At various points during the college basketball season, four Zags were ranked as the team’s best pro prospect, emblematic of Gonzaga’s balanced attack.
If there’s a lack of consensus on assorted NBA mock drafts and big boards, there was little hesitation from The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie and ESPN’s Sean Farnham.
“I think it’s Killian (Tillie),” Vecenie said. “Now injury questions throw that for a loop, but in terms of who the best player for Gonzaga was this year in terms of talent and effectiveness on the court and NBA potential, I don’t think it’s really close.”
Ditto for Farnham.
“If you take health out of the equation, it’s Tillie and it’s probably not close,” Farnham said late in the regular season. “Unfortunately, health is an aspect that you have to evaluate on him.
“But when you see him at his best, his skill set translates over, his size and ability to shoot from NBA range. There are other good (GU) players that will be solid role players off the bench, but I think Killian, if he can stay healthy, will have a chance to have a really good NBA career.”
Vecenie and Farnham weighed in with frank observations on the pro prospects of rising senior Corey Kispert and juniors-to-be Filip Petrusev and Joel Ayayi. The three haven’t announced whether they’ll enter the draft process or return to Gonzaga next season.
Kispert is projected as a second-round pick in a few mocks, but didn’t crack the top 60 in several others. Ayayi and Petrusev are mentioned as second-round selections less frequently than Kispert.
ESPN’s top 100 has Kispert 45, Petrusev 58 and Tillie 63, but doesn’t mention Ayayi. Tankathon.com pegs Ayayi as the first Zag drafted, No. 37 overall, with Tillie going two picks later. Kispert’s and Petrusev’s names don’t appear.
“I would say (come back to Gonzaga),” Vecenie said. “I think for all three.”
Vecenie’s latest big board reinforces his statement. He lists Tillie as a late first-round pick. He has Kispert No. 66, Ayayi No. 92 and Petrusev No. 94.
Vecenie called the 6-foot-7 Kispert a lights-out shooter.
“He’s unbelievable as a catch-and-shoot guy,” Vecenie said. “He’s underrated as a load athlete, and by that I mean he’s really capable of rising and dunking when he doesn’t have to move laterally.
“Where he struggles is as a lateral athlete and as a defender. He struggles to drop his hips in defensive coverage. That’s an essential role for him at the next level.”
Farnham said Kispert was the heartbeat of the 2020 Zags.
“He (Kispert) is going to make a lot of money in Europe,” Farnham said. “Some people will probably read this and think that I’m slighting him. I’m not. Look at what (Kevin) Pangos has been able to do, how much success and money he’s making. Obviously, he excels in transition 3s. I think his game is more suited for the European game.”
The 6-5 Ayayi averaged 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“I think he should come back,” Farnham said. “I want to see him become more consistent from outside. He’s a good shooter (34.5% on 3s), but I want to see him get to an elite-level shooter, because for him to find a role at the next level he has to be a 3-and-D (defend) guy.”
Vecenie had Ayayi rated higher earlier this season, but lowered his projections after watching additional tape.
“He doesn’t guard well right now and his handle is a little loose,” Vecenie said. “He has great body control and fluidity throughout his body. He just turned 20. He’s just not quite there as a prospect.”
Petrusev was productive (17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds) while earning recognition on seven All-America teams. He submitted his name for the draft after his freshman season when he averaged just 11.4 minutes per game.
“He’s basically a pure post-up player with good hands and good footwork inside and can create a shot on the block,” Vecenie said. “Those are skills that NBA teams don’t look for now. They look for the ability to space the floor, shoot it, and the ability to move your feet and defend guards on an island. I worry that his game isn’t particularly translatable to the next level despite the fact that’s he’s a very good collegiate player.”
“He’s kind of an old-school big and that makes it difficult in the modern game,” Farnham said. “If he was playing when I was playing (at UCLA) in the early 2000s, he would have been a top-15 pick, but the game has evolved. Your footwork and ability to defend ball screens becomes more important at the next level. I would say he’s probably a step slow.”
Players who test the waters might not get the chance to audition for teams with the coronavirus pandemic forcing cancellations and postponements across the sports landscape. That’s one more thing to consider for Petrusev, Kispert and Ayayi.
The NBA advisory committee is providing draft evaluations for undergraduates. Gonzaga’s staff also provides counsel after consulting with NBA executives.
“If you rush the (development) process and try to skip a step and you’re not drafted and end up in the G League making $70,000 on a bus in Sioux Falls …” Farnham said. “Or would you rather be getting better, playing on national television, flying on charter planes and trying to win a national championship?”
Tillie could become the first GU senior drafted since Robert Sacre went to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 with the last pick (60th overall) of the second round.
SI.com projects Tillie at No. 49 to Philadelphia and NBAdraft.net has the Frenchman at No. 58 to Toronto. Four other big boards list Tillie between Nos. 47 and 63.
Tillie was invited to last year’s NBA draft combine but declined. He suffered a sprained ankle in his first NBA workout about two weeks before the combine.
“When he did that (skipped the combine), it certainly kept his injury situation shrouded a little more in mystery,” Vecenie said. “His draft stock is as volatile as anyone in the country. In terms of talent, I think he’s a first-round talent, straight up one of the top 25-30 players.
“His injury history just throws it for a total loop. How NBA teams react to that is very hard to gauge. You have to go off the fact he missed (numerous games) with semiserious injuries and that’s not an advantage to Killian, but in terms of talent, I think a team would be very smart in the second round taking a risk.”
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