Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020 | 2 a.m.
If you trust T.J. Otzelberger’s player evaluation skills, then you should be excited about incoming transfer Caleb Grill.
Otzelberger first recruited Grill, a 3-star prospect in the Class of 2019, to South Dakota State, earning his commitment early in the process (at that time, Grill was the highest-rated recruit in the program’s history). When Otzelberger left to take the UNLV job, Grill decommitted and Otzelberger made another run at him, but was ultimately unsuccessful in drawing him to Las Vegas.
Grill instead headed to Iowa State, where he made modest contributions as a freshman (29 games, two starts, 2.1 points, 13.2 minutes). Unsatisfied with that situation, Grill entered the transfer portal and Otzelberger was there again, putting on the full-court press.
The third time proved to be the charm, and Grill committed to UNLV in April. The NCAA approved his waiver for immediate eligibility over the summer, so the 6-foot-3 guard will suit up this season. Now, after all those pursuits, what can Otzelberger expect from Grill?
The first thing on the scouting report when Grill was coming out of high school was his outside shooting. He was touted as one of the top sharpshooters to come out of Kansas in recent memory, but he struggled to live up to that billing in his one year at Iowa State.
Grill shot just 25.0 percent from 3-point range on 1.8 attempts per game, which is not good. There were some extenuating circumstances; a broken bone forced Grill to play with a wrap on his shooting hand for a good chunk of the season, but he also has unconventional shot mechanics. His footwork is a little wonky (his feet are very close together when he sets up his jump shot, and they’re angled away from the rim) and it leads to some off-balance attempts.
Still, he made 3-of-6 from deep in the games I watched, and his release looked pretty clean:
Grill looked way more comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations than when shooting off the dribble, but that’s normal. He showed good instincts for relocating and getting open for kick-out passes, so if he gets healthy and gets his mechanics locked in, he could still be the plus shooter everyone expected.
It’s hard to say what other skills Grill might bring to an offense, because at Iowa State he didn’t do anything besides stand in the corner and shoot the occasional 3-pointer. That’s not hyperbole; when rewatching those games, there are entire possessions in a row where Grill will stand rooted to one spot on the floor, just providing spacing. He didn’t run any pick-and-rolls, no dribble handoffs, no isolation plays, no nothing.
On the few occasions, when he did get his hands on the ball and was asked to handle the ball, his dribbling abilities appeared to be rudimentary:
Grill is known as a shooter, but his most important contribution to UNLV this season might be his perimeter defense.
At 6-foot-3, he has the size to defend guards and wings off the dribble, and he is tenacious on and off the ball. He works hard to stay in front of his man (navigating around screens is one of his best talents), and though he has some trouble with change of direction and can stumble over his feet once in a while, he works hard and does not give offensive players any space.
He sticks tight to his assignment, doesn’t bite on pump fakes and makes offensive players uncomfortable:
Grill also puts in work before his man receives the ball. He puts a lot of effort into ball denial, running over and around screens in order to discourage passes. That throws a wrench into offensive possessions, and coaches love defenders who play with that kind of effort:
The big question that might determine how much Grill plays this year is how well he can handle playing “power forward” in UNLV’s four-guard lineups. With Marvin Coleman, David Jenkins and Bryce Hamilton locked in at three guard positions, Otzelberger is still looking for a consistent presence at that fourth spot; if Grill can defend bigger players while providing shooting and spacing on offense, he could end up playing starter’s minutes.
The good news is that Grill won’t shy away from doing big-man stuff on the defensive end. He is willing to scrap in the paint and battle against larger players, whether it’s defending the post or carving out space in rebounding scrums. He’ll take on that role with full intensity:
Grill does have physical limitations, though, and there are times when he’ll cede offensive rebounds to taller players who can simply reach higher than him. But Otzelberger may be OK with making that trade-off in exchange for Grill’s shooting at the offensive end.
After watching some of Grill’s play from last year, you can see why Otzelberger became enamored of him in the first place. Grill has a nice shooting stroke, good size and is a coach’s dream when it comes to defensive effort. If he can put all those pieces together and fit his role, UNLV fans will be very happy that Otzelberger never gave up on getting Grill.