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2015-2016 Thunder Player Grades: Andre Roberson Shut Things Down

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Roberson emerged this season as OKC's best wing defender.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: André Lee Roberson

Nickname: "Robes", "Dre"

Contract Status: Roberson is on the final season of his rookie deal at $2,183,072. OKC will look at extending him this summer, but if an agreement isn't reached, he will be a restricted free agent in summer 2017.

Notable Factoid: His father, John Roberson, played professional basketball with Dirk Nowitzki in Germany. Apparently, in one matchup, John dominated Dirk for over 30 points.

Player History

Andre Roberson was born on December 4, 1991, into an athletic family. His father, John, played collegiate basketball at New Mexico State as well as professionally in Europe. His mother, Lisa, played volleyball at New Mexico State. He has 5 sisters and 1 brother, several of which played ball at the collegiate level.

Andre attended Karen Wagner High School in San Antonio, Texas. He averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks during his senior season, and was a first-team all-state selection in his junior and senior seasons. During his senior year, the team finished 39-2 and was ranked as the number 22 team in the nation.

Roberson played for the Colorado Buffaloes for 3 seasons. In his first season, Roberson set the CU record for most rebounds (297) and blocked shots (42) by a freshman. In his final two seasons, CU made the NCAA tournament for only the 3rd and 4th times since 1969.

Roberson's most impressive stat during college was his rebounding. During his final 2 seasons at CU, he finished 5th and 2nd nationally for rebounds per game. This is especially impressive given his average height of 6'7". To show this better, consider the chart below:

This chart shows rebounds per minute against height. The further up and to the left, the more impressive the feat. During Roberson's final two seasons, he finished 4th of all players who finished in the top 10 of rebounding in rebounds per minute. The three players ahead of him were Alan Williams (6'9", played in a weaker conference), Thomas Robinson (6'10"), and Drew Gordon (6'9", in a weaker conference). It isn't a stretch to say that Roberson was the most tenacious rebounder in the NCAA during his final two seasons, as well as finishing as the 2013 Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

Andre declared for the 2013 NBA draft despite being relatively unknown. Prior to the draft, he was expected to be an early to middle second round pick. In fact, none of the major media members projected him being a first round pick. However, analytics strongly supported him. Kevin Pelton of ESPN used a statistical model to rank the draft, and Roberson ranked as the 3rd overall pick. ESPN's Chad Ford ranked him as the 41st pick, but said "I can almost guarantee you that guy is going to get drafted because all of the statistical analysis says he should be a really good NBA player."

Roberson was drafted as the 26th pick as part of a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors. Some sources speculated that San Antonio was looking to draft him, but Sam Presti moved up in order to get his guy. Here is the WTLC draft reaction.

In the summer league play prior to his rookie season, Andre averaged 5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 24 minutes per game, demonstrating the abilities that he honed during his collegiate career.

During his rookie season, Roberson split time between the D-League team (at that point the Tulsa 66ers) and the Thunder. He played in 17 games for Tulsa, averaging 16 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He shot 52% from the field, 31% from 3, and 46% from the FT stripe. He played in 40 games with the Thunder, starting 16 in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha. He averaged only 2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10 minutes per game and shot only 15% from 3.

Despite his offensive struggles, the early signs of his defensive ability were there. For the 2013-2014 season, he finished 16th among SGs in Defensive Real Plus-Minus despite it being his first season as a guard. Here is the article detailing that first season for Roberson.

Going into his second season, the question of whether Roberson or Reggie Jackson would start in place of the departed Thabo Sefolosha was a a big unknown. Scott Brooks, a creature of habit, stuck with his normal lineup structure and went with the defensively minded Roberson.

It was during his sophomore season that Andre started getting attention for his defensive skills. Just 3 games into the season, former Thunder center (at that time still a member of the team) Kendrick Perkins said, "He's been putting on a clinic. And what he brings to the table, you can't replace. You look at guys and you see what their worth is when you see what they can do without the ball in their hands; if they can help you win without the basketball. And he's one of them." Vantage Sports called him the most disruptive perimeter defender in the NBA, and Bleacher Report called him one of the league's most underrated defenders.

OKC missed the playoffs that season due to a plethora of injuries, but Roberson's defense was one of the keys to being within a single game. Roberson had a DRtg of 100.1, and finished the season third among SGs with a DRPM of 3.30 and a DBPM of 2.1. The player he defended shot 4.5% worse than average against him.

However, his offense remained an obvious work in progress. He often was hesitant to shoot open 3s, choosing instead to pass back to the top.  He averaged only 3.4 points per game on 46% shooting and 24.7% from 3. Most of the time, he spent offensive possessions parked in the corner unguarded, though he occasionally used well-timed cuts to get ally-oop dunks. His sophomore season summary can be found here.

Preseason Expectations

On the defensive end, Roberson was expected to be one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league. At the end of the 2014-2015 season, he said, " I see myself as possibly being the best defender in this league if I put my mind to it." Seeing how little experience he had as a guard, it was expected that he would continue learning the best ways to defend NBA guards and wings. Assuredly, having an opportunity to practice against a variety of offensive players like Westbrook, Durant, and Morrow would give him a chance to improve his defensive versatility. Ideally, he would make the NBA all-defensive team, but at the least, he needed to provide lock down defense.

The concern was the offensive end of the floor. With a new head coach in Billy Donovan, there was talk about Roberson losing the starting role to a more skilled offensive player. The hope was that he would be more confident with his outside shot, be opportunistic with his cutting, and perhaps show a little bit of ball-handling ability, at least in transition. The offensive end was expected to be the definer of his role.

Regular Season Grade: A-

Andre's grade for the regular season is hampered by the offensive end of the floor, specifically his tendency to pass up open shots. He did make some noticeable improvement, though. He averaged 4.8 points per game and shot 49.6% from the field. Most importantly, his 3 point percentage increased from 24.7% last season to 31.1% this season on 1.5 attempts per game. He continued moving intelligently without the ball, getting many easy attempts at the rim. He displayed much-improved handles in the open floor, though he very rarely attempted driving in the half court.

Dre's defensive grade is an A+ for this season. His stats actually look noticeably worse than last season, as he finished with a DRPM of 1.51, and DBPM of 1.3, and a DRtg of 100.8. In part, this was due to a defensive scheme that added a lot more responsibility to his workload and took some time to learn. When he was out with an injury, his real impact showed in the complete collapse of the defense. If you don't believe me, take it from Severus Snape**:

Overall, Roberson met almost every expectation set out for him. He proved he deserved his spot in the starting lineup, despite being questioned fairly often. Nationally, he gained a decent amount of the reputation he deserves for his defensive ability. Disappointingly, he only received one vote for the all-defensive team, but that doesn't diminish from his skill on that end.

Postseason Grade: A+

The only reason this isn't an A+++ is because of the initial offensive struggles against the Dallas Mavericks. In that series, Dre averaged only 3.8 points per game on 41-14-67 shooting splits. In fact, he hit only 1 of his 7 attempts from deep in that series. Many of his critics who claimed he would be schemed onto the bench in the playoffs began licking their chops as they watched his offense.

However, during that series, his defense leaped to a new level. He spent most of his time guarding the ball handler (either J.J. Barea, Raymond Felton, or Deron Williams), and his length really disrupted the Mavs' offense. Maverick players continually looked frustrated when confronted by the 7-foot wingspan of a guard. Additionally, his offensive rebounding at opportune moments proved discouraging, with a game 4 board and dish for the Kanter lay-in specifically mentioned by Dirk as the defining moment.

In the conference semi-finals, after the game 1 blowout, the word was that Billy Donovan was going to make a change to the starting lineup. He even hinted at as much before the game. Donovan decided to trust Andre with the starters, and it paid off in a big way. While Robes didn't score, he finished with 3 steals, flustered Kawhi the entire game, and ended as a +17.

Through the rest of the series, his defense remained absolutely on point, contesting every shot and coming up with important deflections and blocks. However, through the first 5 games, his offense was non-existent, as he scored only 4 points over those 5 games.

In game 6, however, it all came together. He continued his lock-down defense, holding Kawhi to 9-23 shooting, while coming up with a steal and 2 blocks. On offense, though, he came within a point of his career high, scoring 14 points on 5-8 shooting, including 3-5 from 3. Add in 7 boards, and it was (at the time) the best game of his career.

Then came the "greatest team of all time" Warriors. Again, there was some debate about if Roberson would be playable. Last postseason, Memphis was forced to massively reduce Tony Allen's role due to his inability on the offensive end. Some thought that Roberson would be treated the same way. Despite Roberson's versatility on the defensive end, and even after splitting the first two games of the series, the talk continued.

In games 3 and 4, however, Roberson made Golden State pay for their disrespect. In those two blowout wins, he scored 13 and 17 points on 12-21 shooting, including 4-8 from 3. He also killed the Warriors on the glass, grabbing 6 and 12 boards.

On the defensive end, Roberson proved his worth as well. He hounded Klay Thompson, pushing and bumping him off his spot again and again. He averaged 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, and generally wore out the offensive player.

While his final game of the series wasn't pretty offensively, his final stats for the series 9 points per game on 52% shooting and 44% from deep. He also grabbed 7.4 rebounds per game and dished out 1.1 assists. Best of all, he showed the potential and built some confidence going into the offseason.

At one point in the Golden State series, Roberson had one of the best DBPM ever recorded by a guard in the playoffs. He finished with a DBPM of 4.76, good for 117 best all time at any position. His defense earned him praise continually from the announcers, and he built a reputation that could push him onto an all-defensive team next season.

Most Notable Game/Moment:

He had so many great moments in the playoffs, but the best game was definitely game 4. His stat line could speak for itself; 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Perhaps, though, the video can show so much better than I.

Honorable mention:

In game 6 versus San Antonio, Roberson made the hustle play of the season. This will be the single play I remember when I think about his playoff performance.

Future Expectations

Andre really upped the ante during the playoffs, and I expect to see him take a major step forward next season. He should be a key part of this team long-term, and if he improves in the right areas, this team could become unguardable. Here is my wish list for him:

  1. Keep working on that shooting motion. He has made big strides so far, but his shot could use more refining. In particular, I want to see him shoot at least 34% from deep next season, and above 70% from the FT line. He should also stop hesitating; 2.5 attempts per game from deep would be great.
  2. Develop a 2 dribble drive game. If teams are going to double Russ and KD, one of the best ways to make them pay would be for Andre to get a dribble drive game. This could work either off of a catch when the defender closes out too fast, or as the roll man in PnR. As much as I hate this comparison, he needs to develop the Draymond Green offensive game to some degree.
  3. Make the all-defensive team. This is really out of his control, but I'd love to see him finally get that recognition.
  4. Start getting some post moves. OKC doesn't need anything exquisite here, but Roberson should be able to make teams pay for putting guards who are 5 inches shorter than him as his defender. He has post skills, it's just a matter of cleaning them up for the NBA level.

What did you think of Andre Roberson's season? Let us know in the comments!

**Severus Snape was known for going hard in the paint.  Often called a magician with the basketball, his tight handles allowed him to slither into the paint unhindered. Perhaps his greatest skill, though, was his ability to school players on defense. In fact, he set a new league record with 394 steals in a single season. Unfortunately, his career ended in scandal, as he was kicked off of the Wagga Wagga Dark Wizards for throwing games. We will, however, always have this gem of a tweet: