If Andre Roberson plays when the NBA season resumes, he will have gone 917 days in between games since rupturing his patellar tendon on Jan. 27, 2018, in a game against the Detroit Pistons.
Situations have changed since then. Carmelo Anthony left the Thunder and was almost forced into retirement before landing in Portland this season. Paul George signed a long-term contract with the Thunder after that season, played one more year that resulted in absolutely nothing for the Thunder, then he jumped ship. Russell Westbrook decided to end his tenure in OKC and take his talents to Houston.
The Thunder look completely different than they did during the 2017-18 season. OKC’s starting point guard, Chris Paul, was a foe the last time Roberson touched the court. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was at the University of Kentucky, Dennis Schröder was in Atlanta, and Darius Bazley was a junior in high school.
The point is, Roberson is entering a completely different situation, and there aren’t any promises that he’ll be the same. Especially with a complicated situation at the shooting guard position. Luguentz Dort just got a full NBA contract after an unbelievably productive rookie season for an undrafted free agent. He looked like the outright option to start before Roberson’s name popped back up.
While Dort has proved his value and the fact that he can defend at a high level, shoot respectively well, and confidently shoot free throws at a 77.8% clip, Roberson’s experience may serve as a better starting option for the Thunder in the bubble format. But only if he’s at least 80% of the player he once was.
Roberson’s struggles on the offensive end are well-documented. From shooting 46.7% from the free-throw line to 25.7% from three to looking terrified at times to do anything on the offensive end, he’s definitely been a liability on that end.
What makes him so special is how elite he can be on the defensive end of the floor. When he got injured 30 months ago, he was the best on-ball defender in the league and was the only player that could discombobulate James Harden out of an efficient night. Having his defense and experience to set the tone to start a game may be what the Thunder need, especially alongside a defensive-minded point guard in Chris Paul (something he’s never played with).
All of this is subject to how he looks in practice and how he ultimately plays in the scrimmages leading up to the season’s resumption. Will Andre’s experience and defensive superiority over Dort win him back his starting job, or will Billy Donovan go all-in with the youth movement and start Dort and use Dre as extra ammunition coming off the bench? The only way we’ll know Dre is ready or not is if he’s in the starting lineup and is a shell of his former self.