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Preseason Player Profiles: Nate Roberts

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Can we expect big things from the redshirt freshman in his first official action in a Husky uniform?

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Roberts; Redshirt Freshman; Washington, D.C

6’10, 235 lbs. Class of 2018: 3 stars, #244 overall (247 Composite)

Italy Exhibition Stats: 17.2 minutes, 9.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 74.5% FG, 45.5% FT

When the recruiting process started for Nate Roberts he was an incredibly skinny 6’7 small forward. Fast forward to this past August and Coach Hopkins described Roberts as being most similar in physique to Dwight Howard. That’s quite a progression in a short period of time and you can forgive Roberts for needing a redshirt year to get used to the extra few inches and the extra few pounds.

Roberts chose Washington over Syracuse and Nebraska as a middling 3-star recruit coming off the bench for a very talented Brewster Academy powerhouse. But after an incredibly impressive showing in Italy it certainly looks like Roberts is ready to demonstrate that he was massively underrated coming out of high school.

Offensive Game

When you watch Roberts play it becomes evident quite quickly that he had a sudden growth spurt and was used to operating on the perimeter. In one of the games in Italy this summer Roberts corralled a defensive rebound in traffic. He decided to start bringing the ball down the court, discovered no one was really in his way until he hit the free throw line, split a pair of defenders, and finished a layup through traffic for an and-one. There aren’t a lot of guys at 6’10 with a 7+ foot wingspan who can do that.

Roberts has soft hands and the ability to put the ball on the floor which should allow him to frequently skirt around opposing flat footed big men for layups or dunks around the rim. I haven’t seen a lot in the way of post moves from him but that will come with time and experience and a player is more likely to learn those than to learn how to dribble through traffic. Roberts already has the hardest parts down.

That perimeter play also means that he has a pretty clean jump shot. He only attempted a single 3-pointer during the time in Italy but it swished. The ability to present a credible threat from the perimeter will allow Coach Hop to deploy Roberts alongside another back to the basket player and still create some spacing on offense. That’s absolutely vital on a team that is loaded with players around 6’9 and relatively light on players around 6’6. I don’t know if I’d quite consider Roberts as a “Stretch 4” but he can approximate one well enough to keep the offense functional when he’s out there.

Defensive Game

Roberts has extremely long arms and at times during the Italy tour he was played at center on defense. The majority of the time though we can expect Roberts to be manning one of the corner spots in the zone. His fluidity and incredibly long arms mean that once Roberts fully gets a hang of the defense then he should pretty much eliminate the threat of a corner 3 on his side of the floor. You’ll see some blocked shots from Roberts but I expect that he will have a bigger impact getting steals by clogging the passing lanes with his massive reach and agility.

The biggest plus in Roberts’ game though is his rebounding. Hop called Roberts the best rebounder on the team before the games in Italy started and I believed that to be hyperbole with the presence of generational talent Isaiah Stewart on the roster. It wasn’t.

There’s a decent chance that Roberts is the best rebounder the Huskies have had since the Brockness monster himself roamed around Hec-Ed with hands made of glue. Again, you have to insert quality of competition caveats with everything from the Italy exhibitions. But Roberts averaged 0.55 rebounds per minute. For context, Noah Dickerson never did better than 0.31 in his career. Jon Brockman averaged 0.38 rebounds per minute during his senior year. Even if his rate totals are cut almost in half against true college competition it puts him in the general vicinity of the best in the last several decades at UW.

Expectations for 2019-20

The play of Roberts was my biggest revelation from watching the performance of the team in Italy. He’s got the physical tools but they’re clearly accompanied by a tremendous basketball IQ. The Dawgs are loaded with big men this season but Hop is going to have a tough time keeping Roberts off the court. Defensive rebounding is such a weakness for the Husky zone but if Stewart and Roberts are your 4/5 combo then opponents are going to find it almost impossible to grab loose boards.

Roberts should see his playing time slowly increase throughout the season as he gains more experience and demonstrates that he’s one of the better options the team has available. Nonetheless, he’s not going to play more minutes than Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels so there’s a bit of a cap on his ceiling for this season. Expect Roberts to come off the bench for heavy minutes and maybe even be a part of some finishing lineups depending on what is needed against certain opponents.

Per Game Projections: 20 minutes, 4.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 52.2% FG, 30% 3pt, 56.3% FT