As we do every year, we’re wrapping up the Mizzou basketball season with Q&A’s on every one of Missouri’s major contributors. To catch up on the first post we published in this series, see the link below:
Today, we’re taking a look at Jeremiah Tilmon, who made statistical progress on the floor, but saw an injury steal half of his season. Were there positives in this grim junior year? And should Tilmon come back for his senior season?
Confined to the bench for half of the season, it’s hard to say Tilmon’s season was anything but disappointing. How did his absence impact the Tigers?
Sam Snelling, Site Manager: Clearly his ability to defend was probably the biggest. Just looking at the numbers was what made it that obvious. When Tilmon was available early, the offense sometimes bogged down trying to get him the ball on the right block. Losing Tilmon made Missouri pivot to other forms of offense which — while it took awhile — may have been better for the long term goals of the program. Mizzou went to their guards, the most obvious offensive strength, and when Tilmon came back he was still mostly playing off Mizzou’s guards instead of having the ball force-fed into the block.
So in all, his absence clearly hurt the team, but maybe it wasn’t all that bad of a thing long term.
Matt Harris, Lead Basketball Writer: Ahead of the regular season, I made the case for Tilmon serving as a distribution hub on the block. That thesis fell apart. And quickly. No doubt, the junior ran into turbulence in the face of diverse double teams. His foul rate (still) hovered north of five per 40 minutes. Stated simply, the breakthrough we wanted to see never appeared. However, two things can be true: Tilmon’s progress stalled and his presence was still critical.
For one, MU doesn’t have many reliable finishers at the rim. Tilmon is one of them. Defensively, he’s athletic enough to body up bigs, coordinated enough to play drop coverage and agile enough to recover after hedging. Even if you strip out romps against Incarnate Word and Chicago State, MU only allowed 0.88 points per possession with him on the floor and snagged 78.1 percent of opponent’s misses. With him absent, MU was 12 points per 100 possessions worse.
As Sam said, there’s a case to be made that Tilmon’s absence forced MU’s guards to embrace attacking off of the bounce instead of floating around the arc waiting for kickouts. That change helped the Tigers’ offensive efficiency tick up enough to offset a the void Tilmon left defensively.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: How did his absence not impact the Tigers? During conference play — when Tilmon spent most of his time healing — the Tigers’ adjusted offensive efficiency went down by about five points, while their defensive efficiency went up by eight. Reed Nikko did an admirable job filling the role of starting big, but the Tigers missed Tilmon’s athleticism, and the Tigers lost a major weapon on the block. Fans may have been frustrated with his continued foul troubles (still the best in his career, by the way), but Tilmon made Mizzou better on both ends of the floor and his absence hurt them a lot in SEC ball.
Ryan Herrera, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: Do you see how much teams focus on Tilmon in the post? Bless Reed Nikko for stepping up in Tilmon’s absence, but teams didn’t have to game plan around him on the defensive end. Tilmon is different. He’s shown improvement in the post and most teams can’t afford to play straight man-to-man, which is why double teams are constantly thrown at him. Without him, teams seemed to be more focused on 3-point prevention and clogging driving lanes. Tilmon might still have a ways to go before he’s as dominant as he can be, but he’s the one player on Missouri’s roster that can make opponents change how they prepare.
Despite only playing in 17 games, the numbers suggest Jeremiah Tilmon was on track for a big year, posting career highs in effective field goal and true shooting percentage, as well as in assist rate, block rate and offensive/defensive rating. Is he making progress or is this a small sample size?
Sam Snelling: I lean small sample size. Tilmon improved in other areas, but before his injury appeared to be regressing in others. Mostly Mizzou needs him on the floor and he still struggled pre-injury to do be on the floor. Tilmon's issues all along have been with his inability to stay out of foul trouble. His fouls-committed per 40 minutes were a tick down from his sophomore year, but still over 5.0 which puts him into foul trouble more often than not. Tilmon just needs to be better about staying on the floor. Perhaps a stretch of watching the games from the sideline will show him what he needs to do different from now on.
Matt Harris: The opposition matters. Against high-major foes, he averaged 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, but he shot 51.9 percent from the floor. The problem was Tilmon only saw an average of 18 minutes in those 11 games, and when he was on the floor, the Tigers’ net rating was minus-3 per 100 possessions, according to HoopLens. How much of that stems from the discomfort of his foot injury and subsequently returning? I can’t say, but Mizzou didn’t have an optimized version of Tilmon in games that mattered.
So I can sift through Synergy data and tell you that Tilmon’s efficiency on shots around the rim (1.18 PPP) was outstanding. And while he did struggle at times against double-teams, he still put up 1.033 PPP when they were aggressive, and his turnover rate (20.0 percent) wasn’t the worst among SEC big men. Again, we see glimpses of what Tilmon could be, but consistency remains elusive.
Josh Matejka: There’s probably not enough data to support any hard conclusions, but Tilmon certainly fit the profile of “incremental progress.” His TS% and eFG% have gone up in every season; same with his free throw and assist rates. Tilmon may not be a star, but he’s become a pretty well-rounded player, and it’s not hard to see when you see his numbers stacked up year-by-year.
Ryan Herrera: It’s a small-er sample size, but I still think we saw some progress in the time he was playing. Not only with his numbers, but it seemed like his decision-making facing a double team improved. He also showed some really impressive post-moves, which is always nice to see. He might never be what Cuonzo thought he could be even if he comes back next season, but the year-to-year progress he’s made shows promise.
The big question with Tilmon is obviously whether or not he’ll be back next year, which he hasn’t ruled out. If you’re advising Tilmon, what are you telling him?
Sam Snelling: I think it’s less about what I would tell him and about what advice he’s getting from smart people about what his prospects are. You have to know the market and understand your value. There’s basically a zero percent chance Tilmon gets drafted, but he could get into the G-League. A lot of people like to downplay a move like the G-league, but playing basketball as your profession is what helps you grow your game the most. Still, Tilmon could return, probably be in the same position next year and bet on himself. But ultimately I think he makes his return for his senior year.
Matt Harris: None of us are agents or truly privy to Tilmon’s financial needs, but I’ll make the case for leaving. The market for traditional bigs isn’t getting any more robust. Unless you’re James Wiseman or Obi Toppin, the goal is to rake in cash on a rookie extension or second contract. And if you’re psychologically ready, a career in Europe can be lucrative.
The issue, which I hinted at last week, is whether Tilmon will have ample opportunities to get in front of scouts, travel and explore every corner of the market. Front office personnel can’t be road warriors, and neither can prospects. Additionally, is an agent going to front the cost for a player’s housing, travel and training in this climate? Given the current uncertainty, they may want to curb risk and use resources only if they know a player is totally invested in starting a career. So, Tilmon might have to be decisive.
The upside is that he could land with an organization committed to signing and developing free agents via its G League affiliate, seasoning Tilmon with 10-day stints in the NBA. Or perhaps the market works in his favor: a lot of veterans opt to stay in school, making him more palatable to domestic and foreign squads. Keep in mind, too, this is a weak draft class.
Barring a monster senior season, the valuation of Tilmon’s stock seems unlikely to move. Jumping now lets him have another year to earn money and grow in an organization’s system.
Josh Matejka: There might be some financial concerns on Tilmon’s end, in which case: Go get that bag, Mr. Tilmon. That’s always the answer for any college kid facing this decision.
However, if Tilmon wants to play in the NBA and not in Europe or Asia, another year might do him some good. He still doesn’t fit the stretch profile that a lot of NBA teams like their big men to have, though he seems to be making steps in that direction. He’s an NBA-level athlete and would probably get a tryout or G-League trial, but if he wants to be drafted or get a free agent contract, returning to Missouri for a senior year wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world.
Ryan Herrera: Considering he’s got some financial concerns to deal with, if he wanted to go get his bag, I wouldn’t blame him. Getting to play pro ball is every young basketball player’s dream, and getting that opportunity and providing for his people back home would make that a completely understandable decision for him. But, if he wants to have a chance at the NBA, I think another year in college would make sense. Look at Jontay Porter — knee injuries saw him go undrafted in the underwhelming 2019 NBA Draft even though he put together a stellar freshman season a year before. Tilmon, on the other hand, spent two seasons showing he had trouble staying on the floor and he missed almost all of the back half of the 2019-20 season. If Porter went undrafted, I don’t see Tilmon getting a look from an NBA team at this point. A senior season in which he stays relatively healthy and stays on the court long enough to show that production Missouri has been waiting for would be the one way he could hear his name called in the draft.