THE 2020 NBA DRAFT IS LOADED WITH POINT GUARD PROSPECTS. LaMelo Ball is near the top of every big board. Tyrese Haliburton has been compared to LaMelo’s brother, Lonzo. Killian Hayes is a Draft Twitter favorite out of France. Kira Lewis is rising as fast as he plays. Nico Mannion and Tyrell Terry lit up the Pac 12 after dark, and veterans like Cassius Winston, Devon Dotson, and Malachi Flynn should all go in the second round.
This is a deep and loaded point guard draft. But even with all those names on the board, could Charleston’s Grant Riller be this year’s big sleeper point guard prospect? With the help of the tools at Pivot Analysis, let’s take a closer look at one of the biggest, smallest sleepers in the 2020 NBA Draft…
Big Picture Player Profile
Riller is a classic small school, small guard prospect. Despite standing just 6-foot-3, Riller lit up the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference for four seasons at College of Charleston. As the team’s point guard and engine, Riller dominated the ball and the competition.
His usage ranked among the highest players in the nation and he filled up the box score, scoring nearly 2,500 points in four seasons. As a senior, Riller averaged almost 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. He only made the NCAA tournament once but nearly led his 13-seed to an upset over Auburn, coming up four points short.
Despite his stature, Riller dominates the game by repeatedly getting to the rim with an elite burst first step and then finishing well once he gets there. He has a low center of gravity and excellent acceleration that elucidate his driving ability.
Riller also has the ball on a string, with a great spin move and a nice hesitation dribble that help him get to his spot, whether for a confident pull-up jumper or all the way to the rim. Riller had to do everything for Charleston at times, and he was elite slashing to the rim and finishing.
Riller is old, a few months from turning 24. He’s a good not great passer, mostly reacting to the space his driving gravity creates, and he’s certainly not a good defender or even particularly engaged on that end. But his driving and finishing are super elite, and that alone might give him real value in the NBA.
A Closer Statistical Analysis at Pivot Analysis
Let’s use some of the innovative tools at Pivot Analysis to take a closer look at Riller’s profile and see what stands out.
Some of the best tools at Pivot Analysis are the proprietary on/off and Four Factors metrics. Check out Riller’s offensive metrics over his four years at Charleston, and pay attention to the green.
Green is good, and that’s a lot of good. With Riller on the court, Charleston’s assist and three-point attempt rates drop, because he’s dominating the ball and scoring on his own instead of dishing to lesser teammates. But the team got better at pretty much everything else, and by no small margin.
Look at the numbers within the green. Charleston tallied 57% true shooting with Riller on the floor. That’s good! They plummeted to under 44% without him, a drop-off of over 13%. With Riller on the court this year, Charleston’s free throw rate went up by almost 50%, and their percentage jumped from 62 to 78%. And look at that two-point percentage! The Cougars made 37% of their twos with Riller on the bench but jumped to 52% with him.
Without Grant Riller, Charleston was a genuinely terrible team. With him on the court, they were quite good. He made the Cougars markedly better, and notice how the margins got bigger and bigger each year as he improves.
Those are Charleston’s team numbers. Let’s take a closer look at Riller’s personal shot profile at Pivot Analysis:
Focus on those green columns first. Grant Riller is an absolute savant getting to the rim and finishing there. He was over 66% at the rim in all four seasons at Charleston! Those are numbers big men are happy with, and Riller is 6'3. Notice how many of Riller’s shots come at the rim, nearly half of them, and notice how few of them are assisted. This is not some sort of funky system. This is a bad team with one guy with a god level talent.
Notice Riller’s three-point assist rate dropping too as he ages. That’s because he’s taking on more of a role and on the ball more, adding a comfortable pull-up three along the way. Floating around 35% on threes isn’t exactly knockdown, but when you’re creating most of your own looks, it does just fine. Check out James Harden and Luka Doncic’s percentages this year.
Let’s get back to a few more on/off tools at Pivot Analysis that again show just how much value Riller added when on the court. These next numbers are from just the most recent 2019/20 season.
Grant Riller on the court (left) and off (right)
With Riller on the bench, Charleston was downright putrid. With him playing, they were kind of good! Riller improved the offense from 83 points per 100 to over 115.
With him watching from the sidelines, Charleston’s Net Rating was -34.19. With Riller on the court, +8.52! That’s a Net Rating on/off differential of +42.71 with Riller which is, uh, unfathomably good. Put another way, Grant Riller was worth a full three pointer extra to his team for every seven possessions on the court.
Check out Charleston’s shooting profiles with and without Riller.
Riller on the court, 2019/20
Riller off the court, 2019/20
You’ve probably noticed the pattern by now. Riller good, Charleston bad.
Charleston’s points per shot went up at every level with Riller on the court. Their three-point PPS jumped from 0.91 to 1.07. Some of that is Riller’s shooting, but more of it is his teammates actually making open shots because of his gravity getting to the rim.
And look at the rim PPS! With Riller on the court, Charleston shot 1.23 at the rim, versus an ugly 0.80 without him. Grant Riller made the Cougars more than 50% more efficient at the rim! That’s staggering. With Riller on the court, Charleston shot over 61% at the rim. Without him, they got to the rim far less and somehow shot under 40% once they did get there. No wonder they didn’t visit often.
By now, it’s clear Grant Riller was awesome in the CAA.
Can Riller overcome his size and small school background and be a factor in the NBA with his elite rim attacking skill?
NBA Player Comps
Scouring the Pivot Analysis database over the last decade, let’s look for similarly small NBA Draft prospects with monster usage rates and a high percentage of attempts at the rim.
Here are the top comps that fit that profile:
- Archie Goodwin
- Elfrid Payton
- Javonte Green
- Lance Stephenson
- Ja Morant
- De’Aaron Fox
- John Wall
- Travis Leslie
- Jeremy Lin
Player comps can only get you so far, but they are a nice way to get a range of outcomes for a player, and that certainly provides a wide range. If you know players on that list, all of them are aggressive drivers who are very adept at getting to the rim.
Let’s slice the data another way and look for small players with high usage, an elite free throw rate, and outstanding points per shot. Here are some players that show up as similar to Riller there:
- Wade Baldwin
- Jawun Evans
- Markus Howard
- Frank Mason
- Ja Morant
- Collin Sexton
- Trae Young
Again, we’ve got a wide range of outcomes here but we’re starting to get a decent picture for what Riller could become in the NBA.
Throw out the obvious outliers. Riller does not have the elite athleticism of players like Wall, Fox, or Morant, and he’s not a generational creator like Trae. Pare them away and you get a list of small guards who, like Riller, don’t play a ton of defense and typically do not have NBA starter equity, but there are real difference makers there.
Linsanity was more than just a fad — he made $65 million in the NBA, after all. Lance Stephenson played a big role on multiple Conference Finals teams. Collin Sexton looks like at least good bench scorer for Cleveland. Elfrid Payton feels like a bust but has developed into a nice rotation guard. Then there are other names like Jawun Evans, Archie Goodwin, and Wade Baldwin who were similar sleepers for their driving ability but never panned out in the NBA.
Riller may be small, but he should not be overlooked. And don’t mistake his older age as a flaw. In Riller’s case, it may actually be a feature. A team drafting Riller will get him on a rookie scale contract for his age-24 through 27 seasons, ready made to play real NBA minutes.
Riller profiles as a bench scoring guard with serious scoring punch, someone who can be the engine of a bench unit and possibly even have starter equity if his shot continues to develop. There’s also room for his defense to improve in the NBA if he puts more energy into that end of things without his insane usage levels at Charleston.
Think of a player like Fred VanVleet, who has carved out a real role as a combo guard who attacks the rim, shoots, and creates for teammates. Riller is a better finisher than FVV will ever be, and VanVleet is about to nab a contract somewhere near nine figures.
In a 2020 NBA Draft loaded with point guard prospects, could Grant Riller be the draft’s brightest point guard sleeper? ■
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