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Northwestern men’s basketball 2021-2022 player reviews: Julian Roper II

The best players aren’t always the ones who show up in the stat sheet.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern’s college basketball season is over, but before we officially close the book on the 2021-22 campaign and start looking towards next year, it’s time to review the individual performances of each Wildcat over the past five months. To begin, we start with Julian Roper II, the first-year wing out of Detroit, Michigan.

After coming off the bench for the first half of the season, Roper found his place in the starting lineup by carving out his own niche — a high intensity, scrappy player who could add to the team’s defense what no one else could. The first-year was slotted mainly as a wing or third guard alongside Boo Buie and Chase Audige, bringing a defensive compliment to his two scoring-oriented teammates. Roper emerged as one of the Wildcats’ top two-way players, and became a key piece for Northwestern down the stretch.

Stats

The following numbers are from KenPom.com.

While his statistics alone weren’t particularly impressive, Roper’s impact extended far beyond the score sheet. The first-year averaged an even four points per game while adding 3.4 rebounds and an assist to the nightly total. On the defensive end, Roper was certainly more prominent for the ‘Cats. His 25 steals were second on the team behind Audige, and his 14 blocks were good for the third most, trailing only 6-foot-10 Pete Nance and 6-foot-9 Robbie Beran. Standing at just 6-foot-3 himself, the latter number is certainly significant.

As far as shooting, Roper wasn’t particularly asked to do too much. Buie, Audige and Nance took the lead as primary scorers, allowing Roper to slot into a three-and-D type of role. Three-pointers were a key part of Roper’s minimal scoring output, as nearly 45% of his total shot selection was from beyond the arc. From deep, the first-year shot a respectable 35.3% on just under two shots per game. This was slightly higher than his overall field goal percentage at 34.2%.

Shot Distribution

The following stats are taken from hoop-math.com

Though most of his buckets came from inside the paint, it’s clear Roper wants to be a certified sharp-shooter as well. He boasts relatively high percentages on assisted two-point jumpers and assisted threes, at 50 and 83.3 percent respectively. This means he’s finding himself in a decent spot to receive the ball in those positions often even if he isn’t exactly hitting the shots yet, which is a good statistic to see for a first-year player.

Obviously, as with his overall stats, Roper’s numbers are not among the highest on the team. That being said, he seems to hang around the tail end of the usual rotation, with numbers similar to Ryan Greer—a fitting slot given the first-year slowly found his way into the starting five while the season was underway.

The Good

For anyone watching the games, it was easy to see the kind of positive impact that Roper had on Northwestern’s offense and defense. While he didn’t contribute much to the scoring, Roper was a high-energy player that brought athleticism and hustle to the Wildcats. The rook made the offense run smoother, and his hustle rewarded him with 32 offensive boards. Only center Ryan Young had more. These rebounds that extended Northwestern possessions were key to the team’s ability to stay in close games late.

This exact intensity translated to the defensive side, where Roper had active hands on-ball and used great anticipation to jump passing lanes and collect steals. His athleticism allowed him to match up with a variety of different-sized players, and he was able to guard his opponents with very high success. Game in and game out, Roper was able to effectively take on any challenge defensively and improve the Wildcats’ chances of getting a turnover.

The Bad

It’s worth noting that the first-year wasn’t particularly asking to do much on offense, but when he was, he was not very efficient on any attempt that wasn’t a catch-and-shoot three. Roper’s defensive prowess and hustle created plenty of opportunities for himself, but he struggled to shoot a consistent clip from the field when he had the ball in his hands. The athleticism is certainly there, but Roper could see a lot of improvement in the coming years in his ball-handling and shooting ability. Most of his buckets came from the paint, but there was definitely room for improvement in the area of converting on open layups and inside passes.

This also comes with the part of not being a primary ball-handler, but Roper sometimes struggled to create while the ball was in his hands. In opportunities in which he had the ball in transition, he would often wait for his teammates to catch up and pass it away instead of seizing an open advantage. The first-year did a great job of finding his teammates and passing to them, but could have benefitted from being less passive on the offensive side.

Offseason Focus

For Roper, it’s confidence and reps that are going to boost his play next season. His passivity on offense has not gone unnoticed, as is stated above, and with more confidence through experience, Roper could become one of the best distributors on the team. This confidence will also play a part in his scoring-game, hopefully propelling him to take the open shots on the offensive end without waiting to pass it off to a teammate instead. All-in-all, he can internalize that fact that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes when it’s for the benefit of the team. With extra reps in the jumper and three-point ranges in addition, Roper could become more of an all-around offensive threat.

The Bottom Line

Julian Roper has all the intangibles you could want in a basketball player. He is a good-sized wing, makes hustle plays, is ambitious on defense, has great athleticism and fits in well with the rest of the team. His exceptional defense is a good sign of things to come, and his development on offense over the next few years will be the biggest factor in whether or not he can make the leap from quality role player to top-tier starter. If this season was any sign, the future looks bright for number five.