Think back to the 2013 NBA Draft. When you finally got around to looking at YouTube and Draft Express videos on Andre Roberson, what were your first thoughts? I didn’t know what to think of him. He was a 6’7″ power forward with a 6’11” wingspan, a rail-thin body, and was 2nd in all of Division I in rebounding. That combination of characteristics is not something you see often. And to top it off, the rumor was that the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to use him as a wing defender, and the likely heir to the Thabo Sefolosha throne of perimeter defense and questionable outside shooting.
At first I thought he could be a Shawn Marion-type. Someone that could vacillate between the interior and perimeter on both ends of the floor. But early in his career, there were questions about whether Roberson would even be able to play against the better defensive teams in the league.
In the 2014 playoffs, the Thunder experienced what that life would be like when they matched up against two of the best defenses in the league in the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs. Both teams took Sefolosha out of the game plan by playing off of him and daring the Thunder to pass the ball to him for a shot attempt. This clogged the lane for the Thunder and made life a living hell for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Eventually, Sefolosha was replaced in the starting line-up in both series, and the Thunder went with a more offensively competent option.
When Sefolosha signed with Atlanta that offseason, the thinking was the Thunder may try to start Reggie Jackson alongside Westbrook in a dual combo-guard backcourt to create better offensive spacing. Instead, the Thunder went with their tried and true formula of starting a defensive-minded 2-guard and hoping he eventually developed a shot.
Roberson developed into one of the better wing defenders in the league, but his shaky shot still plagued him in his 2nd and 3rd season. The person assigned to guard Roberson never really guarded him. That player usually played the role of a basketball free safety, shading off of Roberson and helping out on Durant and Westbrook whenever possible. Roberson’s positives on the defensive end of the floor were often negated by his negatives on the offensive end of the floor.
Then the 2016 NBA playoffs started and an epiphanous light went off both in Roberson’s head and in head coach Billy Donovan’s head. Instead of just parking Roberson in a corner, they put him in motion setting screens and cutting to the basket. Roberson became more of a factor on the offensive end and his defender now had to keep tabs on him.
At media day, when asked what specifically he worked on this offseason, Roberson responded with, “I feel like I worked on a little bit of everything, as well as from my jump spot shot to dribbling to reading the game, as well as trying to maintain and master my craft. I’m working on that each and every day. So I feel like I worked on every aspect of my game this year to kind of be putting and feel comfortable to be put in situations. Should be good.” With Durant gone, Roberson’s development into more of an offensive presence will be tantamount to the Thunder moving forward.2015-16 Statistics
70 GP, 22.2 mins, 4.8 pts, 3.6 rebs, 0.7 asts, 0.8 stls, 0.6 blks, 49.6% FG, 31.1% 3pt FG, 61.1% FTBest-Case Scenario
We may have gotten a sneak peak into what the best-case scenario for Roberson is when Donovan changed how he is positioned within the offense. No longer is he shackled to the corner like a kidnap victim. Instead, Roberson moving throughout the offensive side of the floor actually jump starts the offense and prevents it from stagnating. The gravitational pull of a player not in motion hinders the offense. But put that player in motion, and the defender has to move. And once you start moving defenders around, openings start to appear.
Roberson is going to have to take a bigger role with the departure of Durant. Will he ever be a consistent scorer? Of course not. But, if he’s able to be offensively relevant and also play stellar defense on the other end, then you may start to have the makings of a complete player.Worst-Case Scenario
A Thunder offense devoid of Durant means a lot of those looks that used to be wide open will now be covered a little bit tighter. If Roberson reverts back to his stagnant form, the Thunder offense could completely stall. Roberson will never be known as an offensive talent. He can only dribble in straight lines and his shooting selections features only 3-point attempts and attempts at the rim. But if he doesn’t make himself relevant in the offense, then defenses will just continue to key in on Westbrook (and now Victor Oladipo), and make the offense that much more difficult to run.
On the other end of that spectrum, “contract-year Roberson” may try to do too much to show that he can also be a contributor on the offensive end. I don’t believe Roberson is that kind of player, but with the amount of money that is being tossed around nowadays, it may be enough to drive a sane player crazy.Percentage he’ll be traded sometime this season:
30% – It’s hard to get a gauge on Roberson’s trade value. First off, he only makes $2.2 million, which, by itself, will hardly net you anything in today’s NBA. Secondly, he is a highly exclusive role player, meaning that he has one skill that’s a plus, but several others that are either neutrals or negatives. Thirdly, he works in the Thunder’s system, but will he work in someone else’s system?
But, of the four players that are coming up on rookie-scale extensions (Steven Adams, Joffrey Lauverge, and Oladipo, being the others), Roberson is likely the most expendable. Adams and Oladipo can be franchise cornerstones along with Westbrook. Lauvergne will likely be a cheap re-sign. But Roberson could fetch upwards of $10+ million if he has a successful season. With all the other big contracts coming up, Roberson could possibly be the odd man out.Roberson’s Season Preview
Other than Westbrook, Oladipo, and Adams, there is no other player whose development is of utmost importance for the franchise moving forward. If he has a successful season, and is able to be re-signed, then the Thunder have 4 of their 5 positions figured out. If he stagnates or if his offensive ceiling has been reached, then another position comes up as a question mark for the team moving forward.
I don’t worry about Roberson on the defensive end. In fact, I think he’ll end up on a All-Defense team by the end of the season. But the offensive end is of great importance to the Thunder’s development from here on out. It’s hard to replace 28 points per game, but it’s even harder if the replacement scores 24 points less points per game. Roberson has to take on a bigger role. He has to make himself a threat on that end. And I think he will. Is it going to be pretty, night in and night out? No. But Roberson will make teams pay for slacking off of him this season.