A healthy Roberson is the most important Thunder player this season

The Oklahoma City Thunder underachieved last season, but just as it seemed they were ready to start rolling, star defensive player Andre Roberson ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee, ending his season in late January. Despite his deficiency on the offense end, Roberson was a key contributor for the Thunder. He was a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and without him the team crumbled in the playoffs against upstart Utah Jazz. Roberson is the most important player for the Thunder this season.

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Spacing is so important in the game these days, especially for a Thunder team dependent on Russell Westbrook’s kamikaze style of attacking the paint. Robinson’s lack of shooting allows defenses to clog the lane when he is on the weak side because there is no defensive urgency to close out to a 22.2 percent three-point shooter.

In the below clip the Milwaukee Bucks’ Jason Terry leaves Roberson in the strong side corner to clog the lane on a Raymond Felton pick-and-roll. Once the ball is kicked to Andre, makes a soft close out on the three-point attempt. A similar thing happens when Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Andre in the weakside corner to cover the rolling Steven Adams. When the ball gets to him, there is zero sense of urgency to make up that ground; Roberson does not even look at the rim.  

https://youtu.be/lDHrChmjH1k

It is not all bad on offense for Andre Roberson. He does a great job of cutting when defenses are not watching. In the play below, James Ennis is on the weak side guarding Roberson when he loses sight of him. Andre takes advantage of it and cuts to the open spot underneath the rim for an easy layup. It happens again when Serge Ibaka is more focused on the pick-and-roll action with Westbrook, and never sees Roberson cut behind for another layup.

https://youtu.be/lOO6MS2RqZE

Roberson is a top-five wing defender when healthy. He often draws the toughest defensive perimeter assignment, that includes last season’s MVP James Harden. In the play below he does a great job of staying with Harden as he tries to drive by him but has to settle for a contested step-back. Even when the game is on the line, Andre gives Harden no room to get off a clean three-point shot and even comes away with a block on the attempt.

https://youtu.be/f1zeybll90Y

The Thunder are just a better defensive team when Andre Roberson is on the floor. Before the injury, they had a top-five defensive rating (103.1), but their rating dropped to 107.0 when Roberson was done for the season. There is an 11.2 swing in the Thunder’s defensive rating when Roberson is on the court versus when he is off, while only seeing a 1.6 point improvement in their offensive rating. Also, pairing him with Paul George and Steven Adams gives the Thunder a 3-man defensive lineup with a 94 defensive rating, which would have been the best in the league by a wide margin (https://on.nba.com/2x0akfX).

Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Roberson- On the Court 106.4 96.4 10.0
Roberson – Off the Court 108.0 107.6 0.5
Difference -1.6 11.2 9.6

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season ended with a whimper last year. Ricky Rubio, of all players, torched Westbrook in the playoffs but, this would not have happened with a healthy Roberson. His injury happened right as the Thunder were turning the corner;, they were on their longest win streak of the season, only to have the train jump the tracks. When healthy, Roberson and Paul George can take on the tougher perimeter assignments and Adams can patrol the paint, which allows Westbrook to play more of a free-safety role on the defensive end. With a healthy Roberson, the Thunder can have one of the best defenses in the NBA.  

Follow me on twitter @MoDakhil_NBA and you can support the Jump Ball, on Patreon – patreon.com/TheJumpBall

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