In the context of the Raptors 905 roster, there are quite a few names that would stand out to NBA fans. Former Hawks first round pick Lucas Nogueira, Raptors first round pick Bruno Caboclo and former first overall pick Anthony Bennett have all made appearances with the team this season.
Despite all of these familiar names, a relative unknown has risen to the top of the pack and is on the verge of breaking into the NBA. Recently named the #2 prospect in the D-League, Ronald Roberts Jr. has burst onto the scene this year and made his presence felt.
A 6’8, 225-pound forward, he has athletic ability that is nearly unmatched at either the D-League or even the NBA level. He’s used this athleticism to propel him to 18.8 points on 60% shooting to go along with over 12 rebounds per game.
Undrafted in 2014 after a career at St. Joseph’s University that saw him take home numerous awards, Roberts Jr. received an offer to play in the Orlando Summer League. Going up against numerous draft picks and current NBA players, he knew that he had something to prove.
"It was the first test for me and it was great. I played well and I felt good and throughout it, I just had a chip on my shoulder since I was un-drafted and I was going against guys that had been drafted or that were somewhat established in the NBA. It was my first challenge and I felt like I faired pretty well," Roberts Jr. said in an interview with RidiculousUpside.com."
Though he wasn’t signed directly out of the Summer League, the experience that he gained helped him gauge how he stacked up to the level of competition that the NBA would offer. He noted the tendencies of the players that he went up against and learned some important lessons that would help him moving forward.
"The big that that I learned was that there are a ton of guys that are really talented and highly skilled, but they don’t really play with a high motor," he added. "I believe that I was blessed with a great motor, so that’s what I really wanted to focus on. I try to play harder than everyone else on the floor every time that I’m out there."
He had signed a contract to play in France, but Philadelphia offered him a contract throughout training camp and the preseason. He impressed the team in the four preseason games that he played in, but he was waived prior to the opening of the NBA season and headed to Delaware to play with the 87ers.
In his first eight games with the team, he was a force to be reckoned with. Posting 17.5 points per game on 67% shooting to go along with nearly twelve rebounds per game, he got the call to the 76ers and signed a contract with the team.
It had been the moment he had worked towards his entire life, but things took a turn once he arrived in Philadelphia. The team played three games since he was signed on December 12th, but Roberts Jr. did not appear in any of them. Before he was able to step on the court in the NBA, the Sixers waived him and his dream was put on hold.
"I was really excited to get to the next level and I thought that I was going to play in a game and be on the team for the rest of the season, but a few days after they signed me, they let me go," he explained. "I signed a non-guaranteed contract so I knew that it was a possibility, but it was still disappointing to me."
He returned back to the D-League for eight more games, but then signed a contract with San Miguel Beermen of the Philippine Basketball Association. He stood out once again, averaging over 23 points and 16 rebounds per game.
He had enjoyed his time over there, but with his ultimate goal being the NBA; he chose to return to the D-League this year. In preparation for the season, Roberts Jr., a 59% free throw shooter in college and a 56% shooter last year, hit the gym and put up shots every day.
"I’ve been shooting so many free throws. I didn’t think that I was a bad free throw shooter before, I thought it was mental, but now I’m more confident than ever in my shooting. I’ve been putting in probably double or triple the work on my shooting and it’s just helped me tremendously," he said about his development. "I didn’t want to be in the situation like you see with some of the big guys in the NBA getting intentionally fouled, because it’s embarrassing. I don’t want to be on the court getting embarrassed."
The work has begun to pay off; as Roberts Jr. has cleared the 70% mark this season on his free-throws, and he’s also seen his shooting percentage on shots five feet and beyond jump from 24% in 14-15 all the way to 40% this season, even with added volume.
"Obviously the strength in my game is finishing, but I want to be able to knock down shots when the defense sags off of me and I think I’ve made big strides in that," the big man added.
Despite his improvements so far, Roberts Jr. understands some of the obstacles that stand in his way.
"I just need to keep shooting. Right now I’m going through a situation where coaches would say that I’m too undersized to play the five, but that I’m not a stretch four, either," he admitted. "I’m battling that right now, so this offseason I definitely want to keep working on my shooting more and extend my range."
With the NBA only a step away and seeming closer and closer each day, Roberts Jr. is on the brink of something he has been working towards his whole life. When the opportunity comes it’s going to be something that he cherishes.
"Getting called up to the NBA would mean a lot to me. It’s a dream and I think about it every day. I wake up and think about it and I go to sleep thinking about it, so to be able to accomplish that would just be huge for me," the young gun said.