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Isaiah Roby can bring defense and versatility to the Dallas Mavericks

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The second round pick may have a long road ahead of him, but will have opportunity to contribute to the Mavs

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After trading back to the 45th pick and acquiring some future second rounders, the Dallas Mavericks selected Nebraska forward Isaiah Roby in last Thursday’s NBA Draft. It was a series of moves that fell in line with an active night for nearly every NBA team, where players and picks were shifting hands from start to finish.

For the Mavericks, they added a player (and assets) they believe could help in the future — and according to Donnie Nelson, a player they would have selected with their original 37th pick. Though he couldn’t comment directly because the trade had not been made official by the league, Nelson alluded, “To get the same player you were targeting a little bit later in the second...it was a good night.”

But what did they get in the 6’9 214-pound Roby? Even though there were a variety of players that fell deeper into the draft than expected, it should have been little surprise that Roby was their guy, a player that was projected early and often to the Mavericks in mock drafts back to the spring. Once he’s in Dallas, what can he offer?

The Basics

Isaiah Roby, originally from a small Northwest Illinois town, played three seasons at Nebraska under coach Tim Miles. Though his numbers were never eye-popping, he saw steady improvement in most key areas, averaging 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists his final season.

With so many top players opting out of combine testing the rankings can be a little skewed. But still, Roby showed out well. Measuring with a 7’1 wingspan (20th at the combine) and double-take inducing 3.9 percent body fat (4th), Roby has the NBA length and frame to play both forward positions. He doesn’t have explosive athleticism in his game, but looked good in agility testing.

What is his spot on the roster?

The future of Isaiah Roby with the Dallas Mavericks in his rookie season will be cleared up in the next two weeks. The Mavs have lofty free agency goals, and if they accomplish what they’ve set out to do, Roby will likely spend most of his time with the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate.

If the Mavs don’t have luck at the start of July, Roby’s chance to be on the roster grows. His spot will also be influenced by decisions on restricted free agents Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber, as well as the development of third year wing Justin Jackson. Though some point to Roby’s selection as a sign the Mavericks may be willing to release Finney-Smith, the second rounder still may have a tough time solidifying his spot.

Versatile defense-fluid offense to find the floor

Isaiah Roby will use his versatile defense to earn playing time. A smart, long defender, Roby projects to be capable of guarding both forward spots and could likely extend to guarding shooting guards and centers in switches. He’s best suited to play power forward in Dallas, and will need to add a little more bulk to take on the physical toll. But it’s his length and footwork that will give Carlisle options, and allows Luka Doncic to have a lighter workload on defense.

Whether Roby becomes a help-side shot blocker, uses his length in switches along the perimeter and disrupting passing lanes, or is utilized as a high-IQ team defender, his opportunity with the Mavericks will stem from his ability to defend.

Roby’s fluidity is his best trait on offense. He has a smooth game, and his most covetable NBA skill is grabbing a rebound and pushing in transition. That “grab-and-go” ability is something NBA teams want forwards to do, giving defenses less time to recover. While the Mavericks will want Doncic in that role, having more players capable of handling the ball and finding an outlet in transition is valuable.

The jump shot tells the story

While his defense is what will get him on the floor, his jump shot is what will solidify his opportunity or prevent him from getting playing time at all. Roby is an interesting case of a player who has few obvious issues with his mechanics, but can’t connect with his jumper.

In college he was a low volume shooter, attempting just 146 threes in his three seasons. His sophomore year saw a nice uptick in production, hitting on 40-percent of attempts (though he only attempted 42). This past season Roby doubled his attempts, but saw his average take a hit, connecting on just 33-percent.

The forward almost exclusively shot from above the break (73 of his 84 attempts), but only connected on 30-percent. Because he’ll likely be playing the four in Dallas, Roby should spend time developing his corner threes, where he was 6-of-11 last season. The Mavericks will never need a player like Roby to be a major offensive contributor, but if he can be comfortable in the corners, his value changes exponentially.

Doubts about that development are valid. A key indicator of a player’s transition from college to the pros as a shooter can be found at the free throw line. As Roby shot just 70-percent in his three seasons as a Cornhusker, it doesn’t project well.

Patience is key

For the coaching staff and fans alike, patience must be preached. For players selected in the back half of the second round, muck like undrafted free agents, they have to work doggedly, grinding in the G-League or in practices. Then when that opportunity presents itself, take full advantage of the moment.

At some point, Roby will get that moment. Few fans expected much from undrafted free agent Dorian Finney-Smith when he joined Dallas three years ago. Then he went on to play in 81 games (starting in 35). Few expected much from Dwight Powell, a rookie thrown into the Rajon Rondo trade. Then he went on to becoming a key bench player, and one of the best roll men in the league.

They both worked their tails off and took advantage of their moment. Isaiah Roby will now be tasked to do the same.