“Offense sells tickets but defense wins championships”
That is the famous quote by Bear Bryant.
Well, Andre Roberson’s offense most likely won’t sell many tickets but his energy, effort, and capability on defense helped the Thunder to win several games already this season.
Winning block shot vs the Suns:
Roberson played college basketball in Colorado as a power forward. He came into the league, drafted 26th overall by the Thunder in 2013. Since his first games in Oklahoma City, Roberson has been viewed as a controversial player. Fans have always pointed out his troubled shooting and lack of scoring ability but hardly recognized his amazing job on the other end of the floor.
His defensive skills grew season-by-season. Last year, during the playoffs, he had great performances guarding Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson. Who knows, if he wasn’t in foul trouble against the Warriors in game 6, maybe the Thunder would look a bit different right now…and not only roster-different.
This season, even if it has been only 22 games so far, his strong defense has improved.
Roberson always guards the best perimeter player on the opposite team. If the Thunder play a small ball lineup, he has also the ability to cover the opposite power forward. It’s not an easy task to be locked in like he is defensively, night in and night out.
Russell Westbrook shared interesting thoughts when he was asked about an NBA All-Defensive team consideration for Roberson.
“He actually locks up and defends to the point that people can’t score. It’s actually one-on-one defense. I don’t care about all the defensive numbers, all this other s—, I don’t know – percentages, winning the game – that doesn’t matter. When you’re on the court and you see the things he does defensively and people that actually watch the games and know what it means to actually guard somebody, then they can see what All-Defensive team is.”
Westbrook definitely has a point but the stats also support Roberson’s defensive effort:
- Per stats.nba.com, while guarded by Roberson, players shot a 2.5 percent less than they usually do on an average of 11.6 FG attempts per game. The percentage increases on the 2-point attempt only. In this case, players shot 3.8 percent worse while guarded by Roberson (8.4 FGA per game).
- Another interesting stat is the contested shots: a player closes out and raises a hand to contest a shot prior to its release. Roberson is 11th within all the forward (small and power) in that list with 10.3 shot contested per game. Considering that very often he takes care also of guards, Roberson would rank 2nd within guards only behind Giannis Antetokounmpo.
- Deflections: the defensive player gets his hand on the ball on a non-shot attempt. Roberson is averaging 2.4 deflections per game leading the Thunder in this category with Victor Oladipo
To give you an example in easy numbers, here are some stat lines of players guarded by Roberson (the majority of the time) this season:
- D. Booker (Phoenix Suns): 8-25 FGM-A (32%) / 2-8 3PM-A (25%)
- A. Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves): 3-13 FGM-A (23%) / 0-1 3PM-A
- J. Harden (Houston Rockets): 4-16 FGM-A (25%) / 1-5 3PM-A (20%)
- C. Anthony (New York Knicks): 4-19 FGM-A (21%) / 0-1 3PM-A
Roberson’s improvement this year is not only on defense. But also in confidence.
For a player like Andre, confidence is everything. In the past seasons, teammates had to beg Roberson to shoot the ball from the 3-point line. He was just standing in the corner allowing the defense to leave him alone and to focus on other players. Plus, another negative result of it was the flow of the offense. The ball was just stopping when it was in his hands.
This season, the way he plays on offense, is different.
His three-point percentage is similar so far compare to last season:
The difference is that he is averaging one more shot per game:
2016/17 2.6 attempts per game
2015/16 1.5 attempts per game
Dribbling with the ball:
Andre Roberson is not only standing in the corner/cut to the basket: when he gets the ball, he starts to dribble. Usually, it’s just to find an open man, but we saw also flashes of attacking the basket. Want an example? Here you go:
Roberson is averaging a career high in field goal attempts (6.3), field goals made (3.0) points (7.1), rebounds (4.5), assists (1.1), steals (1.2), and blocks (1.1).
Not everything has improved for Roberson. Unfortunately, his free throw percentage is a pretty awful 29 percent. That is a -32% compare to last year. The good thing is that teams are not fouling him too much. In fact, he is shooting only 1.3 FT per game.
Andre Roberson will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It would be wise for the Thunder to make a deal that satisfies him or it may come back to haunt them like free agents of the past have.