Saturday, April 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
With Jordan Johnson graduating, UNLV will be losing a ton of production from the point guard position as it heads into the 2018-19 season. Not only was Johnson a consistent scorer and facilitator and the best shooter on the team, he also helped the Rebels establish their preferred up-tempo pace by pushing the ball in transition at every opportunity.
That’s why point-guard play will be so crucial for the Rebels next season, and that’s why the team has high internal expectations for senior Noah Robotham.
Newcomers rarely come with as much Division-I experience as Robotham, who started 84 games in three years at Akron. He played in two Mid-American Conference championship games but never advanced to the NCAA tournament, and his performance in 2018-19 will go a long way toward determining whether he’ll be able to cap his college career with a trip to the Big Dance.
Like Johnson, Robotham was able to redshirt for the Rebels for a year, so he does have experience in Marvin Menzies’ system. But the similarities end there, as Robotham and Johnson employ very different styles of play.
Offensively, Robotham was a role player at Akron. In his final season running the Zips’ offense, he recorded a usage rate of 10.6 percent, which was just the fifth-highest on the squad. While Johnson was a key cog in the Rebels’ attack last year (16.3 percent usage rate), often breaking down defenses off the dribble, Robotham was mostly a ball mover at Akron, settling for occasional jump shots and opportunistic drives.
The good news for UNLV is that Robotham was extremely efficient when called upon offensively. His best trait is his outside shot, as he hit 40.0 percent of his 3-point attempts as a sophomore and 39.0 percent as a junior.
Robotham isn’t just a standstill shooter. He averaged 1.133 points per possession on all jump shots, including 1.221 PPP on catch-and-shoot attempts and an outstanding mark of 1.067 PPP on jumpers off the dribble.
Robotham mostly prefers to step into his jumper, either when dribbling around a screen or when his defender dips under a pick. He also employs a step-back 3-point jumper, though he uses it less and the accuracy is not quite as good:
Though he shot the ball extremely well at Akron, Robotham never averaged more than 4.8 attempts from 3-point range per game. UNLV would be wise to encourage him to shoot more often — with an extra year off to polish his mechanics, it’s reasonable to expect Robotham to give the Rebels a performance north of 40 percent from long range next year.
Aside from his outside shooting, Robotham didn’t really threaten defenses at Akron. Partly due to the Zips’ game plan and partly due to his size limitations, Robotham rarely used pick-and-roll situations to dribble downhill and penetrate the defense. When he did go inside, it was in more opportunistic situations — attacking closeouts, sneaking through scrambling defenses or exploiting breakdowns in coverage.
Without the pure athleticism to blow by defenders, Robotham has to be crafty. He used a variety of pump fakes, herky-jerky hesitation dribbles and zig-zag drives to get inside defenses as a junior. His size (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) made finishing around the rim a problem, so Robotham was at his best when kicking the ball out to open 3-point shooters. He has a quirky habit of throwing those kick-out passes a beat earlier than expected, which can catch defenses off guard:
When it comes to pushing tempo, Johnson was a master. With his speed at point guard, UNLV finished 22nd in the nation in KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo stat and 19th in possessions per game. Robotham doesn’t have Johnson’s extra gear in open-court situations, and he’s not the type to force the issue and create fast breaks out of thin air.
At Akron, Robotham took a more measured approach to transition offense. Instead of going all the way to the basket, sucking in the defense and kicking the ball out as Johnson preferred to do, Robotham is more comfortable passing the ball ahead or waiting for trailers at the 3-point line:
Robotham’s transition efficiency was not bad — 0.959 points per possession — but it wasn’t great, either (Johnson was at 1.066 PPP last year). If the Rebels want to get the most out of their fast breaks next season, it would be best to surround Robotham with 3-point shooters, because those are the players he’ll get the most out of in full-court situations.
The defensive end is where Robotham should provide a clear upgrade. He’s three or four inches taller than Johnson, and he works hard at that end of the floor. He’s capable of fighting over screens and staying attached to ball-handlers, he denies the ball, he contests passes and he moves his feet to cut off driving lanes. He’ll be described as “pesky” more than a few times next year:
Robotham also has a quick set of hands. When the ball is within arm’s reach, he’ll dig into crowded spaces and rip out the ball with regularity. He’s also good at reaching in on another man’s assignment and stripping the ball away from a driver without fouling, which is tough to do. He should create his share of deflections and loose-ball situations for UNLV:
His biggest weakness on the defensive end is athleticism. He’s a willing defender on the ball, but Robotham will sometimes press too close to a dribbler and allow quicker players to blow by him with a good first step:
What Robotham lacks in pure athletic ability, he compensates with a very high basketball IQ. He is a purveyor of the “little things,” like stealing rebounds away from behind, double-teaming at just the right moment and creating extra possessions. In the first play of this video, Robotham feigns to come off his man to help defend the driving lane, but he really just baits the driver into throwing it back out to Robotham’s man. Robotham anticipates that and almost gets back for the steal. Instead, it’s a blown-up play and a missed shot. Just a little thing that helps win games:
In short, Robotham won’t take over games at UNLV. He’s a low-volume player who will move the ball on time, shoot less than he should and generally play at an even keel. If the Rebels surround him with good shooters, he will feed off that and get the ball to the open man just about every time. Defensively, Robotham will struggle with quicker athletes in the Mountain West, but he’ll also compete on every possession and make a bunch of smart plays. The coaches will love him (even more than they already do).
Will that be enough to get UNLV to the postseason in Menzies’ third year? It probably depends on the overall talent level of the team. Robotham won’t win games by himself, but he is the type of player who will excel in a good situation. As a floor general, Robotham will likely serve the Rebels well in his one year at UNLV.
Editor’s Note: The Sun’s Mike Grimala will break down each new incoming recruit from UNLV's 2018 class.