Long ridiculed for his atrocious offensive game and embarrassing free throw percentage, André Roberson has overcome his jarring weaknesses in route to becoming one of Oklahoma City’s most valuable assets. Excelling not only as a defender, but also providing adequate offensive rebounding, and enough ability as a cutter to take advantage of sleeping defenses.
As a result, he’s carved out a steady role on one of the Western Conference’s contending teams, and landed a contract worth $30 million dollars in the process.
Nowadays, defensive versatility gets you paid.
It’s hard to shortchange Roberson’s importance to the Thunder. In each of the last 4 seasons, the Thunder have performed better with Roberson on the floor than they have when he’s off it. The only season in his NBA career where this wasn’t the case was during his 1st year in the league (Way back in 2013-2014), and the difference in his on/off numbers was subtle, at that.
Net Rating by Season
ON Court: +6.7
OFF Court: +7.1
ON Court: +5.1
OFF Court: -0.5
ON Court: +9.4
OFF Court: +5.3
ON Court: +2.8
OFF Court: -4.7
ON Court: +10.0
OFF Court: -1.5
This season, in particular, has given NBA fans a glimpse of Roberson’s impact, which is compounded by the Thunder’s lack of depth at the wing positions. According to NBA Math’s FATS Calculator, OKC plays like a 47-win (46.7-35.3) team with him on the court, but they slip to the level of a 38-win (38.2-43.8) team with him on the bench. Simple win-loss record tells the same tale, as the Thunder are playing at a sub-.500 pace without Roberson active (10-12), and suddenly pack more of punch with him inserted into the lineup (24-15).
Behind Roberson, the Thunder lack anybody with comparable defensive chops; often forcing Paul George into more difficult, and tiring, defensive matchups. Jerami Grant has demonstrated some extraterrestrial athleticism, and Alex Abrines has been a lights out shooter (Even Terrance Ferguson has shown a bit), but they don’t impose the same level of concern Roberson brings upon the opposition. All dang night, Roberson eats premier wings alive, using his length and nimble feet to mob the enemy, turning their typical 20-point dozy into a three-hour nightmare.
Getting run out of the gym by the Golden State Warriors is nothing to be ashamed of, as it happens to everyone else unfortunate enough to share a competitive timeline with the Dubs. Death, taxes, and the Warriors joyously raining down 3’s from the top of their championship throne. Everyone has grown to know those three truths; however, facing the Warriors does not absolve the Thunder from the crimes they’ve committed.
If anything, it heightens the exposure their weaknesses receive.
Against the Warriors on Saturday night the Thunder were a revolving door, ending the bout with a defensive rating of 113.5.
Since Roberson’s season was ended on January 27th at Detroit, the Thunder have struggled with a bit of an identity crisis. Not only have they endured a 5-7 stretch (-2.8 net rating/22nd), but they’ve also seen their defense fall off the face of the earth, allowing opponents to score 109.2 points per 100 possessions (20th).
Clearly missing the flexibility that Roberson adds to the defense, Billy Donovan will need to do some lineup gymnastics to try and find a balance with the evergoing tug-of-war of the pace and space NBA. Sitting as the 7th seed in the Western Conference with 21 games to play, time is ticking on the Thunder’s season.
Camping out 1.5 games above the 9th seeded Los Angeles Clippers is certainly less than ideal. As we move into the final fourth of the season, slippage of any sort could result in some extra vacation time come mid-April. With the stakes as high as ever, the Thunder will need to regain their boom if they hope to host a playoff series in the 1st round.