The recent injury of Thabo Sefolosha has opened up a big opportunity for a player at the end of the Thunder's bench. Mere days after playing in the D-League,
Anthony Andre Roberson* has been slotted into the Thunder's starting lineup, logging heavy minutes with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The move is rather unorthodox, but Scott Brooks seems pretty insistent on keeping the bench unit working with each other. Furthermore, Roberson is most likely being groomed to take Thabo's role on the team at the end of the season, so it makes sense that he would grab Thabo's minutes. (For more on that hypothesis, check out my article on it here.)
What has Roberson done with that opportunity? Well, he's been mighty impressive so far. He's averaged 4.3 Rebounds and 1.6 Offensive Rebounds in about 18 minutes over the past three games, as well as providing lock down defense against his opponents. He's definitely still rough around the edges, as he shoots, dribbles, and passes very poorly for his position. But after what happened last night, I'm not complaining.
Here's Kobe Bryant's stats while Andre Roberson was in the game....
0 Points, 0-4 Shooting, 6 Assists, 4 Turnovers
First of all, that's absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Second of all, there's definitely an asterisk at the end of these stats. Steve Blake, the Lakers' lone remaining healthy point guard, was injured prior to tonight's game. As a result, Kobe Bryant was forced to act as the defacto PG. His offensive aggressiveness took a nosedive, and he clearly wasn't 100%. I mean, he was literally looking for assists while isolated against Derek Fisher on the wing and Kendrick Perkins on the perimeter. Multiple times. Still, when you consider that Bryant managed a solid game against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday and had two days rest going into this game, Roberson's accomplishment is pretty cool.
Anyway, let's break down the plays where Roberson was actively involved in guarding Bryant.
This play is pretty straightforward. Kobe attempts to set up a pick and roll or possibly isolation for Jordan Hill on the weak side, but there's some miscommunication between he and his teammates. He hesitates on the pass, and it gives Roberson all the time he needs to grab the ball. A jump ball is forced, and Roberson won the tip.
The long arms of Andre Roberson once again find themselves useful. Here, Kobe hands the ball off to Jordan Hill, then uses a double screen from Wesley Johnson and Pau Gasol to get open at the top of the key. He refuses the shot, reads the defense, and gets the ball swatted. At this point, the Lakers spread out to give Kobe an isolation play, and he does all he can to fake out Roberson. But Roberson stands firm, and does an excellent job of staying straight up and down against Kobe. Considering the amount of foul calls that are normally given to rookies guarding hall of famers, this play is rather remarkable.
I've included Roberson's three beforehand because this sequence basically demonstrates his limitations as a player. Kobe outright ignored Roberson on defense several times, and this wide-open side-baskboard miss demonstrates why. On the other end, Roberson is playing Kobe way too aggressively, especially considering that he could get screened at any time. After Hill ends up doing so, it frees up Kobe for a basically uncontested jumper, which he misses. Then, when the Lakers get the offensive board, Roberson charges himself right into Pau Gasol, giving Kobe a mismatch against Perkins. Kobe misses another easy shot, but by all accounts it should have been a Laker bucket.
Both Perkins and Roberson are at fault here, but I'm highlighting this play because of Roberson's error, as Perk's weaknesses are already well-documented here at WTLC. Kobe sets up a simple give and go with Gasol on the left elbow. Roberson does the right thing by going under the screen, but tries to meet Kobe way too early. This forces Ibaka to play help defense, and leaves Gasol wide open for a potentially easy shot. Of course, Jordan Hill ends up getting an easy dunk instead, but that's only because Perk ventured off his man.
Excellent defense by Roberson on this possession. Kobe starts off the play by trying a give and go at the top of the key, but Roberson anticipates and plays under the screen, stopping the drive. Kobe and Gasol fake a re-screen coming the other way, but Roberson anticipates well again and goes over the fake screen, getting up in Kobe's grill. Ibaka comes from the other side to pressure Kobe, forcing him to attempt an extremely difficult bounce pass between the two defenders. It flies below Gasol's arms and straight to KD.
This one's my favorite. Simple isolation, and Roberson keeping his long arms right where they need to be. He forces a contested fadeaway, and Kobe misses. Heck yeah.
As mentioned above, Bryant wasn't very aggressive, so there's not a large sample size to work from. A couple of the turnovers and assists that we didn't see had nothing to do with Roberson, as Kobe was just firing the ball downcourt. But the few plays we did get see were very indicative of where both players are in terms of their skillset at this point in time. Kobe is excellent at reading his team's offense and making smart passes, but he makes too many risky decisions to play the point guard role regularly. He's also not physically strong or quick enough (yet) to avoid getting bothered while trying to handle the ball. Roberson, on the other hand, has all the physical and mental tools necessary to become a prime NBA defender. But he needs to get laterally quicker and mentally better at reading potential plays before he can become one of the Sefoloshas of the World.
I'd love to check back in on this matchup later in the season. Or, at least, whenever Roberson gets to guard Kobe again.
How do you think Andre Roberson did against Kobe? Am I reading too much into it? Let us know in the comments!
*Originally, I mistakenly referred to Andre Roberson as Anthony Roberson in the first line of this article. The error has been corrected and I apologize for it. (I read a lot about Anthony a few years ago, so I keep making Freudian slips.)