Isaiah Roby
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Padding the Stats: On NBA Summer League and Isaiah Roby in San Antonio

July 06, 2022

This is a big week for Bryce and Trey McGowens. The Las Vegas Summer League tips off on Thursday and will provide the McGowens brothers with their first opportunities to play as professionals.

Bryce and the Charlotte Hornets will open summer league play against Indiana on Friday, while Trey McGowens and the Los Angeles Clippers will begin on Saturday against Memphis. The league will run all next week as well, wrapping up on Sunday, July 17.

If you’re unfamiliar with the NBA Summer League, it provides recent draft picks and other NBA hopefuls an opportunity to play together in front of professional scouts. 

Bryce McGowens is in a unique situation. The Hornets traded up to acquire him with the 40th pick in the draft, but they only signed him to a two-way contract. They wouldn’t have made that move if they didn’t see something in him, but as of now they have very little invested in him. 

This is Bryce’s first chance to show the Hornets they were correct in prioritizing him. Charlotte is set to have five other draft picks from this year or last on the roster alongside McGowens. He doesn’t have to drop 20 a game or anything like that, but a strong showing would certainly help him earn a longer-term deal with the Hornets down the road.

As for Trey McGowens, he falls into the “NBA hopeful” category after going undrafted. Landing an NBA contract is a long shot for someone like Trey, but it’s still an opportunity to get some good film. NBA general managers won’t be the only ones following the summer league. The older McGowens will also be playing to draw the attention of G League teams and overseas scouts. Whether it’s a guaranteed NBA deal, a two-way contract, a spot in the G League or an overseas contract, Summer League is the first step toward becoming pro.

The McGowens brothers won’t be the only former Huskers playing in Summer League. 

James Palmer Jr. already got his summer league run started with the Utah Jazz at the Salt Lake City Summer League, one of the two smaller events that lead into Vegas. Palmer started against Oklahoma City on Tuesday and played 26 minutes, finishing with nine points, two rebounds and two assists on 3-of-9 from the field and 1-of-4 from the line.

Dalano Banton will also run it back with the Toronto Raptors after an encouraging first season split between the big club and its G League team. 

Isaiah Roby has graduated from participating in Summer League, but he too will look to re-establish himself in a new location. Oklahoma City waived him on Sunday before his salary became guaranteed and the San Antonio Spurs claimed him off waivers on Tuesday.

This will be the second time Roby has started over with a new franchise. He started his career with Dallas, but the Mavericks traded him midseason to Oklahoma City. Foot problems limited him to just three NBA games that first season, but he got a chance to play in year two and made the most of it.

The Thunder leadership have chosen to undertake a multi-year tanking process. In addition to shipping off players for draft picks, they’ve prioritized giving young players playing time and have often chosen to sit veterans for extended stretches to maximize lottery odds. Roby is one of those young players who has gotten a chance over the past two years.

In his second season, Roby played in 61 games with 34 starts. He averaged 8.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.9 turnovers in 23.4 minutes per game while shooting 48.3% from the field and 29.4% from 3.

Roby was in and out of the rotation this past season, but when he got a chance to play he showed improvement. He appeared in 45 games with 28 starts and averaged 10.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 turnover in 21.1 minutes per game while shooting 51.4% from the field including 44.4% from 3.

Roby got an opportunity he might not have with another franchise, and in the process I believe he proved that he can play at the NBA level. However, that same opportunity the Thunder provided him with is why he didn’t really factor into their future plans despite his improvement. They just have too many young players they need to develop.

Even after waiving Roby, the Thunder have 15 players under guaranteed contracts, which is the limit. They have five forwards — Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aleksej Pokusevski, Chet Holmgren and Ousmane Dieng — still on rookie contracts in addition to veterans Derrick Favors, Mike Muscala and JaMychal Green. Roby is a couple years older than all of the others on rookie contracts and he’s entering the final season of his deal, so he was the odd man out.

Oklahoma City picked up his team option a few days prior to waiving him, likely to maintain flexibility in case of a potential trade, but nothing materialized and they cut him before they had to pay him.

Roby landed on waivers, and many in the basketball world viewed him as an intriguing piece worth taking a chance on. The Spurs, ninth on the waiver wire, apparently felt the same way and picked up Roby on his $1.9 million salary for this season.

In San Antonio, Roby finds himself in a similar situation to the one in Oklahoma City. The Spurs have traded away two of their top three scorers from last season (Derrick White at the trade deadline, Dejounte Murray last week), signaling an apparent desire to enter the tanking race for the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, Victor Wembanyama (if you haven’t heard of him yet, look up some highlights).

Unlike in Oklahoma City, however, the majority of San Antonio’s recent first-round picks are all in the backcourt or on the wing: Josh Primo, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and new draft picks Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley. They did use the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft on versatile forward Jeremy Sochan, but otherwise the Spurs are currently light in the frontcourt with veterans Doug McDermott, Jakob Poeltl and Zach Collins.

San Antonio still has some work to do to finalize its roster, but as of now it looks like he’ll get a chance to be part of their rotation and keep developing. Roby showed he’s capable of playing both the four and the five in Oklahoma City. He improved his perimeter shooting and ball security this past season, but he’ll have to continue taking strides on the defensive end to prove to San Antonio that he can be part of their team moving forward.

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