Padding the Stats: Big Ten Players and the 2019 NBA Draft
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Isaiah Roby Continues to Show Off Skills at NBA Combine

May 18, 2019

The NBA Combine continued in Chicago on Friday and Nebraska junior Isaiah Roby took the court once again hoping to impress the scouts and general managers in attendance.

The rest of the players who chose to participate went through their athletic testing on Friday, pushing the total to 58. Roby was top-15 in four of the five tests and top-five among frontcourt players. He was second among all bigs in lane agility and three-quarter court sprint.

The vertical leap is still the most confusing part as his standing vertical of 32.5 inches was tied for the eighth-highest. However, his max vertical — allowing players to get a running start — was only 35.5 inches, 30th overall and tied for 10th among frontcourt players. The 3-inch differential was one of the smallest at the combine. Overall, though, I’d say Roby probably helped himself with the testing as he projects to be a versatile forward capable of switching onto guards and holding his own.

Roby received plenty of praise during the TV broadcast on Thursday and got even more on Friday as the second scrimmage was getting started.

“Isaiah Roby of Nebraska is a player that I’ve been keeping an eye on throughout this,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “I know Mike Schmitz has. as well. A guy that can really defend, he had 50 steals and 50 blocks — over that — the last two years at Nebraska and I think he has a chance to get up into the late first round. A really talented player, but his ability to guard multiple positions I think makes him really intriguing in this draft.”

Schmitz, one of ESPN’s NBA Draft analysts, chimed in as well.

“He’s the type of guy you’re looking for as the modern NBA big,” Schmitz said. “There were times this year where they let him bring the ball up the floor even off a made basket, so that speaks to his handle, his feel. He’s a great young man and his ability to switch ball screens, protect the rim and make an occasional 3 is coveted in today’s game.”

The second scrimmage didn’t go much better for Roby’s team than the first one as they shot 35.6 percent from the field and had as many turnovers as assists in a 91-74 loss.Jalen Lecque and Charles Bassey chose not to participate in the second day of scrimmaging, leaving eight players on Roby’s squad and more playing time to go around.

After playing 21 minutes off the bench in the first scrimmage, Roby started and played 30 minutes on Friday. He finished with 15 points on 7-of-15 from the field, 0-of-4 from 3 and 1-of-1 from the line with six rebounds (one offensive), two assists, two steals, one block and one turnover.

Roby’s final total on 3-pointers was 1-of-5. His first look on Friday was a catch-and-shoot look from the corner that was off, though the pass was down around his ankles. His second was another catch-and-shoot look from the corner, this time off a good pass, but he still missed. His third look was a pick-and-pop opportunity above the break. His final attempt was also off a pick-and-pop action int he final 10 seconds, though he hesitated on the catch and instead put the ball on the deck, ending up taking a 3 anyway off the dribble.

A two-game sample size is incredibly small, but Roby didn’t show much in terms of his jumper inside the arc or out.

He showed some things attacking the basket on Friday, however. He scored the first points of the game in transition, beating guys down the floor, though he ended up finishing with a weird finger role thing as he wasn’t able to elevate very much for whatever reason. He finished strong with a dunk every time he had the chance after that, however, throwing down three dunks in the game. One was a two-handed flush on a dump-off pass. One was with Roby leading the fast break, slowing down to read the floor then exploiting the the rim for the one-handed jam. 

The third as a second-chance opportunity as Roby tracked down the rebound after a teammate got blocked on a 3, dribbled once or twice and then elevated for the slam.

Roby had a couple of impressive left-handed finishes off the dribble in addition to the dunks. On the first, Roby popped after a ball screen and caught the ball at the arc. He faced up, hit the defender with a jab-step, drove left and finished through contact for the three-point play.

That play in particular sparked another wave of praise from Bilas and Schmitz.

“Isaiah Roby with that left-hand drive, taking it and finishing with the left hand, showing a little bit of skill,” Bilas said. “I still think his best value right now is as a defender with his defensive versatility and really, really long arms. Just 6-7, but a wingspan of well over 7-feet.”

Roby was 6-foot-7.25 without shoes but 6-foot-8.5 in shoes, and his wingspan was 7-foot-1, not well over 7 feet. Bilas’ point sands, however.

“He’s got a lot of skill, a lot of skill and versatility,” Schmitz said. “I spoke with him earlier this year and he’s from a very small town. He said their gym was actually under renovation or there were some issues all summer so he drove an hour-and-a-half each way every single day to work out with Ethan Happ and a lot of guys in his area so he clearly loves the game and has a skill set that teams are looking for.”

Roby also had a couple of nice finishes in transition, one with each hand. On the first, he pushed it himself after getting a steal and splitting two defenders to finish with his left hand. On the second, he found himself in a two-one-one, read that the defender hadn’t committed either way, faked the pass to his teammate then finished with his inside-hand on the left side.

His lack of strength or control did hurt him a few times. In one pick-and-roll action, Roby caught the ball on a short roll, made a strong move through the defender to the rim but threw up a wild shot that wasn’t close. He also tried to back down Darius Bazley, a 6-foot-9, 208-pound 18-year-old, and barely moved him, settling for a long jump hook that he left way short.

Roby had one really bad pass where he caught a skip-pass, used a fake then attacked — dropping Ignas Brazdeikis’s in the process — before jump-stopping when the 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall rotated to cut off his drive. He tried to dump the ball off to Fall’s man but instead just threw to out of bounds. However, Roby did show the ability to find cutters in traffic. He was credited with a pair of assists but made a few other nice passes that just didn’t lead to buckets.

Defensively, he showed good hands in forcing a couple of turnovers while also blocking one shot and contesting a few others at the rim. He defended well in space. However, Roby’s defensive discipline needs to improve. He got caught ball-watching once and gave up a back-cut for a layup. He fell badly for a pump-fake which led to a blow-by and an and-one. He missed a few box-outs. Roby has terrific defensive potential, but he needs to clean that stuff up to be relied upon at the next level.

All in all, Roby’s combine performance followed his Nebraska career. He certainly showed his flaws but he also showed off the physical tools and unique skill set that continues to make him an intriguing prospect. He did enough at least to draw the eye of Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo who included him on his combine wrap-up.

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