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NBA Draft Profile: Grant Riller is the biggest “sleeper” in the 2020 class

The dynamic scoring guard eviscerated the CAA for four years and hopes to continue as a pro

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Auburn vs Charleston Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite there being a large contingency of Grant Riller stock-buyers on the internet, he remains one of the more unheralded prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft class. He enters the draft after an illustrious career at College of Charleston, which ended with him as the second-leading scorer in Colonial Athletic Association history with 2,474 total points and first in total field goals made with 880. Riller’s draft stock has steadily hovered between the late-first and early-second since he declared; utterly too low for a scorer of his caliber. The circus layup extraordinaire with a smooth pull-up jumper that’s built like an ox at 6’ 3” has an easy path to production upon entry to the NBA as a seasoned 23-year-old, and he should be considered more as a first-round talent because of it.

Measurables:

Height: 6’ 3”

Weight: 190 pounds

Wingspan: 6’ 5.25”

Strengths:

Finishing at the Rim

I don’t want to put this lightly; Grant Riller is an immaculate finisher at the rim. As evidenced in the highlight reel above, Riller is capable of navigating through an entire defense to reach the paint with his smooth ball-handling, and then he can finish over, under, around, through, etc., any defender that dares to step in his path by contorting his body and outstretching his arms in ways that humans do not normally do on a basketball court. Riller is easily an NBA athlete at 6’ 3” and 190 pounds with a 39.5 inch max vertical leap, and he finished in the top-half of nearly every agility drill at the combine.

Scoring Off the Bounce

Simply put, there are not many guys that can finish, handle, and score off the bounce like Riller can in this class. Being the primary creator in his team’s offense, he naturally got more pull-up shot attempts than spot-up and he was still able to convert them at an efficient rate (1.8 threes made/3.9 attempts per-40). Most of his shots come in the paint or mid-range. Burying a high volume of 3-pointers isn’t Riller’s game right now, but that’s something he’s worked on since the 2019-2020 college season ended, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to diversify his shot portfolio a bit since NBA defenses will be more competent at keeping him out of the paint.

Everyone online thinks “basketball analytics” means “mid-range shots are bad,” but it really just means that bad mid-range shots are bad, and only players who convert them at a high clip should take them — Riller is one of those players. He’s such an efficient scorer; low volume but high percentage on threes, and he’s a career 59.3 percent from 2-point range on 11.0 attempts per-40. He knows what he’s good at and where he needs to be on the floor to do those things. Pull-up scoring gravity is one of the hottest commodities in the modern NBA, and basketball as a whole, and that is Riller’s second-best skill.

Question marks:

Primary Playmaking

Riller’s ability as a scorer will never be in question, but his career-3.4 assists per-40 and 1.26 assist-to-turnover ratio are not as high as NBA teams seem to like out of a lead guard/ball-handler. This has been alluded to many times in this article, but Riller being surrounded by NBA players rather than CAA players (no offense) will give him a lot more opportunities to make plays for teammates; Charleston needed him to get buckets, not find cutters and shooters, though he showed many flashes of that ability when given the chance.

Being able to pass and make plays doesn’t require gifted court vision or processing speed — it can be learned within an offensive system, and as long as Riller can make reads coming over screens or on his way to the rim, he’ll be a productive NBA player. His volume/efficiency combo as a finisher at the rim and pull-up scorer with range is ideal for a sixth or seventh man.

Low-Usage Efficiency

As is the case with most prospects that come from mid-major programs, tracking their adjustment from being the go-to option on offense to a low-usage role-player off the bench is interesting. Riller slashed 51.9 percent from the field/35.6 percent from three/79.6 percent from the line over his career with a true shooting percentage of 61.6, all excellent numbers for such a high-usage guard taking contested shots all over the floor. There is a chance that being relegated to more of a spot-scorer than a main initiator could throw off his rhythm at first, but Riller is just so damn smart, aggressive, and overall good that it isn’t much of a concern.

NBA player comparison: peak Ish Smith, taller Isaiah Thomas

Throughout his NBA career, Ish Smith has been a capable backup guard, but in his past few years with Detroit and Washington, he’s elevated his game quite a bit as a spot-starter. Smith is a more creative passer than Riller currently is, but Riller’s vision evolving as a pro and becoming a similar lob-pass and dump-off threat to Smith is entirely possible. Isaiah Thomas was a 29 point-per-game All-Star at his peak, which is a very lofty expectation to put on Riller, but he could be similar to Phoenix Isaiah Thomas; both are smooth ball-handlers with good footwork that can contort their body to angle in the air and finish.

Projected role: Microwave scoring combo guard off the bench

A Lou Williams or Jordan Clarkson-type role would be ideal for Riller once he gets acclimated to the NBA; he should get the freedom to handle the ball a lot and probe for scoring opportunities in the paint because he’s not best-suited as an off-ball scorer or spot-up shooter. Riller has proven himself to be a layup artist and lethal mid-range scorer over a large sample size, and he always played capable defense despite shouldering a heavy offensive load. Given his 6’ 3” frame and athletic ability, there’s every indication that he has the ancillary skills that will be necessary for him to stay on the floor.

Draft projection: Between picks 25 and 40, ideally 28th to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Per The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie on his Game Theory podcast, Riller is likely to go in the second round with a chance to sneak into the late first. Personally, I think Riller should be much closer to the lottery than the second round and any team in need of a scoring punch off the bench should be eyeing him. Coincidentally, the Lakers were a great fit for Riller due to the likelihood of Rajon Rondo departing, but since they traded the 28th pick to Oklahoma City for Dennis Schroder, the need has been transferred to the Thunder. They don’t have a guard of Riller’s ilk in their stable of young prospects, and he offers a nice balance of immediate contribution and future upside as his playmaking develops with more-talented teammates around him.