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Thunder’s André Roberson returns to basketball after being away for almost 1,000 days

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After multiple setbacks and doubts, the Oklahoma City forward finally stepped back onto the hardwood in the weirdest of circumstances

Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

909 days.

That’s how long it’s been since André Roberson last set foot on a basketball court.

After multiple surgeries and setbacks from a suffered a ruptured left patellar tendon on January 27, 2018 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Roberson made his long-awaited return to the basketball court at Disney World in a scrimmage game against the Boston Celtics Friday in the Thunder’s first game back since the season was suspended in March.

The Thunder’s last opponent before this game? The Boston Celtics. Breaking the record for the most extended amount of time in between a back to back series.

Roberson played in 12 minutes and finished with five points on 2-of-3 shooting with two rebounds, a block, and a steal.

The stats in these scrimmages do not matter, but it was nice to see Roberson back in the court and look like an NBA competent player. André spent this game and will spend the remaining scrimmages knocking off as much rust as he can before the season starts.

In this game, Roberson defended well against the wings and bigs he was assigned to and did not look too overwhelmed.

Billy Donovan is understandably slowly working André back as he was not asked to guard any of Boston’s best players, waiting until the second quarter to sub him in.

Roberson knocked down one of his two three-point attempts, and his release looked much more natural and less exact as we have grown used to when André would shoot from the outside.

We can not take much out of this game when it comes to evaluating the type of player Roberson will be from here on out, but it is an encouraging sign that his release looks somewhat better than before. At least for that one shot.

But now that the Thunder and André have hit this milestone. What is next for this former All-Defensive player?

Roberson is one of the biggest beneficiaries of this bubble, as it has given him another chance to play this season. If the world were ordinary, Roberson would have missed this entire season and become a free agent whom many teams would be very wary of giving him an NBA contract.

The most likely scenarios would have been either A) he signs a non-guaranteed deal and has to fight for a roster spot during training camp or B) he calls it a career and ends his basketball playing days on a wrong note.

But we are not in a rational world, Roberson now has a chance to play in real NBA games against real NBA teams. If all goes well, he can show the rest of the league that he can still be a rotational player who can come in and defend against the best of them.

I think if Roberson is going to play meaningful minutes in the regular season and playoffs, it will be at the expense of Darius Bazley. The Thunder have weak depth at the forward position outside of their starters, so the backup wing minutes are up for grabs between André and Darius.

If Roberson can play at a decent rate and can defend well, that would be a massive boost to this Thunder team and their chances of advancing in the playoffs. Roberson’s defense can partially make up for the loss of Dennis Schroder’s offense whenever he departs the bubble.

The Thunder currently sit at ninth in the league in Team Defensive Rating at 108.4. A healthy Roberson can help improve that. The West is filled with elite perimeter players, and if Roberson can play rotation minutes and help defend those players, then this team can win a playoff series.

Roberson’s leadership and experience can also help this team out as he can take guys like Lu Dort and Bazley under his wing and help them prepare for the big playoff moments that will come down the road.

My biggest concern with Roberson, which has been the case his entire career but especially now, will be what role he will play on offense. In previous seasons, the Thunder have been able to hide his lack of shooting by playing him with elite players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George.

But now that is no longer the case. If Roberson is to play meaningful minutes, one of the three guards with some shooters will have to be on the floor with him at all times so that André can slide to that four spots and become more of a cutter than a spot-up guy in half-court sets.

Teams will sag off of André and force the Thunder to play four against five when they have the ball, so it is essential to surround Roberson with playmakers and shooters to avoid clogged paints and awful spacing. Because if not, Roberson’s defensive impact will not justify his offensive ineptitude.

But then again, if Roberson did develop into a better shooter in the two and a half years he was gone, that point becomes mute. So who knows, we will have to wait and see what type of player Roberson is now.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a dark cloud casting over the NBA, forcing the league to move 22 of their teams into one location.

Florida is considered a hot spot, and players and personnel staff are risking their long-term health to finish a season that has no guarantee of actually finishing.

But one thing is for sure, the return of André Roberson is a fantastic thing.