Isaiah Roby, Trevor Keels struggle in Summer League opener as Knicks fall to 76ers

15 July 2023

LAS VEGAS — The Knicks Summer League roster is obscure, the product of going through the last two drafts without a first-round pick.

But one player who has a chance to crack Tom Thibodeau’s rotation is Isaiah Roby. The 25-year-old is among the most seasoned veterans across the Vegas Summer League, having logged 151 NBA games (mostly with the OKC Thunder) after getting drafted in the second round of 2019.

The Knicks signed Roby toward the end of last season, giving him $400,000 up front with the hope of bringing him into the 2023 training camp.

Then a potential rotation spot opened up last week when Obi Toppin, the reserve power forward, was traded to the Pacers in what amounted to a salary dump. Positionally, Roby is best suited for the replacement. Other than Julius Randle, he’s the only power forward on the current roster.

The problem — as reinforced by his 7-point, 26-minute performance in Saturday’s Summer League defeat to the Sixers — is there are reasons Roby has bounced around and was released by the Spurs last season.

He’s got a lot to prove. And his $2.1 million salary next season being non-guaranteed is proof.

“He hadn’t played for a long time,” Knicks Summer League coach Dice Yoshimoto said. “It’s important to get this run and get back into shape.”

The Knicks did not make Roby available to the media after Saturday’s game.

The Knicks other options at backup power forward are going small with either Josh Hart or RJ Barrett. They could also canvas what remains of the free-agent market (Derrick Jones Jr. is still available). Or, they could make a trade.


Trevor Keels, the only Knicks draft pick on the Summer League roster (42nd overall in 2022), rode the struggle bus through Friday’s defeat.

The Duke guard scored just two points in 14 minutes and was benched in the final eight minutes. It followed Keels’s underwhelming Summer League of last year. With Keels, a top-flight prospect in high school, there have long been concerns about his conditioning and extra weight.

He was on a two-way contract last season and is at risk of being released.


Da’Quon Jeffries, who has a fan in Tom Thibodeau, was the Knicks best player in Saturday’s loss until he took a hard spill in the third quarter.

He suffered a hip contusion, according to the Knicks, and is day-to-day.

Race Thompson, a former Indiana Hoosiers standout who was originally named to the Knicks roster, did not travel to Summer League because of a sore knee, the team said.


Fifty-plus years before Victor Wembanyama, there was Lew Alcindor.

Considered the greatest prospect ever when he left UCLA, Kareem Abdul Jabbar has a unique perspective into what Wembanyama faces as he steps into the hype machine.

And after watching Wemby struggle in his Summer League debut Friday night, Jabbar believes the Frenchman needs time.

“How old is he? 19. Really hasn’t matured yet,” Jabbar told SiriusXM NBA Radio hosts Justin Termine and Jason Jackson. “What he might go through this next year or two will probably give him that type of maturity and enable him to understand our game, the way it’s played. And make whatever physical adjustments he can make. We all have to make those adjustments.”

Jabbar entered the league when was 22 years old and much more seasoned as a 3-time NCAA Player of the Year out of UCLA. He also arrived in a different era, when centers stuck inside.

Jabbar’s trademark skyhook became one of the most unstoppable moves in NBA history, but Wembanyama doesn’t operate much in the post.

Imagine if the 7-5 Wembanyama had a hook shot?

“There’s still an extreme defense in the way they play the game here and the way they play the game in Europe. In Europe, what I see is a 3-point contest,” Jabbar said. “They take the 2-pointers like, ‘Oh well we’ll settle for that this time.’ Whereas you get a lot of high-percentage shots, you’ll win a lot of ballgames. So you have to learn where to go to learn the difference — where to focus your effort, how to make that effort bring to victory because that’s what it’s all about.

”He’s got a lot to learn as far as the way the game is played in the NBA. All the rookies got to go through that,” Jabbar added. “He seems like he has the physical skills. Kind of slender guy. But there’s room for all types of bodies out there. He just has to find his niche and contribute and he’ll be around for a while.”


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