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Season Report Card: Nate Roberts & Riley Sorn

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We deep dive into the season’s performance of the 2 biggest men on the Husky roster

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2021-22 Men’s Basketball season over we can look back at each of the players to see how different things ended up from what we thought might happen in the preseason. We’ll be going through the roster 2 at a time to review how each player performed and what to expect moving forward for those sticking around. The letter grades given out to each player are a combination of how they fared compared to expectations and how they played overall. If someone was much better than I expected but still not great then they cap out at a B+. If someone was really good but worse than I expected then their floor is a B-.

Previous Additions:

Terrell Brown Jr. and Daejon Davis

Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jamal Bey

Nate Roberts- Senior, 6’11, 265 lbs

Max’s Per Game Predictions: 6.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 56.5% FG, 50.0% FT

Actual Per Game Averages: 5.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 50.0% FG, 44.3% FT

Preseason Prediction Quote: “I am expecting that Roberts will continue to start off the season as the starter at center but as we’ll see throughout this section, the Huskies have many more options to replace him if he starts off slowly than they did last year. It wouldn’t entirely shock me to see him slowly fade from the rotation as the year goes on but I’m going to start out anticipating he sees somewhere close to 25 minutes per game and makes a few strides with a legitimate big man coaching him for the first time in his career with Wyking Jones.”

Prior Seasons

Roberts redshirted his first year in college with Noah Dickerson and Sam Timmins on the roster as seniors. Then he had to contend with 5-star Isaiah Stewart and fellow RS freshman Bryan Penn-Johnson for playing time and played sparingly. Finally last year though he broke through to become the primary center. Roberts averaged 5.2 points and 5.7 rebounds playing just over 20 minutes per game. Foul trouble kept Roberts on the bench for extended periods and he struggled to block shots or put the ball in the basket with less than stellar hands.

Season Summary

For most of the season it certainly looked like Roberts had failed to make any improvements from the previous year. After Washington came back from an extended COVID pause Roberts played fewer than 10 minutes in 3 consecutive games and it looked like he might fade away from the starting spot. He rebounded with a 10 point and 12 rebound double double against Cal and really picked it up over the final 10 games when he averaged 7.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. That included 16 rebound double doubles in each of his last 2 home games.

The most glaring issue for Roberts has always been his hands and that didn’t improve this year. Given his massive physical profile it always seemed like he should be able to go up and dunk the ball whenever he wanted. Instead he somehow only completed 21 of 31 dunk attempts this year and shot just 50% from the field despite almost all of those shots coming at the rim. He also regressed from the free throw line to shoot worse than 50%.

Roberts’ biggest strength only improved this year though as he was an elite rebounder while on the court. Ultimately, Roberts finished 2nd in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding rate and 5th in defensive rebounding rate. That came despite having at least 3 balls every game seemingly go off his hands out of bounds. It still wasn’t close to what you want for a center in Mike Hopkins zone but Roberts also had a career high block rate.

Advanced Stats Breakdown

No one who watched Roberts play offense over his career will be surprised to find out that per Synergy Sports he finished below average in every single play type. His most common shot attempt was on put back attempts and Roberts only shot 48% which is in just the 18th percentile nationally. He also continued to display no post-up game whatsoever as Roberts managed just 0.585 points per possession in those situations which ranked in the 13th percentile nationally. The overall shooting percentages when cutting or rolling to the basket were good but those are also high percentage play types so he still didn’t quite pass the 50th percentile.

The defensive statistics were a mixed bag. Roberts graded out very poorly defending against spot up shooters. That’s also largely a function of the zone defense. The center should essentially never be the closest defender to a spot up shooter unless the zone has already broken down and he’s closing out on someone that was left wide open already. Unsurprisingly opponents shot 45% in those situations. Roberts with his tremendous strength was however a tremendous defender against opposing big men trying to post up. He graded out in the 88th percentile nationally by turning posting up bigs into...essentially Nate Roberts.

Near midseason I noted that Nate Roberts was last among the traditional starting lineup in the individual plus minus categories. That turned around as Roberts started to play much better in the 2nd half of the year and the team ended up finishing better when he was playing. Washington was a little less than 4 points per 100 possessions improved with Roberts on the court versus off. About 25% of that improvement was on the offensive end while the majority was defensive improvement.

Against premium competition those totals flipped as Washington ended up 3.5 points per 100 possessions worse with Roberts playing in Q1 and Q2 games. In those cases the defensive improvement was about the same but instead of being slightly better on offense, Washington was quite a bit worse.

Conclusion

Roberts announced earlier this week that his college playing career is over. Given that he had 2 more years of eligibility remaining it’s reasonable to think what kind of player he might’ve been as a 6th year senior with those extra years of experience. As it was Nate Roberts at Washington was a superb rebounder who never quite figured out how to make impact plays in other ways. His value on offense was almost entirely in setting screens and getting second chances which are certainly not the most glorious of achievements.

Despite Roberts’ obvious flaws he will still be tough to replace for the Huskies next year. Washington was one of the worst rebounding teams in the country this season and that was with a starting center in Roberts who was one of the best in the Pac-12 on the boards. It was great for Husky fans that he had possibly the 2 best games of his career in his final 2 games in Hec-Ed but that is liable to add to the sense that his Husky tenure ended up somewhat incomplete without at least one more chapter next fall.

Final Season Grade: B

*****************************************************************

Riley Sorn- Senior, 7’5, 255 lbs

Max’s Per Game Predictions: 2.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 70.0% FG, 62.0% FT

Actual Per Game Averages: 2.1 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 83.3% FG, 66.7% FT

Preseason Prediction Quote: “The hope for Sorn is that another offseason adjusting to the zone defense will help him develop his instincts so that he can become a difference maker in short bursts on that end of the court. Washington’s big man depth is much better this year than it was last year which may result in Sorn seeing fewer total minutes.”

Prior Seasons

The incredibly tall Sorn came is as a preferred walk-on and spent his first two years glued to the bench off scholarship. Before his 3rd season at UW he was put on scholarship and it wasn’t clear if that would mean seeing actual playing time. With UW’s lack of big man depth Sorn did see a lot more of the court than anyone expected. A 16 point and 8 rebound effort against Colorado was the highlight of the year as he averaged a rounded up 3 points and 3 rebounds per game.

Season Summary

Things this offseason were better off the court (he got married last summer) than on the court as Riley suffered a back injury that kept him out for much of the non-conference. Sorn made his season debut in the loss to Utah Valley but only played 2 minutes. He played 18 minutes against a jumbo sized Arizona lineup but that ended up a season high. Only 2 other times did Sorn eclipse 10 minutes and he received 8 DNPs during that time.

As you would expect for someone as tall as Sorn, whenever he caught the ball right next to the basket he was able to score. Over half of his attempts were dunk as he was 10/10 slamming it home and 5/8 on all other shots in the paint. Turnovers though were a major problem as he lost the ball on about 1/4th of his finished possessions. Although the sample size was small enough that it’s hard to judge.

On the positive end of things Sorn saw large increases in his block and defensive rebounding rates which were both lower than expected last year for a 7’5 center. Still though there were plenty of times on defense when Sorn didn’t have the footspeed to challenge a midrange jumper and get back for a rebound or recover to fall back and defend a cut coming from the corner.

Advanced Stats Breakdown

Sorn ended the season finishing 4th in the country in points per possession and 2nd in field goal percentage for anyone with at least as many possessions on offense. Unfortunately that number was just 24 so it isn’t a very representative sample. All of his possessions came either on put back attempts or with him rolling/cutting to the basket, catching the ball high, and finishing with either a dunk or essentially just dropping the ball through the net.

Synergy doesn’t have much in the way of defensive stats for Sorn as they attributed just 9 possessions to him all season with his limited minutes. Opponents shot 50% on those attempts but it’s not a meaningful enough sample to make any judgments.

The Plus/Minus data is still a small sample but it is a little more representative. As could be expected, Washington was about 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when Sorn was on the court but they were also about 7 points per 100 possessions worse on defense to make Sorn’s contributions a net minus. Things were even worse against Q1/Q2 opponents as the offense actually improved by more (+6.5) but the defense deteriorated (-13.5).

Conclusion

Sorn is yet another Husky that will have to make a decision about whether they want to stay and continue their college career at Washington with 2 years of eligibility left or move on. One of the reasons he chose UW was their aerospace engineering degree but Sorn changed majors during his time so it’s unclear if he’ll graduate this spring or not.

If he does choose to return his role will likely be dictated by whether Washington is able to add a veteran center in the transfer portal. Regardless it feels clear that when Sorn is in the game the Huskies will be able to get an offensive boost with a giant dunking threat but those gains are liable to be wiped out by the limitations on the defensive end. Even though Sorn’s presence will clearly lead to some blocked or altered shots if teams choose to attack him directly.

Final Season Grade: B-