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August 18, 2021

Sixers sign second-year guard Grant Riller to a two-way contract, waive Rayjon Tucker

The Sixers are signing guard Grant Riller to a two-way contract, replacing the recently waived Rayjon Tucker, a team source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Wednesday. Riller, a 24-year-old guard who played at the College of Charleston, was a two-way player for the Charlotte Hornets, splitting his time between the Greensboro Swarm and their parent club. The move is expected to be official later this month.

You would be forgiven for not knowing much about a small school guy who didn't get much burn last year, but Riller does not have the exact skill set you would expect in a player his size. At a compact six-foot-three weighing 190 pounds, Riller entered the 2020 Draft as probably the best finisher among guards in the class. A down year at the rim as a senior still resulted in Riller making over 63 percent of his looks at the rim on halfcourt possessions, down from an outrageous 74.2 percent his junior year, and the vast majority of those looks were self-created. He was an offensive machine in college, and with a tight handle, great footwork, and very good touch, Riller was able to read where defenders were headed and get himself to whatever opening they left behind. He finished from angles of all sorts, leaning into defenders to create separation or utilizing a nice runner/floater package to score over length.

If you believe in his shot translating, the makings of a high-level scorer at the next level are there. The good news is that Riller got off to a good start on that front last season: Riller shot the hell out of the ball from deep in limited action with the Hornets and their G-League affiliate last season, making over 46 percent of his threes in the G League on 4.7 attempts per game. While that was admittedly in a tiny sample size of 52 attempts, it's a positive sign in the small window we've had to evaluate Riller as a pro. 

On the other hand, Riller was a poor defender in a small college conference and there hasn't been a lot to suggest things will get better for him at the next level. Riller should have been a standout for the Hornets at Summer League this season with a year of NBA experience under his belt, but he didn't do much to impress against middling competition on a team that went 0-5 in Vegas. Perhaps the Sixers have a better environment for him to succeed, with an elite big to hide his issues on defense who stands to benefit from his scoring ability, but Riller still has a long way to go to prove he can get buckets against NBA-caliber competition, and at 24, he's probably going to have to prove it to NBA evaluators sooner rather than later.

Is he a more interesting two-way candidate than Tucker? Probably, though I think you could make a coherent case for either guy. Riller's ceiling is as a guy who can probably carry your bench offense, and while Tucker has scored in bunches in the G League, his brute force style has not necessarily translated to results with the big club. There's a defensive gap between the two of them (certainly in the tools department) but that hasn't proven meaningful to this stage of their young careers.

Riller filling the two-way spot almost immediately does inspire questions about Philly's end of bench plans — second-round pick Charles Bassey did not play with the team in Vegas on the advice of his agent, and a two-way spot that could have easily gone to the Western Kentucky big has now been filled. With two-way player Aaron Henry closing out Summer League strong, it seems Bassey's best chance to make Philly's roster would be for Philly to waive Anthony Tolliver's non-guaranteed salary to work out a team-friendly, parent club deal for Bassey. It's unclear if that's a priority at this point or if the Sixers prefer to search for another grizzled veteran to help a group that got younger this offseason.

Update: After some conversations with people around the team, our understanding is that Bassey is firmly in the Sixers' plans for this season and they expect to sign him to an NBA contract.

In any case, this is about as much excitement as you're going to get with the Sixers for a while, so savor it while it lasts.

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