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WTLC Roundtable: Roberson reflections

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The crew looks to the future on how the Thunder will recover from losing Robes for the year.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

WTLC is in the immediate aftermath of watching the Thunder lose Andre Roberson to injury, likely to not return to action until sometime next season. We take stock of what this means for OKC now and in the future, and invite you to do the same in the comments below.

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1. What was your initial reaction to Roberson’s injury?

R.K. Anthony - I actually saw the original play out of my peripheral vision and saw the knee go immediately, but didn’t want to believe what I saw, hoping it was an optical illusion and concentrated on the way Robes hit the floor. Later in the course of my conversation about the fall, Fox Sports Oklahoma ran a slow motion replay that I again caught from the corner of my eye and I knew I hadn’t imagined it, it was the knee.

Bobby Chancellor - I, like many others, assumed he slipped on a wet spot while planting for his leap, and that the real injury risk was something structural in his pelvis. When the replay showed it was actually his knee, the real concern set in. Non-contact injuries are usually the worst kind, and it was obvious this wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

Dom Flaim - My initial reaction was similar to Bobby’s. I was turned away from the game and heard them talking about a hard fall and when I saw it assumed it was his tail bone. Only after a few minutes I realized it might not be that and when it was more apparent it just got worse. Instant gut punch and instantly knew it was awful.

Chris Grenham - In all honesty, I initially called for the towel-boy’s job. Seeing him slip like that immediately caused me to look for someone to blame, as I was a little panicked. I thought it was going to be more of a tailbone issue due to the way he hit the ground, but I quickly realized that wasn’t the case.

J.A. Sherman - From jubilation to sadness. We’ve seen OKC run that backdoor lob hundreds of times over the years, with Roberson and others, and it was so wide open that to me it was a sign that the game was about to end in the 3rd quarter. What a whiplash, going from a sense of ease to wondering if Robes had fractured his pelvis. But when he flipped over, the look on his face told me he knew what had happened and that his season was over.

In the immediate aftermath, I was awash with the emotions of a low draft pick who many thought was a reach, not only transform himself into a rotation player, but arguably the league’s best defender, and doing so while being fully enmeshed in the OKC culture with deep affections towards everyone (he’s a serial ‘hugger’). Most important, those feelings are reciprocated. And a day after I penned a piece on the tenderness of holding my childrens’ heads, I witnessed this:

2. What does this mean for the Thunder’s prospects in the regular season?

RK - Are the Thunder better prepared to carry on without Robes than the last time he went on the DL? Yes, but there is no getting around the fact that losing Robes is a monumental blow going forward. As soon as they brought the stretcher for Robes, Sam Presti should have been on the phone calling in all of his people. Forget a backup big, priority one from NOW until the trade deadline is securing a replacement that is as close to a Robe’s clone as possible.

Bobby - I think we’re going to see an immediate slip as the team tries to function without an important piece. That is especially unfortunate, since the next several games should have been readily winnable. Once they get past that, I could see them going slightly above .500 the rest of the regular season. Unfortunately, to do that, they’re going to have to overplay guys, jeopardizing the health and energy of other key pieces.

Dom - Agree totally with Bobby. Prior to this winning streak they were on a 4-4 run against 7 lottery teams. They had some terrible losses and looked lost defensively, that was all without Andre. Prior to last night I honestly was thinking they had an outside shot at the 3 seed and worst case 5. Now I think 5 is the ceiling, and the only reason I feel good they don’t drop out is because of the DeMarcus Cousins’ injury.

Chris - Much of this answer will depend on what Presti does at the trade deadline, but either way it will be nearly impossible to replace Roberson’s defensive presence. I’m going to take the glass half full approach and say that this team is going to surprise some people. Ideally they can use some of the negative speculations as a little motivation while adding a defensive piece over the next 10 days. I’ll say they finish as the 5 seed.

Sherman - OKC has 30 games to figure this out, and I think that one approach to take is to look at their defense, which is really the trigger for what can separate them as a contender, and ask themselves what turns it into something special. You can never replicate what Robes does for the defense, but you can find players with similar tools who can at least step into their defensive philosophy and help it function.

3. What does this mean for the Thunder’s post-season prospects?

RK - Ask me again on February 10th. If the Thunder can’t replace Robes with someone that can help keep their defense playing at a high level, at this point, they wouldn’t survive a bottom 4 seeded team much less a team near the top.

Bobby - Honestly, I think this ended any hope for a post-season run. Think of the teams we might be facing, just in the first round. It’s very unlikely we get above the 4 spot, and it is very possible that we slide down a few places. That means that potential opponents are the Spurs, Rockets, and Timberwolves. If Kawhi is out, the Spurs are by far the best matchup, though their bigs would cause issues for our small lineups. But the Timberwolves and Rockets both come in with 2 high scoring perimeter players. Either Westbrook is going to have to fully commit on the defensive end, or we’re going to see a major mismatch at the guard position (remember that game that Wiggins went off because Donovan wouldn’t play Dre in the 4th? Get ready to see that a lot). And should they get through round 1, they get to play the Warriors. So yes, we are pretty well doomed.

Additionally, Adams and PG are going to have to carry much more load on the defensive end. That is going to take a major toll on them, and their offensive output will likely dip. Someone is going to have to carry that load.

Dom - Jeez I said I’d do this roundtable but Bobby pretty well wrote up all my answers so sure. But postseason wise this all but knocks them out in the first round and prior I’d have given even a punchers’ chance in the second round. This roster currently has two capable wings, and one is out for the year. Ferguson or Huestis can’t carry any of that load and the bench lacks depth to make up for it.

They’d be big underdogs but if they nabbed the 3 seed it would have made a fun series against Houston. Now I don’t see a way they even compete with anyone in round one let alone round two. Maybe take a team to 6 games as a best case.

Sherman - Realistically, a competitive 2nd round is probably the ceiling at this point. I think that, sans Robes, they are pretty close in terms of talent level to the Timberwolves. More playoff experience for sure, but probably not as good defensively as things stand today.

Unfortunately, to be competitive beyond that, a Robes provides a substantial solution to the problems they would encounter via the Rockets or Warriors. We’ve all seen what he can do to James Harden over time, which would balance out Houston’s vastly superior bench. He would also provide OKC with options on how to defend Stephen Curry and #35, two critical pieces to being competitive against Golden State. Without these available solutions, OKC likely won’t have enough good cards to play a full hand.

4. Do you make a trade, and for who?

RK - Is a frog’s butt watertight?

Just off the top of my head, I think Presti should roll the dice and test the waters in New Orleans and see if the Pels are willing to talk medicine about Tony Allen. I know Allen is still on the DL and may be for another 4 weeks, and I realize there are a lot of miles on that chassis, but his 110 DRtg before going the DL on a bad defensive team is exactly the same as Robes 110 on a good defensive team. In addition, his one year $2.1M contract is cap-strapped friendly too.

The Thunder would lose ground while waiting for Allen to get healthy, but if the gamble pays off, the Thunder go into the playoffs with one tough and experienced perimeter hombre.

Bobby - Here is the dilemma. There aren’t many assets to use for a trade, particularly for a good player. Our lack of depth is already an issue. So it’s going to be a player that is at best league average.

The other issue is finding a guy who will fit with this group. Dre is perfect for the SG spot because he brings elite defense, has found a way to contribute on offense (particularly by never stopping the ball), and doesn’t have an ego. How many players are willing to do all the work for none of the credit? You aren’t going to find a replacement for that.

In a previous season, Tony Allen would fit, but he seems pretty washed up at this point. I’ve seen other names get thrown around (Avery Bradley, Rodney Hood, MKG), but all of them are going to require a serious adjustment, as they all bring a significantly different game, and none are near the defender Dre is (but who is?).

Dom - I like some of Bobby’s ideas with MKG and Hood (I prefer Burks from Utah but Hood would be OK). They’d be two targets I’d toss out as a “maybe” fit. Bradley just flat out isn’t good, I’ll say it, and should be avoided at all costs. His teams consistently perform better defensively with him on the bench and again that holds true this year. Via RPM he’s the 91st ranked SG and Ferguson is the 92nd, so why use assets to get a minimal upgrade who has no long term future with no upside?

My ideal fit however goes back to Melo’s old teammates and brings another reunion. It’s not ideal, but this whole scenario kinda isn’t so working with what we’ve got the best I can think is Courtney Lee and Kyle O’Quinn. Lee isn’t the defender Roberson is but he can shoot and should fit in fairly well. O’Quinn would make up for a bit of the defensive drop off by contributing from the bench which has mostly been abysmal on that end anyways. In looking through some things I found this article in particular:

O’Quinn might not net much. “I’d guess a second-round pick or an equal player at a different position,” a team executive said. But not taking advantage of the market for him, even if a trade only yields a late draft choice, would be a mistake.

There are other options for the Knicks, such as Lance Thomas. Think of him as three-and-D lite. He’s a solid defender, who at 6’8” can guard multiple positions. He’s also drilled 38.5 percent of his triples and 54 percent of his looks from the corners.

Would a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have trouble at times finding five two-way players to share the floor, be willing to surrender a second-round pick for Thomas? You’d think a team interested in usurping the Warriors could use an extra body to toss at Kevin Durant.

That makes it difficult to find a partner, and it also lowers the potential return a Lee trade could yield. Most insiders doubt Lee could land a first-round pick. So, would Perry and Mills be willing to part with one of their best players—thus sending a clear signal that the future matters more than the present—even if it were just to get off some future salary?

(emphasis mine)

Considering OKC’s lack of assets due to some poor use of picks via trade (sorry but Grant for a first looks worse daily), they might be able to swing something with New York to take some long term salary and give them some younger players. Maybe?

Plus 2 2nd round draft picks possibly. Singler’s last year is a team option so it at least gets them out of a year of salary and gives some younger prospects to New York. Its not ideal but it’s the best idea I’ve got.

Updated: A second idea would be to look for another team looking for a shakeup. What about the Cavs? Jae Crowder’s been a great team defender over his years experiencing a down year due to a poor fit in Cleveland. Would the Cavs deal him? Maybe OKC could get him if a 3rd team were involved, something like...

Charlotte has been rumored to want to move off long term salary, and could pick up a few younger guys and if OKC and the Cavs both toss in a 2nd round pick some smaller assets. The Cavs get a better fit to shore up their perimeter defense, and OKC gets a multi-positional defender who can shoot a bit. It’s not ideal, but maybe someone bites.

Sherman - Assessing trade options is not my forte, I can’t come close to analyzing them the way Dom does. But I do wonder if the Blake Griffin shakeout (I’m sure many refer to Detroit as the Los Angeles of the mid-west) could yield viable assets amid the scrum.

5. Does this injury have any ripple effects for beyond this season?

RK - As much as it pains me to say it, probably so. DeMarcus Cousins is expected to lose at least 8% of optimal performance once he returns from his torn achilles, and from what I’ve read so far, 85 to 90% is what they shoot for after rupturing the patellar tendon. That is what motivated me to write the post about Robe’s tendinitis condition in the first place. More than injured, the tendon was sick, and rest was the only sure way to cure it. My concern at that time was his condition deteriorating to tendonopathy, the condition that is keeping Kawhi Leonard out of the Spurs lineup, but unfortunately it looks like we jumped that and went straight to ruptured. Tony Parker ruptured the quadriceps tendon and it took 7 months to get him back on the court.

If Robes did this:

Then a surgeon will repair it like this:

Full recovery, the 85 to 90% I spoke of earlier, takes from 6 to 12 months.

I can’t fully express how upset I am about this. Perhaps this injury was inevitable no matter what, but IMO, and of course, I’m not a doctor, Robes should have been on a 20 minute playing restriction til the end of the season or until his tendon showed no more signs of tendinitis. Here is an MRI image of former Indiana Pacer Danny Granger’s patellar tendinitis from December 2012:

The small tearing of the tendon is obvious. Will there be a ripple effect? Ask Paul George what happened to Danny Granger. I am beyond sick about this.

Bobby - The first question is how this will affect PG’s decision. If this team ends up being a first round exit, does he account for Dre being out, or decide that it wasn’t good enough.

The second (and this should be our primary concern) is how this affects Dre’s future.My hope is that, because he isn’t JUST an athletic defender, but also an incredibly intelligent one, he can still remain among the elite. Shane Battier never stuck out as being exceptionally athletic, but was still one of the best defenders in the league due to his study of the game. Perhaps Dre has to change how he plays, but I think he could remain in the upper echelon on defense.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a positive history for players coming back from this injury. However, many of those players weren’t in the same role as Roberson. Perhaps the narrowness of his role on offense allows him to come back and still be an effective player next season.

Dom - Bobby and RK hit it but there’s two aspects. First and foremost Dre’s long term outlook. I’m iffy on how well he returns to form but can only hope for the best. He looked OK after tendonitis so there’s that but at the same time this would likely be a way tougher return. All we really can do is hope but he is a very smart player defensively who still hopefully should have a ton of impact on that end.

The second is PG’s decision. I’m not sure this matters as much here because frankly I have no clue what PG is looking for. I’ll say this, I don’t think he goes to the Lakers either way, even if he leaves (and I thought that was likely anyway). It may have nearly sealed the coffin on him staying but maybe he sees something. I don’t know where he ends up at all.

Sherman - General outlook for Robes’ recovery is about a year, and as pointed out above, will likely come back to 85%-90% of his max effectiveness, even as he’s entering the prime of his career. That’s a bummer for both OKC and for Robes, as he’ll likely be vying for the biggest contract of his career after this one, and he won’t have the same physical abilities as he had before. Even so, Andre’s effectiveness is in part due to his physical abilities, but just as much due to his mental acumen for defense. The downside may not be too drastic, but then again, when you’re trying to guard the league’s most elite offensive wings, a 10% loss is substantial.

As for George, what I’m really hoping for is that he is beginning to realize that this team is built really well to cater to his specific talents. They have a destructive playmaking guard who can get him all the open jumpers he can handle, and an aggressive defensive system that sets him up all night long for steals and deflections. After a year in this system, we could be witnessing peak-PG, a necessary piece for championship aspirations.