) first reported that Smart is expected to miss multiple weeks as a result of the injury, which occurred during Tuesday’s loss to the Lakers. Smart left the game in the first quarter after landing on Austin Reaves‘ foot while contesting a shot (Twitter video link via Bally Sports).

Smart, 29, was acquired in a three-team trade this offseason that involved Boston and Washington. The 2021/22 Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 12.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals on .429/.295/.810 shooting in 11 games this season (29.9 minutes per night).

It’s a tough blow for the Grizzlies, who won 50-plus games each of the past two seasons but are currently 2-9 and rank last in the Western Conference. Injuries and a suspension have played a major part in that, and losing Smart certainly won’t help matters.

Luke Kennard also left Tuesday’s game early after sustaining a left knee bone bruise, and he has been ruled out for Saturday’s game in San Antonio (Twitter link via the Grizzlies). The sharpshooting guard led the NBA in three-point percentage the past two seasons.

The Grizzlies are particularly shorthanded at point guard, with Ja Morant out for the first 25 games of 2023/24 after being suspended multiple times in the past year. Derrick Rose has also been out since October 30 due to a left knee injury, but he’s officially listed as questionable for Saturday’s game, so he may be back soon.

The frontcourt is another area of the roster that has been decimated by injuries. Steven Adams is out for the year after undergoing season-ending knee surgery, while Brandon Clarke figures to remain on the shelf for most of the season after tearing his Achilles tendon in March. Xavier Tillman has missed four of the past five games with a left knee injury, and he’s out Saturday as well.

For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies could qualify for a second extra roster spot via a hardship exception, but that would require four players to have missed at least three consecutive games due to an injury or illness, with an expectation they’d remain sidelined for some time beyond those three games, and they don’t meet that criteria right now. Bismack Biyombo currently occupies the first extra spot after Morant was placed on the suspended list.

Two-way player Jacob Gilyard, a 5’9″ point guard, has started the past three games for Memphis and will likely continue to receive extended run until the Grizzlies get more reinforcements back.

Celtics Notes: Porzingis, Tournament, TPE, Queta

The Celtics are the NBA’s only unbeaten team and Kristaps Porzingis believes they’re just scratching the surface of how good they can become, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Boston underwent major roster changes during the offseason, but the adjustment has gone smoothly with several dominant performances on the way to a 4-0 start.

Himmelsbach notes that the new Big Three of Porzingis, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have outscored opponents by 33.2 points per 100 possessions in the 86 minutes they’ve been on the court together. They’ve also shown a willingness to be unselfish and let whoever has the hot hand on a given night take the most shots.

“We’re still building chemistry,” Porzingis said. “Even though we have some glimpses of really good plays and passes, we’re still building chemistry. I’m still catching up on the little nuances and little things that JT likes to do, that JB likes to do, and just still, like, figuring each other out, you know? It might look like it’s already really good because we’re just beating these teams easily, but it’s going to get much, much better.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Porzingis had plenty of experience with tournaments while growing up in Europe, and he believes the NBA’s new in-season tourney will eventually catch on with fans and players, Himmelsbach adds. “Although I know a lot of people are a little bit skeptical, I think it’s going to be a huge success and I look forward to hopefully winning it,” Porzingis said. Tournament play began throughout the league last night, but the Celtics won’t play their first round robin game until Friday at Brooklyn.
  • Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman could be a name to watch if the Celtics decide to use the $6.2MM traded player exception they generated in the Grant Williams deal, Brian Robb of MassLive suggests in a mailbag column. Tillman has a $1.93MM expiring contract and Memphis may decide to move him if the team can’t overcome its 0-6 start. Robb mentions Thunder forward Kenrich Williams, Pacers center Jalen Smith and Raptors center Precious Achiuwa as other possibilities who would fit into that TPE.
  • Neemias Queta will miss his third straight game tonight due to injury management for his right foot, per Souichi Terada of MassLive, but coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters it’s mostly a precautionary measure. Terada points out that Boston’s schedule has been light so far, and there will be a greater need for the two-way center once games start to stack up.

Southwest Notes: Wemby, Tillman, J. Williams, McCollum

The Spurs are expected to be very cautious with new franchise player Victor Wembanyama during his rookie season. He won’t be impacted by the league’s new player participation policy, which only applies to recent All-Stars and All-NBA players, which will give San Antonio more flexibility to hold him out of certain games if necessary. However, if it were up to him, Wembanyama would play all full 82-game schedule in 2023/24, as Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com details.

“Every game,” Wembanyama said. “If there’s no excessive risk for my health — of course I can’t predict the future — but I want to play every single game.”

The French phenom will open the season as the Spurs’ starting power forward alongside center Zach Collins, and the team has made developing the chemistry between the two big men a priority this month, notes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. The thinking is that Collins is more equipped to handle the physicality associated with the center position and that having him out there will help reduce the wear and tear on Wembanyama. Still, the 19-year-old is prepared for opponents to test his physicality, Lopez writes.

“Everyone has their strength, and being physical [with me] is something I’ve seen my whole life, basically every time I stepped on a court for the last few years,” Wembanyama said. “It’s not something I’m afraid of. Quickness beats physicality when used correctly. It’s really part of the game. I’m used to it.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Xavier Tillman is “probably a leader in the clubhouse” to start at center for the Grizzlies with both Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke sidelined, head coach Taylor Jenkins said on Tuesday, per Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. The fourth-year big man started 29 games at center last season and Memphis won 18 of them, though his role figures to look a little different this season, as Cole explains.
  • Jeenathan Williams made a positive impression on Rockets head coach Ime Udoka during training camp and the preseason, which helped him secure a promotion from his camp deal to a two-way contract, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). “He is a pretty natural, fluid scorer,” Udoka said. “He is a guy that played well in the G League last year and had a good stint at the end of the year with Portland. … He had a good summer with us as well. A guy that gives us a burst and we feel can play with many different lineups. And since he has come in, he has been one of the better guys with the second and third unit.”
  • Speaking to Sam Yip of HoopsHype, Pelicans guard CJ McCollum discussed his expectations for the upcoming season, his role as the NBPA president, and why he’s encouraged by what he’s seen from Zion Williamson entering the season.

Grizzlies Exercise Option On Xavier Tillman’s Contract

The Grizzlies have exercised their contract option on Xavier Tillman for next season, the team’s PR department tweets.

It was a mere formality for a rotation player who will make $1,930,681 in 2023/24.

Tillman averaged 7.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 19.3 minutes per game last season while appearing in 61 contests, including 29 starts. He had an expanded role in the playoffs, averaging 8.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 30.7 minutes against the Lakers in the opening round of the conference playoffs.

Tillman’s role expanded in the second half of the season when Steven Adams was sidelined by a knee injury.

The second-round pick in the 2020 draft will be an unrestricted free agent next summer unless the team reaches an extension agreement with the 6’8” big man.

Grizzlies Notes: Brooks, Free Agency, Tillman

Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks is playing on an expiring $11.4MM contract in 2022/23, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer if he doesn’t sign an extension. Will Memphis bring him back for ’23/24?

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon noted on the Hoop Collective podcast that the Grizzlies have already tried to upgrade from Brooks, having made unsuccessful trade deadline pitches to Brooklyn for Mikal Bridges and Toronto for OG Anunoby. MacMahon suggested Memphis might call the Nets about Dorian Finney-Smith if the team chooses not to re-sign Brooks (hat tip to RealGM).

I don’t know if Dillon Brooks is on this team after this (Lakers) series,” MacMahon said. “We’ll see if the Grizzlies can come back and win it. I certainly don’t know if he’s on this team after free agency this summer, but the problem is if he’s not, who’s guarding all the best players? All the stars on the other teams?

If they’re letting Dillon Brooks go, they absolutely have to get a really, really, really good defensive wing player. They can let him go in free agency, they just have to figure out how to replace him. Trust me, they’ve put a lot of thought into that.”

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • Damichael Cole and Mark Giannotto of The Memphis Commercial Appeal believe it’s looking unlikely that the Grizzlies will re-sign Brooks unless he turns things around in a major way for the rest of the playoffs. Although he is a very good defensive player, Brooks’ shooting has been a liability against the Lakers — through three games (23.5 MPG), he’s posting just a .325/.250/.600 shooting line while averaging more shots (13.3) than points (11.3).
  • Brooks was ejected in the third quarter of Game 3 after hitting LeBron James in the groin while going for a steal, but he won’t be suspended for Monday’s Game 4, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • Brooks, 27, believes being labeled as a “villain” is why he received a flagrant foul 2 for the incident, according to MacMahon of ESPN. “The media making me a villain, the fans making me a villain and then that just creates a whole different persona on me,” Brooks said. “So now you think I intended to hit LeBron James in the nuts. I’m playing basketball. I’m a basketball player. So if I intended — and that’s whatever is in the flagrant 2 category — if you think I did that, that means you think I’m that type of person.”
  • One of the primary reasons the Grizzlies were able to win Game 2 is third-year big man Xavier Tillman (22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, 13 rebounds) outplayed Lakers star Anthony Davis (13 points on 4-of-14 shooting, nine rebounds, five blocks). Tillman’s journey this season has been an eventful one, as Cole writes for The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Tillman played in summer league and then spent time with the Grizzlies’ G League affiliate to open the year. However, injuries to Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke have opened up minutes in the middle, and Tillman has taken advantage of his opportunity, Cole notes. “I think it’s a true sign of a winner,” Jenkins said. “It’s a true sign of a pro, and that’s why we love (Tillman), a guy who always stays ready. He wants to impact winning in whatever his role is going to be.” The Grizzlies hold a $1.93MM team option for ’23/24 on Tillman, who will be extension-eligible this offseason.

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Zion, Tillman, Sengun, Porter

The Pelicans were able to survive for a while with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson both injured, but their current 3-8 stretch is raising concerns, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans has fallen into fourth place in the West amid a prolonged January slump. The team ranks 22nd in the league in offensive rating and 24th in defensive rating during the month and is coming off three straight double-digit losses.

“We have to find our defensive identity. Right now, we’re not guarding the way we’re capable of,” coach Willie Green said. “Those are things that we can control. We can make a decision as a team that we want to guard better. We just haven’t been doing it.”

Green is hoping to see his team respond better without Ingram and Williamson because there’s no timetable for either of them to return. Ingram hasn’t played since November 25 because of a left big toe contusion, and a report this week suggested some members of the organization are becoming impatient with his long absence. Williamson has a strained right hamstring, and Guillory doubts that he’ll be back before February or possibly even the All-Star break.

“We have a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s always nice to have two All-Stars in the rotation,” Trey Murphy said. “That’s just the bottom line. You’re missing about 40 points on a very low night. You’re getting at least 40 from those two.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies power forward Xavier Tillman talks to Spencer Davies of Basketball News about how he tries to stay sharp despite limited playing time. Tillman is averaging 11.3 minutes in 27 games and usually isn’t part of the rotation unless somebody is hurt, so he’s been doing extra work in practice and asked the coaching staff to let him play in the G League. “Being in a (Memphis) Hustle game allowed me to just play and play in a real game,” Tillman said. “So when I got my opportunity called — like now due to injury — I was ready to go and ready to help the team in all ways.”
  • The Rockets are misusing second-year center Alperen Sengun on offense, which makes it difficult to judge his long-term value, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic states in a discussion with fellow Athletic writer Kelly Iko. Vecenie sees Sengun as an exceptional ball-handler and passer, but says the team’s guards frequently don’t get the ball to him when they should. That combined with his shortcomings on defense are limiting his effectiveness.
  • Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. missed his fifth straight game tonight with a left foot contusion. His condition will be reevaluated in about a week, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Southwest Notes: Mavs, Grizzlies, Tillman, Spurs

The Mavericks made a series of roster cuts on Wednesday, waiving four players who were in training camp on non-guaranteed contracts. With the preseason schedule set to wrap up on Friday, most teams will make their cuts on Saturday, but head coach Jason Kidd said it was “a little awkward” last year when Dallas made its moves just hours after the team’s final preseason game.

“We’re just trying to be a little bit more sensitive to that situation,” Kidd said, per Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News. “Learning from that last year, we’ll make the cuts now with guys being around to be able to say ‘bye’ or ‘see you later’ or whatever it may be. We just felt it was a little insensitive the way things went down last year, so as an organization, we just wanted to be better.”

The Mavericks still likely have at least a couple more roster moves to come. They’re believed to be preparing to sign guard Facundo Campazzo to fill the lone open spot on their 15-man roster, and could finalize their roster by converting their only remaining camp invitee, McKinley Wright IV, to a two-way deal.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • The Mavericks are hoping to schedule an exhibition game in Spain against Real Madrid, Luka Doncic‘s former team, next fall if the NBA is able to work out the logistics, Caplan writes in a separate story for The Dallas Morning News. “I don’t know that we’ll be able to play a preseason game in Slovenia,” team owner Mark Cuban said, referring to Doncic’s home country. “But we’re working really hard to play one against Real Madrid.”
  • While the possibility of regression looms and the team had a relatively quiet summer, John Hollinger of The Athletic is bullish on the Grizzlies‘ chances of having another strong season, projecting the team to win 51 games and finish third in the Western Conference.
  • Xavier Tillman is accustomed to playing center, but he may have to adjust to life at power forward if he hopes to see regular minutes for the Grizzlies this season, says Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. There should be playing time available at the four to open the season, with Jaren Jackson Jr. on the shelf. “Playing the four is a learning adjustment,” Tillman said. “I’m all about evolving, I’m all about getting better.”
  • The Spurs‘ home arena continues to be known as the AT&T Center — for now. The team has extended its arena naming rights agreement with AT&T into the 2022/23 season, but continue to search for a more permanent arena sponsor, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News.

Grizzlies Notes: Crowder, Jackson Jr., PF, Clarke, Brooks, Adams, Green

Grizzlies star Ja Morant would like to reunite with former teammate Jae Crowder, who is sitting out training camp as the Suns seek a trade partner for the veteran forward. In reply to Crowder’s tweet about seeking work “where he is wanted..where he is needed,” Morant sent out a “back soon” emoji (Twitter link). In a separate tweet, Morant noted that Crowder hit a game-winning three in overtime to help him get his first NBA win.

Crowder didn’t shoot well in 45 games with Memphis in 2019/20, Morant’s rookie season, but he caught fire with Miami after being dealt away. Crowder has spent the past two seasons with Phoenix after signing a three-year, $29MM deal as a free agent in 2020. He’s making $10.2MM in ’22/23, the final season of his contract.

Here’s more from Memphis:

  • Starting power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. underwent surgery to repair a right foot stress fracture at the end of June, with the team saying he’d miss four-to-six months at that time. At Monday’s Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager Zach Kleiman said that timeline remains accurate. However, Jackson said that while he’s unlikely to suit up for opening night, he believes he’s ahead of the team’s schedule (Twitter links via Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian). Jackson hopes to win Defensive Player of the Year in ’22/23 after coming fifth last season, tweets Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “I want it badly,” Jackson said.
  • With Jackson injured, second-year big man Santi Aldama was the first name to pop up as a possible replacement in the starting lineup from both Kleiman and head coach Taylor Jenkins, but Jenkins said that there are a number of other candidates for the role, including Brandon Clarke, Ziaire Williams, Dillon Brooks, Xavier Tillman, David Roddy and Jake LaRavia, so it sounds like there might be a training camp battle for the job, or even fluctuate depending on matchups (Twitter links from Cole).
  • Speaking about the contract statuses of Clarke, Brooks and Steven Adams, all of whom are extension-eligible, Kleiman didn’t want to go into specifics of negotiations, but he said the Grizzlies like all three players. “We view them as potential long-term pieces of our group,” Kleiman said, per Cole (via Twitter). Clarke would be a restricted free agent in 2023 if he doesn’t receive an extension, while Brooks and Adams would both be unrestricted. In case you missed, we broke down what an extension for Clarke might look like earlier today.
  • Despite being injured with a torn ACL, it doesn’t sound like veteran wing Danny Green is in danger of being waived anytime soon. “Danny Green is part of this group,” Kleiman said, adding that Memphis expects Green to return in ’22/23. However, his status as a free agent next summer is “to be determined.” (Twitter link via Cole). Green has a nearly $7MM partial guarantee on his $10MM contract this season, so he could be used as a trade chip for salary-matching purposes, but it also makes it expensive to waive him. If the Grizzlies retain Green, Killian Tillie is probably the odd man out, as the team is facing a roster crunch. Tillie will earn a guaranteed $1.9MM this season.