Last week, Isaiah Roby became the first Husker drafted into the NBA in 20 years. He was only a second-round pick — taken 45th overall — but as Derek Peterson wrote on draft night, the odds are good for him getting a guaranteed contract.
Playing time, on the other hand, is a complete wild card for second-rounders.
In the 2018 NBA Draft, six players logged at least 15 minutes per game while playing in at least 50 games with their NBA clubs — Elie Okobo (31st) and De’Anthony Melton (46th) with the Phoenix Suns, Jalen Brunson (33rd) with the Dallas Mavericks, Mitchell Robinson (36th) with the New York Knicks, Rodions Kurucs (40th) with the Brooklyn Nets and Bruce Brown (42nd) with the Detroit Pistons. Four of them — Brunson, Robinson, Kurucs and Brown — started double-digit games.
Only two of the picks were spent on draft-and-stash players while another chose to sign with a team overseas. Just two second-round picks (Brunson and Robinson) played exclusively in the NBA.
On the other hand, 25 of those picks saw at least some playing time in the NBA’s development league, the G League, and that could be a potential landing spot for Roby if he isn’t able to earn a rotation spot as a rookie — or perhaps even if he does.
Of those 25 players who saw G League action, 13 of them played in at least 20 games at that level, ranging from Memphis’ Jevon Carter (picked 32nd) to Dallas’ Kostas Antetokounmpo (taken 60th).
For a direct comparison, Hamidou Diallo was taken by the Brooklyn Nets with the 45th pick in the draft but ended up in Oklahoma City via trade. The 6-foot-5 guard out of Kentucky played in 51 games with the Thunder, averaging 10.3 minutes per contest. He also played in six G-League games, where he logged nearly 30 minutes per game, putting up 19.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
The NBA has really invested in the G League over the last few years as most of the teams have established their own affiliates — there are 27 teams now in the G League. The addition of the two-way contract — which creates two extra spots on NBA rosters exclusively for players that split their time between the NBA team and the G League team — has created more opportunities for NBA teams to develop young players and has elevated the level of talent in the G League. Roby has seen that growth in the G League.
“I think it’s really good,” Roby told Hail Varsity. “Obviously the Raptors are showing that it’s a great tool for guys, especially if you’re in a situation where you have a guaranteed contract and you can go back and forth with the team. I think it’s a great tool. If I do get sent down there, that will be my time to work on my game. That’s exactly what it’s for. Either way, I’m just going to be working my hardest and making the best out of the situation.”
The Toronto Raptors played primarily an eight-man rotation in the playoffs on their way to capturing the 2019 NBA Championship. Four of those players saw at least a little bit of time in the G League at some point in their careers. Fred VanVleet, one of the heroes of the Finals, logged 16 games in the G League as a rookie after signing as an undrafted free agent. Danny Green, who was acquired in the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, was a second-round pick by Cleveland several years back and actually got cut by the Cavs before signing with the Spurs. He played in 19 D-League games (pre-Gatorade sponsorship for the league) during his first two seasons as he fought to carve out a role for himself in the NBA, and he developed into one of the better 3-and-D guards in the NBA.
The Raptors had a handful of other players that didn’t see the court much in the playoffs log some time in the G League this season as well. Time in the practice gym to refine his skills as well as the weight room to add strength to his frame will certainly serve him well, but above all else, Roby needs playing time. He needs game reps with his jump shot to build confidence, and he’ll need to play to adjust to the speed of the game at the NBA level.
Whether those reps come in the NBA or in the G League is up to Roby as well as the decision-makers in Dallas, but either way the former Husker should get the shot he needs to work on his game and prove he belongs.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.