Browse mainstream mock drafts and you’ll come across familiar faces such as LaMelo Ball, Deni Avdija, and Obi Toppin littered throughout the lottery. All three, along with a handful of others, are seemingly locks to be selected among the top-14 come draft night in June October. One name that might have to wait until the second round but has become a Draft Twitter darling (led by The Stepien’s Zach Milner) and looks the part of a lottery-level talent is College of Charleston senior Grant Riller, who I consider a top-14 prospect.
In four collegiate seasons, the 6’3 guard averaged 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists. 2.2 turnovers, and 1.3 steals on 61.6 percent true shooting (.519/.356/.796 split). As a senior, Riller dropped 21.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.1 turnovers, and 1.6 steals per game on 60.9 percent true shooting with a 33.6 percent usage rate, underscoring his distinct combination of workload and efficiency.
The foundation of Riller’s scoring package is his elite combination of burst, body control, and acceleration/deceleration. He has the quickest and most forceful initial step in this class, capable of exploding past almost any defender before downshifting to evade help rotations. At Charleston, he lived and thrived at the basket, producing a rim frequency no worse than 30.3 percent and efficiency ranking no lower than the 81st percentile during his tenure.
As a junior, 40.2 percent of his attempts in the half-court occurred at the bucket, an area where he was in the 98th percentile. He busts out wrong-footed extensions, uses his body and the hoop as to shield defenders — scoring from awkward angles — shifts the ball in midair to avoid contests, and has no trouble finishing with either hand. The manner with which he generates force and speed from a standstill, getting low enough to blow by defenders, is unmatched in this class. Augmenting those physical traits is ambidextrous finishing, balance, and strength, providing him immense rim gravity and effectiveness. What truly stands out in Riller’s arsenal — helping to make him a genuinely special driver — is the deceptive ball-handling and manipulative changes of pace.
Riller slows the tempo or varies his dribble height to lull defenders into a false sense of relaxation before promptly burning past them. He freezes defenders or tilts them ajar with streamlined in-and-out dribbles. He utilizes swift, space-eating crossovers to drive into the lane. He slithers through narrow openings, uses his off-hand to swipe away pesky defenders aiming to deter penetration and has the frame to dislodge opponents or absorb contact without affecting results. His body control, speed variance, change of direction, handle, and 0-60 explosion coalesce for an electric downhill scorer.
Throughout his four years, Riller never ranked lower than the 73rd percentile in pick-and-rolls or 70th percentile as an isolation scorer. As an upperclassman, he was in the 98th percentile (junior) and 97th percentile (senior) in pick-and-rolls, as well as the 89th percentile (junior) and 88th percentile (senior) in isolation. His finishing expertise is a central factor in these marks, but he also excels as an off-the-dribble shooter thanks to similar physical attributes.
He averaged 0.866 points per possession (440 attempts) off the dribble at Charleston and finished in the 83rd percentile (92 shots, 0.978 PPP) this past season. To contextualize the value of his career numbers, Arkansas guard and All-American Mason Jones, one of the nation’s most impressive pull-up shooters this year, posted 0.867 PPP off the dribble, placing him in the 71st percentile in 2019-20.
As a pull-up shooter, Riller wields high-level space creation skills with quick-twitch fibers, whether it be via stepback jumpers, stop-on-a-dime elevation to spring loose, or bursting into openings for easier looks. He’s comfortable launching over tight contests, can alter his body angle to manufacture more space, and has developed a patented fadeaway jumper. All of these skills mean he is regularly prepared to shoot off balance.
There is an economical and sudden nature that lords over Riller’s scoring package. He understands when to best apply his physical tools and how to maximize the functionality of his ball-handling to simplify opportunities. Moves and decisions are, generally, precise. Wasted motion does not shoehorn its way as a thorn in the side of his game.
Much of this likely stems from four years of NCAA experience, whereas most other lottery-caliber prospects tout only one or two years in college. But recognizing and not being overstimulated by the different choices available to you as an on-ball creator is important. Riller is a legitimate three-level scorer, presenting a threat at the rim, from midrange, and beyond the arc. He’s patient in exploring all the available options when snaking around a screen or finding himself engaged in a one-on-one duel.
Scoring-wise, a few concerns still exist. Charleston’s conference, the CAA, is a quite poor defensive league, positing some worries about the degree to which Riller’s shot-making repertoire translates. He rarely faced NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents and his career Strength of Schedule was minus-1.82. Despite flashes of better arc (often in spot-up situations), Riller shoots a flat ball, which might be damaging as he adjusts to the NBA’s deeper three-point line, though this is a minor flaw from my perspective. His cumulative three-point rate of .310 is also slightly lower than you’d want for a primary initiator in this era. Given the fact he’s already 23, it’s more challenging to expect a notable shift in his shot profile at the next level.
He’s going to be a good three-point shooter, but living in intermediate zones or at the rim is a difficult proposition for a 6’3 guard. If the overall efficiency nosedives — particularly on two-pointers (59.3 percent in college) — as a result of the dramatic hike in competition, his ancillary toolkit might just not be good enough to ensure he delivers lottery-type value from this draft.
In the second half of his career, Riller showed tangible strides as a playmaker, amassing 256 assists and 176 turnovers compared to 110 assists and 111 turnovers over the inaugural two seasons. There remain holes to patch up, but the development he exhibited allows me to view him as more than a dynamite scorer with a sixth-man spark plug ceiling. Broadly speaking, he grew to better capitalize on his three-level scoring gravity, cognizant of when multiple defenders fixated on him and left themselves susceptible to breakdowns.
The ceiling of Riller’s impact as a passer is directly tied to the degree in which his scoring ability translates. If he remains a potent shot maker from anywhere on the floor, he’ll demand attention from on- and off-ball defenders, opening up passing reads and easy looks, as was the case in college. If he struggles to maintain elite or near-elite efficiency and can generally be dealt with using an on-ball stopper and one keen help defender, he’s likely not manipulative or proactive enough to consistently fashion high-value shots for teammates.
His maturation as a distributor lends credence to the belief he can continue it in the NBA and further his overall offensive game. But I’d wager there’s a limit to the extent one can improve their passing without being highly proactive and instinctual. As he’s shown, reactive passers can learn reads and sharpen their court awareness; the development curve will just plateau at some point, especially since Riller is well older than most prospects.
Early in his collegiate career, he prioritized plunging into clogged lanes ahead of kick-out reads or threading drop-off lay-downs amid the trees. Despite refinements, he wasn’t flawless throughout the final two years. Instead of hitting open shooters, he’d settle for contested jumpers and struggled with live-dribble passing. Although, he welcomed patience into his slashing reserve, better prepared to produce the best shot on the floor, even if it didn’t come from him specifically. Most of his reads were not complex, often swinging it around the arc once double-teams were directed his way, but that’s the causal effect of his scoring: He doesn’t have to be among the league’s best pure passers to be a plus facilitator.
Riller’s burst and handle are going to enact advantages. The swing factor is how regularly he ensures the offense benefits from his compromising of defenses. His size eliminates some passes from arsenal, too small to spot openings or make them. Sifting back through my notes, he still opted for cumbersome self-creation rather than straightforward passes at a fairly high rate. NBA teams are unlikely to provide him the same amount of autonomy. Poor decisions, such as a potential over-saturation of laborious jumpers, will be magnified, once again emphasizing the magnitude of his shot-making translation.
Offense will always be more important for lead guard prospects. But it’s particularly vital for Riller, who lacks the defensive projection of guys such as Killian Hayes, Tyrese Maxey, and Tyrese Haliburton, three guys with a chance to be difference-makers on that end. His Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus peaked at minus-0.13 and the shortcomings manifest on film as well.
Navigating off-ball screens and staying attached to shooters is a significant weak point for Riller. Ball-watching plagues him at times. Despite owning the lateral burst and movement to do so, sitting down in a stance and combating dribble penetration doesn’t happen frequently enough.
Believing Riller can materialize as a neutral or slight positive defensively means investing in his flashes. His lateral movement and strength empower him to stymie attacks. He beats assignments to spots and close driving lanes, drawing charges on a semi-regular basis. Off the ball, his speed and instincts are prevalent when he’s engaged, contributing to his career 2.3 percent steal rate. Riller’s quick and strong hands shine through on stunts, and he shrinks passing lanes with his awareness.
It’s tougher to buy those sequences because he’s already 23 years old. An inconsistent defensive motor is hard to rewire the longer it persists. With 18-year-olds such as Ball or Anthony Edwards, it’s easier to coach away poor habits. The talent, though, is there for Riller to emerge as a stout on-ball guard defender with the instincts to turn teams over off the ball — nothing phenomenal, just enough to not undermine his offensive allure.
One of the most talented offensive players in this year’s class, Riller’s marriage of burst, handle, strength, finishing and pull-up shooting are rare to find. He has the outline of a dynamic three-level scorer, one who bends defenses whenever he has the ball, and his sustained passing development could make him worthy of lead guard status down the road. Even if he’s never afforded the usage to be one, he’ll have utility as a secondary handler due to his downhill slashing and spot-up shooting (40.9 percent on spot-up 3s in college, 79-of-193 shooting). The defense is troublesome, as are the age, inconsistent passing impact and level of competition. But in a class stocked with highly flawed prospects, Riller’s advanced skill set — one most won’t ever boast — has a chance to return top-15 value for a fraction of the cost.