In my “Game Grades” post from earlier today, I had both Theo Maledon and Isaiah Roby in the “Passing” grade for their performance in Wednesday’s outing vs the Chicago Bulls. Their stat lines were not pretty, but they did show spurts of promise in the game.
The same story holds true in their preseason debut, as Roby and Maledon had actually put up even better performances:
Where did these spurts of promise come from you may ask? When Maledon and Roby were on the floor together.
For the majority of his minutes Theo Maledon was playing these past two games, he was spectacular, especially when he was playing on the court with Isaiah Roby.
For Isaiah Roby, having Theo Maledon on the floor with him has been the key to his success thus far. As Roby without having Maledon on the floor is like Mike Muscala without a 3. Muscala makes his name from the three, and taking that aspect out of his game makes him nothing special, think Patrick Patterson… yikes. Having Maledon playing alongside Roby amplifies his game tenfold. Without Maledon thus far Roby has not looked very good on the offensive side of things. Roby’s usage without him on the floor has really just consisted of him standing at the 3 point line, where he has not been very keen on shooting despite being 3-3 from there.
In my breakdown of Maledon’s debut, I spoke highly of his pick and roll game, as his ability to eliminate his man to turn things into a 2-on-1 and his ability to read the defense are on an elite level. One of the biggest elements to Maledon’s success so far has been his screen setter. Who has been the screen setter in those situations you may ask? It was none other than Isaiah Roby.
In the Thunder’s preseason debut, of the 26 points Maledon accounted for, 12 of them came off Isaiah Roby screens. That’s a staggering 46% of his points accounted for.
Here are some highlights showing off the Maledon-Roby P&R from game one:
For breakdowns on these plays you can check out my article on Maledon’s debut.
In Maledon’s second game, of the 16 points he had accounted for 7 of them had come off Isaiah Roby screens, that’s 44% of his points accounted for.
Here are some of the Maledon-Roby highlights from game 2:
This was an easy read for Maledon here, Roby’s screen took Coby White completely out of the play and with no help defense from Otto Porter Jr. or Wendell Carter Jr. it led to an easy floater.
The defense here was great from Daniel Gafford, he stayed right at home and positioned himself in the paint to where Maledon would not be able to get his shot off nor Roby. The lapse in the defense came from #11 Simsola Shittu, who came down low to help. The problem: he had someone to guard himself. Third time this preseason Maledon has found Frank Jackson wide open in the corner like this, Jackson is 3/3 in this situation.
In terms of how many points accounted for Roby saw off screens, there is no number drawn up due to how little he scored, but you can bet there was an uptick in production there. For the most part, Roby’s not popping off the stat sheet with his screen setting, but it has been one of the key parts of the Oklahoma City bench in both preseason games thus far.
What Makes This Work?
The most important part to making these screens effective are having a lineup that complements this sort of playstyle. The Thunder should be running small ball, or at the very least surrounding them with shooters. The lineup of Maledon-F. Jackson-Williams-Pokusevski-Roby has been a killer thus far for the Thunder. All three guys in Jackson, Williams, and Pokusevski are threats from beyond the arch, and choosing to help on the P&R has proven to be a costly mistake as nearly all 3-pointers off these screens have been on the money. Introducing players such as Hamidou Diallo ruins this system as defenses would be making a smart bet letting Diallo get an open shot as he’s a career 25% shooter from deep.
In terms of running small ball, the advantage you get with Roby is his quick burst of speed, that’s essentially wiped when you put him in his natural SF position. When you place him at the 4 and 5 that’s where you see him at his best as the bigs just cannot keep up with him. The only real big that I’d love to see in the Maledon-Roby lineup would be Mike Muscala as putting him in a corner would do you just fine. With other bigs Al Horford and T.J. Leaf, they either have too slow of a release (Horford) or they are just not reliable enough (Leaf) from there yet.
The Maledon-Roby combination has been one of the most productive duos in the Thunder preseason thus far, as 19 of Maledon’s 42 point he’s accounted for these past two games have been off Roby’s screen’s, that’s 45% of his points. For Roby, putting him with Maledon allows him to be a much better player as he relies on his inside game for alot for points.
The best supporting cast for this pairing would be made up of sharpshooters, as placing players who are not good from three around them would give defenses the chance to provide help defense with little consequences.