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2017-18 Oklahoma City Thunder player grades: Andre Roberson

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The Thunder’s ace stopper elevated the team to an elite defensive level until a crushing injury cut his season short

Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Full Name: André Lee Roberson

Nickname: Robes, Animal Style

Years in NBA: 5

Contract Status: 2 years, $20,740,740 remaining

Notable Factoid: His father John was an All-American Basketball player and played professionally in Europe for 12 years; his mother Lisa was an All-American Volleyball player.

Player History: Acquired in a draft-day trade, Roberson has spent his entire career with OKC. He earned the team’s starting shooting guard spot his sophomore year, which he has held ever since with the exception of the 2016-17 season, when the departure of Kevin Durant and acquisition of Victor Oladipo necessitated a slide to the small forward spot. His impressive 7’0 wingspan, his athleticism and his defensive IQ allowed him to excel at either wing position. With the Thunder swapping out Oladipo for Paul George this season, Robes returned to starting as a 2 guard.

Pre-season Expectations: Roberson’s near-total lack of an offensive game has led many to question his role in the league despite his impressive defense performance. The Thunder however were eager to keep Roberson on board, and handed him a 3 year, $30 million contract shortly after the Paul George trade. $10 million a year is starter money, albeit 5th starter money, and the Thunder clearly made the deal because they wanted Roberson to continue in his role of key defensive stopper.

Most Memorable Game/Moment:

Andre was the hero of the Thunder’s most dramatic win of the year, the triple Overtime thriller against Philadelphia. Near the end of the 2nd overtime, Roberson received a pass from Russell Westbrook deep in the paint and was unable to finish around Joel Embiid. Roberson was clearly hit on the play but no foul was called, and the game staggered into a third overtime period. With 10 seconds to go, Westbrook hit Roberson on a near identical play and this time Andre delivered, coaxing in the go-ahead layup. The Thunder held on to finally win 119-117. The play made clear that despite his lack of bona fides on the offensive end, Roberson has Westbrook’s trust.

Regular Season Grade: A- Roberson’s offensive woes are real and more of a problem come playoff time. But he took the Thunder to such an elite defensive level that it didn’t matter. When he played this season the Thunder posted a defensive rating of 98.4 (98 points allowed per 100 possessions), a mark that would have led the league by a mile if sustained for an entire season, per CleaningTheGlass. The team managed an offensive rating of 106.8 when he played which, while below average, isn’t terrible. That passable offense combined with the suffocating defense led to a net rating +8.4 when Robes played, which would have been the second best mark in the league if sustained for the whole season.

The starting 5 of Westbrook, Roberson, George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams managed a gargantuan +14.5 net rating. Basketball is a team game and George and Adams are both excellent defenders as well, but Roberson, with his white-on-rice on the ball style and smart help instincts, was the linchpin that held it all together. When he went down, the Thunder’s defense fell to league average, and the offense didn’t improve enough to make up for it. Roberson, warts and all, was the difference between the two month stretch where the thunder legitimately looked Elite, and the rest of the season when they were above average at best. That merits at least A- in my book, and would be a full A+ if he’d been able to stay healthy all season (the injury was in no way his fault, but it still has to factor in).

Post Season Grade: Incomplete. Roberson was lost to a ruptured patellar tendon at the end of January, a loss that OKC never recovered from

Future Expectations: Roberson should make a full recovery from his injury in time for next season. If he is able to bring that same defensive fire, the Thunder could hit the ground running next season, especially if Paul George returns. If PG is gone, the Thunder may look to slide Robes to the 3 again and have Alex Abrines play the 2 to get more spacing (this only works if the Thunder are bringing Melo off the bench, which they really should be doing).

It would be wonderful if Roberson got a little better at shooting 3’s and crafty cuts off-ball in order to make a little more of contribution of offense and prevent defenses from completely ignoring him (also: if he could become just passable at foul shots to prevent the hack-a-Roberson strategy teams have employed). We’ve wanted that for years, however, and it may not be forthcoming. This season showed Robes can still have a monster impact even if he never gets better on offense. OKC, capped out and with the clock ticking on Westbrook’s prime, will expect him to once again lead their defense next season.

Player Grades Explained:

A- : Exceeded expectations.

In a year where OKC’s “Big 3” failed to live up to their billing, Andre was even better on defense than ever before. Prior to the injury, he gave the team a taste of how easy life can be with a truly elite defense. If the Thunder could have sustained that, they might still be playing right now.