You may not believe me, but Jeremiah Tilmon’s fouling has improved since his freshman season.
As a freshman, Tilmon played 48.1% of the available minutes to him and committed 7.5 fouls per 40 minutes. This season Tilmon’s minutes have increased to 57.1 and his foul rate is 6.0. It rarely seems like it, but Tilmon has found more ways to stay on the court in his second season with Missouri.
Despite the improvement, you can tell his coach has gotten frustrated because Tilmon still takes too many early exits in the first half. Those exits put a strain on the Tigers offense because his replacement, Reed Nikko — while admirable in his effort — isn’t the skilled offensive player, nor the out of area rebounder, that Tilmon is.
Cuonzo on postgame radio on Tilmon's fouls: "Those were all good calls tonight. At some point Jeremiah has to recognize and really take ownership and figure out the best way. We continue to watch film but after a while, it’s like what’s the point? You have to make that next step"— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) February 27, 2019
We like evidence in these parts, and the numbers absolutely back this up. Per Hooplens, Tilmon’s presence on the floor is good enough for 10 more points per 100 possessions (1.04 ppp vs 0.94 ppp), the effective FG% is up 3%, the three point shooting goes up 6% while the 3PA/FGA goes down 6%. The offensive rebounding also gets a significant boost while the FTA go up.
When you select out the games where Tilmon isn’t in foul trouble those numbers get even more stark. Mizzou is +20 points per possession over 100 (1.08 ppp vs. 0.88 ppp), eFG% is +6%, and the 3FG% jumps to +7.5% better. Basically, when Tilmon is playing carefree and not worrying about fouls, Mizzou’s offense excels by a significant margin.
The results are simple when you think about them. Tilmon causes defenses to shift, if he’s on the block they flatten out. If he attacks the rim or makes a move, the defenses collapses further. Here’s an example of a normal touch on the low block from Tilmon.
You see all five defensive players in the frame, four within two steps from Tilmon. Missouri meanwhile has spacing for open shooters, and in this case TIlmon’s improved passing through a double team (made easier by a nice entry pass from Ronnie Suggs) leaves an easy bounce pass for Kevin Puryear for an easy bucket.
When defenses collapse on the block and Tilmon kicks the ball out, Mizzou is more likely to be attempting open three-pointers instead of defended 3’s, explaining the 6% jump in shooting. If defenses are closing out hard, it opens up more lanes for driving because everything is spaced out and in recovery mode. When the driving lanes are open you are more likely to get fouled.
So Tilmon being on the floor and not concerned about fouls is important. We knew that already. Still the fouling as seen an uptick and the frustration is mounting.
What is the next step for Tilmon?
What’s crazy is I feel like we’ve seen it, and for an extended period of time.
From the Alabama game to the Arkansas game Tilmon fouled out just once, and reached four fouls twice. That’s an 8 game stretch where he averaged over 29 minutes and averaged 2.75 fouls through the stretch. He played with his arms high, moved his feet, and stayed on the floor.
Through the stretch of eight games, Tilmon put up a line of 13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, shot 62.7% from the floor and 75.8% from the FT line.
Keep your arms down!
Most of Tilmon's fouls come on the offensive end of the floor. He has a tendency to get his arm bar, which is legal to hold, up higher than it needs to be, and is prone to clearing out space with his arms. Which is less legal.
He’s done a good job of working to get a wide base and also does well gaining initial position. But he’s reactive to the physical play of the defense, and is more than willing to lower his shoulder initiating contact and causing charges.
I get Tilmon’s frustration, he’s partially a victim of how post play is officiated these days... which is poorly. I think there is too much flopping by defenses making it exceeding difficult for offensive players to use contact in order to set up a move. He’s also grown a reputation so it’s easy for an official to see some movement and give the benefit of the doubt to the other player in most cases. But at some point it’s on Tilmon to adjust.
With Mark Smith out for the remainder of the season it’s even more important for Tilmon to rekindle his play from just a few short games ago. Smith’s efficiency from deep made Tilmon’s presence on the low block even more potent for the offense. The next closest thing has been the improved play with extended minutes from Torrence Watson.
The next opponent is South Carolina and it’ll be tough for Tilmon to avoid fouls in a game where there are likely to be a lot of calls made. But the blueprint is there, and has been there for him to stay on the court. Without much season remaining, now would be a good time for Tilmon to have the lightbulb go on and figure out how good he can be if he can just stay on the court a little longer.