With Andre Roberson's injury, sustained during the Thunder's loss to the Nets, the never-ending debate regarding his value has again come to the front and center of the local sports discussion. And as always, a shocking number of fans believe him to be of little value. While the more educated sort understand that he provides more than what is immediately obvious on a box score, some people have yet to make it past counting on their fingers, and can't comprehend that points aren't the only stat that matters for evaluating individual performance.
Never mind that every defensive measure that we have points towards Roberson being a top 5 wing defender in the league. For these flat-earthers, those stats are merely a league-wide conspiracy to paint him as valuable. Just for argument's sake, I'll list Roberson's (rather impressive) resume:
- 3rd among SGs in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM)
- 3rd among SGs in Defensive Box Plus-Minus (DBPM)
- Holds his man to 37% shooting
- 2nd among guards in blocks per possession
- 2nd best individual Defensive Rating (DRtg) on the team (behind Adams)
Statistics are simply a measure of performance. They can be misconstrued but can never lie. And yet, the stubborn fans continue shouting, with their head buried deep in the sand, "5 points a game!!!!!" So, I thought it would be helpful to break things down in a way that isn't over these arithmophobes' heads.
Since numbers are too complicated, I thought I would go to a level that everyone above the age of 6 months understands: pictures. But rather than try to look at his individual defense, which anyone who bothers watching the game can see, I want to show something that sometimes goes unnoticed, but could be his greatest contribution. His help defense.
See, it's easy to ball-watch when looking at the defensive end. Just ask Westbrook! But if you never look off the ball, you will fail to see the intricacy and activity by 4 players on the court. So I will, using only examples from the Brooklyn game, try to show just how elite Roberson is at help defense (something very, very few guards are even competent in).
Note that in almost every case, these possessions ended with a defensive stop, something rarer than Denver air in this game.
Case 1: The Perimeter 2v1
One of the most unique things about Roberson is his ability to guard 2 players on the wing. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone else do it quite as effectively as he does it. For anyone who watches OU football, it is similar to watching Eric Striker defend an option play. You have to balance the ball handler and his release option. It's a mind-game: can you bait the initial man to pass off at just the right moment? To clarify, look at this case against Brooklyn:
Durant has had to help off, leaving Roberson with 2 open men to defend. He closes out to a point just on the left side of Durant's man, removing his option to shoot on the catch. But he immediately starts a cut to the corner, to prevent that open 3. This forces a hesitation before a drive, and Durant can recover.
The precision required here is pretty crazy to consider. The average time it takes for a player to shoot is .6 seconds . That means that if Roberson closes out just half a second off, he is going to give up an open 3. But instead, he successfully shuts down what looks like an easy offensive possession here.
This is especially important when on the court with Enes Kanter. Kanter requires help inside, which leaves the perimeter undermanned. If you can count on one of your wings to give you just an extra second to recover, it can be the difference between an open 3 and a contested midrange shot.
Case 2: The post-up help
Usually, help in post defense comes from a backside big. Unfortunately, with Adams out, that help is much less available. Roberson took it upon himself multiple times to help alleviate this deficiency. There was one play in particular that stuck out to me, but unfortunately, the NBA replay had technical difficulties and I couldn't get that picture. Basically, Lopez had pushed Kanter into a space about 3 feet from the basket. If the pass was delivered, it was almost guaranteed to go in. Roberson was guarding Joe Johnson. He let Johnson move to the top of the arc, and fronted Lopez to prevent the pass in. The ball swung to Johnson, and Roberson immediately closed out. Effectively, he broke up the set without ever compromising the Thunder defense.
I did find another example in which Durant had given up post position inside. If you see below, the offensive player has a shot at the rim when he wants it:
It may not seem like Roberson does much here, but by stepping in, the offensive player picks up his dribble. At this point, Roberson immediately closes out. Suddenly, the only option is to shoot over Durant. He can't dribble out, every pass is covered. The result is a missed shot.
Notice Roberson's feet and left arm. This is textbook help defense. He has half of his body tracking with his man, while the other half is disrupting the rhythm of the ball-handler.
Case 3: The PnR (aka, where Kanter goes to die)
This first example shows a perfect example of knowing proper defensive positioning. There is one pass that would normally beat the defense here: a lob up to the left hand for a layup. Singler and Kanter have cut off the other angles. But that is still a relatively easy pass to make. So Roberson comes and sits on that exact spot. Even if he can't steal a potential pass, he can contest the resulting layup. He knows his man isn't likely to get a pass, as Singler is in that passing lane. So while Kanter and Singler force the ball-handler to shoot over a double team, Roberson just sits on Lopez, eliminating him from the possession.
In this second possession, Westbrook is beaten badly by the screen, and Collison is not even close to being able to help. Roberson comes over and funnels the ball-handler back toward Nick and Serge, while also contesting the dribble. He ends up actually knocking the ball loose for a turnover, but even without that, he has given the Thunder a chance here. And, he is still close enough to his man for a decent close out if the ball gets kicked out.
I pulled 4 examples of why Roberson is an even better defender than he is often given credit for. I had many others I could have pulled. And this was from only 15 minutes of action. People talk about the strain of having to play 4 vs 5 on the offensive end. In the same way, though, we are effectively playing 6 vs 5 on the defensive end. And seeing how defense holds a much stronger correlation with winning, isn't that the preferable option?