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2014-15 Thunder Player Grades: Andre Roberson Stays Funky

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Roberson has proven himself as a great defender, but will need to take a leap on offense to be sure of his role under a new coach.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: André Lee Roberson

Nickname"Robes," "Animal Style"
Contract Status: Still on his rookie scale deal at $1,210,800 for 2015/16. The Thunder will decide this summer whether to pick up the option for the final year of his deal at $2,183,072 for 2016/17 (very likely).
Interesting Factoid: His career high for points in a game is 12, and he’s only scored in double digits four times in his two-year career.

Player History

  • Recruited by Colorado from high school as a stud post player near San Antonio.
  • Played three years in college, averaging a double-double and earning Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year award his junior season.
  • Acquired by the Thunder on draft night in 2013 after the Timberwolves had selected him 26th overall.
  • Split time between the Thunder and the D-League his rookie season, playing 40 games and averaging 10 minutes per contest with the big club.

Pre-Season Expectations

Roberson entered his second season as one of the lower-profile developing pieces on the Thunder, but one that OKC was intent on grooming into an important player for the team’s future. While Reggie Jackson’s discontent as a reserve was festering, and the fire-breathing Anthony Morrow was added in free agency, the Thunder were intent on giving the starting shooting guard spot to Roberson, a severely limited offensive player with lockup defender potential on the perimeter.

The Thunder wanted to see Roberson grow further into the mold of the departed Thabo Sefolosha—a prototype "3-D" dominant defender who can also make open looks when the defense collapses on the team’s super-talents on offense. Roberson’s length and instincts combined with a janky shot to set some weird projections for the converted power forward: Thabo as his floor, Tony Allen (and TA's insane defensive genius) as a hopeful projection, and a poor man’s Shawn Marion as the jackpot result.

Regular Season Grade: C+

Roberson got his shot, holding down the starting shooting guard role all season (when not injured). He didn't play well enough to get true starter’s minutes, and wasn’t a reliable closing option. His defensive numbers were off the chart—he ranked fourth among NBA shooting guards in defensive real plus/minus (3.30) and held his opponents to 4.6% worse shooting numbers than they converted against other competition. But Roberson represented, as expected, a cratering in offensive production at the starting two-spot. With the caveat that he played under 20 minutes per game, he really didn't stack up well with starting shooting guards around the league. His 6.4 points per 36 minutes is a steep drop-off from the next per-36 points for a starting guard with over 41 starts (rookie Elfrid Payton at 10.6).

There was modest improvement in his offensive efficiency from his rookie season, although he takes so few shots (3 per game) it’s hard to say if a jump from .154 three-point shooting (gasp!) to .247 or going from .564 to .612 on two-pointers constitutes a trend. While Roberson's mechanics have improved, there is neither consistency nor fluidity built into his muscle memory yet. The long distance percentage is uglier than it looks on paper, as Roberson only shoots when wide open from three, so he still struggles mightily to knock down uncontested looks. Honestly, he struggles not to hit the side of the backboard from the corner.

Marion has a similarly ugly shooting motion, and went from .182 to .256 to .393 from deep in his first three seasons. While Roberson has mirrored that first jump, the next one just isn't as likely for the 23-year-old. At 23, Marion was solidifying his role as a special player, scoring nearly 20 points a game to go along with his high-activity defense and rebounding prowess. Roberson has that activity in him, but he’s yet to even take the training wheels off as an offensive pro.

Most Notable Game/Moment: Thunder Transition Happy Place

Roberson scored a big chunk of his points in transition, and the best case scenario for how he could fit with this team was on display against a Blake Griffin-less Clippers in February. The Thunder trounced Los Angeles, and Roberson’s steal and eventual dunk off the fast break came during one of the only feel good games of OKC’s doomed season. Had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and even Roberson himself avoided so many injuries, maybe we could have seen this more often.

Roberson also had this sweet dunk against Anderson Varejao and the Cavaliers:

Future Expectations

Roberson’s ceiling on defense remains high but with room to grow. He can still be a secret defensive weapon, as we saw him far too few instances getting the chance to lock down quick PG's  or battle wings in the post in small-ball offenses. He’s still young, but the clock is ticking on when he will stop being considered a "project" along with the Michael Kidd-Gilchrists of the world and getting pigeon-holed as a limited one-way player. With the new eyes and philosophy of Billy Donovan coming to town, Roberson will need to improve and earn his place in the rotation.

It’s arguable that Roberson was actually less detrimental to the offense simply by knowing his deficiencies and avoiding them, contrasting with a player like Dion Waiters who is much more skilled but not nearly as gun shy. Still, I think the abundance of young talent will keep Donovan from settling on handicapping his offense more than necessary—if I were him, I’d look at these pieces and want to make a monster with working parts, not a solid team making trade-offs on either end of the floor in most lineups.