The San Antonio Spurs made a monumental transition into a rebuild when they traded Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks at the beginning of the offseason. But the front office has been relatively quiet in the subsequent months, completing only a handful of unspectacular signings to round out their 2022-2023 roster.
Fourth-year combo forward Isaiah Roby was among the fresh and familiar faces brought to the 2-1-0 this summer, and he might contend for rotation minutes under head coach Gregg Popovich. Stats can only tell so much of the story, so I talked to Jacob Kniffen of The Uncontested Podcast to get the inside scoop on Roby.
Isaiah Roby seemingly had an efficient year as a rotation big and spot-starter a season ago, so why did Oklahoma City waive him this Summer?
The biggest reason why OKC decided to waive Roby this summer comes down to the numbers. The Thunder exited the 2022 NBA Draft with 20 players on roster. Eventually they needed to trim that number down to the league mandated 15 by the end of training camp. By waiving Roby early, it gave him the opportunity to find a new NBA home rather than being hung out to dry by being cut a week before the season begins.
The second part of that question is “why Roby and not someone else?” While Isaiah did have an efficient year and even found himself starting, there is a lot of context that those basic pieces of info leave out. Roby primarily found himself at the end of the bench and with OKC’s G-League affiliate — The OKC Blue — throughout the season. His primary opportunity came in the final month of the NBA season, when General Manager Sam Presti made the decision to pivot the team into a “development phase.” Couple Roby’s lack of regular season production with the fact that the Thunder drafted three frontcourt players this summer, and the writing was very clearly on the wall for Isaiah.
Roby is a unique player from a skill set standpoint, can you expand on his greatest strengths on both sides of the ball?
Roby’s greatest strength is his versatility. At times he started at center for the Thunder, matching up defensively against the likes of Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Jokic. Other nights he would defend wings and consistently switch out onto guards. Offensively he can spot up from three, has some juice off the dribble, and can operate as the ball-handler or screener in pick-and-roll actions.
The 24-year-old can help a team when playing a defined role with limited minutes, but what are his most glaring weaknesses on both ends?
In the more modern NBA, “tweener” has a positive connotation, typically translating to “versatile and good size.” Unfortunately for Roby, he doesn’t fit into a clear role, not because of his great versatility, but because he doesn’t highly succeed in any one spot. He’s generally too small to guard bigs and too slow to guard wings.
With San Antonio’s current frontcourt rotation, are there any players Roby should see minutes over heading into the season?
As far as San Antonio’s rotation is concerned, I don’t see who Roby gets minutes over. Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson are clearly the leaders in that front court. After that, you’d have to assume that the Spurs will be prioritizing the development of Jeremy Sochan and that guys like Zach Collins will continue to get an opportunity due to the size of their contract.
As someone who watched Roby suit up for the Thunder for the last three seasons, what would you say are his ideal offensive and defensive roles?
If Isaiah can continue to progress and develop, I think his ideal offensive role will be a teams 4th or 5th option on the floor, serving as a play finisher. He’s never going to be a guy who creates his own offense, but can be utilized as a roller, cutter, and spot-up shooter. Defensively, his ideal role is a 4/5 tweener, guarding stockier front-court players in the build of Aaron Gordon, the Morris twins, etc.
Do you see Roby as a prospect who has yet to reach his ceiling, or is a player who will likely only improve within his specialized traits?
If he isn’t at his ceiling yet, he is really close. Isaiah was a second-round draft pick who went to the G-League, got traded, played on a two-way deal, and eventually worked his way up to a non-guaranteed deal. He has defied the odds and his perceived ceiling at every step. It seems nearly impossible to form an argument that he will climb any higher, considering the heights he’s already achieved. If you told me that in two years he is a veteran minimum guy who is the 10th or 11th man on a roster, I think that would be pretty accurate.