Yesterday, the Ronald Roberts era in Toronto officially began. Roberts was signed to a multi-year, partially-guaranteed contract, the financial details for which haven't been disclosed. He joins a multitude of players entering training camp with a chance at the 15th roster spot, or a future as one of the four "affiliate players" the Raptors can assign to Raptors 905.
We know a bit about Roberts, having seen him play for the Raptors in the Las Vegas Summer League, but there's a lot more to his basketball story. Last week, I caught up with Garrett Miley, senior writer at City of Basketball Love, a Philadelphia-based basketball site. Miley has covered Roberts for the last three years - both at Saint Joseph's, where Roberts played four years, and during his time in the 76ers D-League system. He gave me a bit of insight into what to expect from Roberts The Raptor.
Roberts was not one of the players on people's radar as the Raptors entered Summer League. Generally, what should people know about his game?
Roberts is, without a doubt, one of the most athletic players in the NBA. He's a hard worker that brings high energy onto the court every time he enters a game. He's worked on his touch around the rim and his mid-range jumper since he arrived at Saint Joseph's, and while it still stands to improve, his game has transformed even more since he left college.
How does he use his athleticism to his advantage beyond dunking?
Most people know of Roberts from his posterizing fastbreak dunk from the Saint Joseph's vs. Creighton game in his sophomore season (below), or from his behind-the-back slam in warm-ups for the Sixers last season, but Roberts athleticism is more useful than just for highlight reel dunks. He rebounds at a high rate, especially for a slightly undersized forward, and is able to sky for boards and snag them with both hands above other players. He's able to block shots, even at their highest point, especially on the ball with his leaping ability.
Knowing what you know about Saint Joseph's, how did the system and coaching there improve Roberts' game over four years?
Roberts wasn't a four-year starter at Saint Joseph's, but was a supreme energy player his first two seasons on Hawk Hill. Phil Martelli took a chance on Roberts out of high school after things didn't work out between Roberts and St. John's, where he signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Red Storm. Martelli brought him along slowly, using him as an energy player off of the bench to rebound and catch dunks on offence. In his final two seasons of college basketball, Roberts became a starter and a double-double machine. His numbers improved every single season under Martelli, with the exception of free throw shooting.
In Saint Joseph's offense, the ball doesn't get fed into the post from the top of the key very much so it's difficult to tell how Roberts' back to the basket game developed over four years, but his instincts around the rim and touch away from the basket improved night and day from when he was a freshman in 2010-11.
At 6'8", height is an issue at his position. What does Roberts need to develop before he can crack the Raptors 12-man roster?
As I mentioned before, Roberts is a bit undersized for the NBA four but not by much. He makes up for a slight lack of size with his athleticism (he rivals Andrew Wiggins in the standing jump), but does need to continue to keep defenders honest from mid-range and the free throw line to open up easy opportunities to score in the paint.
With a true point guard like Kyle Lowry, Roberts should have the opportunity to improve his back to the basket game after never really playing with a true point guard with a high assist rate in college (Carl Jones and Langston Galloway were both more of combo guards). For Roberts to crack the 12-man roster, he will need to show off his improve touch, but also not stray away from what he knows best - hustle.