Devin Tillis might ensure this isn’t a lost season for UNLV. The Rebels are 9-11, but Tillis could prove to be an important part of the future.
Tillis scored a career high 14 points on Friday against San Jose State. Career highs are nice, but it is the way Tillis scored that was noteworthy. He dominated San Jose State on post ups.
“They are looking to utilize me more in the post to get us more paint touches,” Tillis said. “When we get paint touches, we get more open threes or we get better looks at the basket.”
UNLV has struggled creating shots at the rim this season. Just 28.1 percent of UNLV’s shots have been layups or dunks, ranking 332nd (out of 347 teams) in the country. As a side effect, UNLV ranks 343rd in free throw rate.
They don’t get layups or free throws, the two most efficient shots in the game.
The post up is a way to fabricate shots at the rim and trips to the free throw line. But post ups are generally an inefficient form of offense. They can work when there is an extreme mismatch, but just throwing the ball to a big on the block is not a great way to create offense because they don’t produce enough true layups, but rather contested, off balance floaters.
However, UNLV’s lack of offensive creators makes the post up viable. Especially if Tillis can be as effective as he was on Friday.
“Devin has a natural knack and feel down there, as you saw tonight,” T.J. Otzelberger said.
Tillis backs his man down and when the defender commits to taking away his left shoulder, Tillis spins back towards the baseline, hesitates with a pump fake and then finishes. It is a slow developing move, but if there is no help defense, Tillis can score this way.
The freshman also showed versatility by scoring over his left shoulder, back through the middle of the lane.
The most impressive part of this basket is Tillis waiting out the double team. He doesn’t get flustered and turn the ball over or look to simply get rid of the ball. He just waits. And once the double team disappears, he scores.
Even more important than Tillis’ scoring out of the post was his passing. Tillis had two assists in the game, both on kick out passes.
On this kick out pass, the San Jose State defense gets lost. UNLV did a good job with off ball screens and cuts while Tillis posted up. And when David Jenkins is left uncovered in the corner Tillis finds him.
“You see that composure he plays with,” Otzelberger said. “The game slows down for him. He can make the pass. He can make the right reads.”
It is important to note that San Jose State is very bad. The Spartans rank 329th in defensive efficiency. Tillis having a big game against San Jose State means doesn’t mean he can do anything against the top half of the Mountain West.
But outside of Bryce Hamilton, UNLV has found no other way to create offense near the rim. When Otzelberger thinks Tillis has a good matchup, expect a heavy dose of post ups.
Tillis won’t be a star player. He won’t elevate UNLV back into contention for NCAA Tournament appearances. He is a role player.
But Otzelberger seems to love him and Tillis can certainly have a role on a team that contends for a post season spot. In a disappointing year, Tillis might end up as bright spot headed into next season.