What Roberson Will Provide For OKC’s Bubble Squad


Andre Roberson has not played a game for the Oklahoma City Thunder since January 27, 2018, when he suffered a gruesome leg injury, rupturing his patellar tendon in his left knee as he attempted to catch a lob. Roberson’s initial recovery was only supposed to take around 10 months, but he suffered a series of setbacks.


After two-and-a-half years, Roberson is finally back and participating in the Thunder’s practices in Orlando. Billy Donovan seemed very pleased with how Roberson looked in practice:

“He looked really, really good in terms of the way he was moving,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It was great to see him out there. I was really happy for him. But like we’ve talked about in the past, we’ll see how he can continue to build up and develop here over the next week, but he was out there today and he participated in everything.” (via ESPN’s Royce Young)

If Roberson continues to show promising signs, he could very easily work his way back into the Thunder rotation. The possibility of getting Roberson back for the restart should excite the Thunder and their fans because of what he brings to the table.

Elevating The Defense To The Next Level

Before his injury, Roberson was considered one of the NBA’s elite defenders. After making the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team in 2016-2017, Roberson took his defense to the next level during the 2017-2018 season. He was in the early conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, posting an impressive 97.3 defensive rating.

During the 2017-18 season, Oklahoma City was a staggering 11.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Roberson was on the floor– the biggest differential from a single player who played at least 1,000 minutes on the season. That season, the Thunder also ranked number one in the league in points off turnovers, averaging 18.7 points per game.

Once Roberson got injured, the Thunder’s defense became drastically worse. Oklahoma City dropped from the fifth-ranked defensive team to 15th. Their opponents averaged almost four more points per game than they did prior to Roberson’s injury.

All these numbers speak to how important Roberson is to the Thunder’s defense. Currently, OKC ranks ninth in team defense. Adding Roberson back into the rotation could easily make them a top-five defensive team. The big question will be if Roberson can return to his elite defensive form.

His teammates sure think he is capable of working his way back to the status of a top-tier defender, as they raved about what they have seen from Roberson in practice in recent Zoom press conferences.

“Dre, he’s still got it on the defensive end,” Dennis Schröder said  “We’ve played pickup a little bit in OKC. He looks pretty good; on the defensive end he’s a threat.”

“The first thing I noticed about Dre is he’s the smartest defensive player I’ve been around,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added. “He’s always in the right spot, knows where the next pass is going to be. It’s honestly like he’s always doing the right thing defensively.”

There is no question that adding Roberson to the rotation would be a huge boost for Oklahoma City. The big question is how will Billy Donovan work the six-foot-seven guard/small forward into the Thunder rotation.

Where Will Roberson Get His Minutes From?

Thunder point guard Dennis Schröder announced that he will leave the bubble when his wife goes into labor, likely in early August. Schröder averages 31 minutes per game which leaves the Thunder with a huge hole to fill.

Roberson, if deemed healthy and fit enough to play, could pick up a good chunk of Schröder’s minutes. Although Roberson will not be able to emulate Schröder’s offense, he contributes in ways that often go overlooked.

Leadership and Team-First Mentality

Known for his unselfishness, Roberson approaches everything he does with a team-first mentality. Roberson’s focus is not on being in the spotlight, but rather on doing the little things to help the team succeed. From guarding the opposing team’s best players to diving on the floor for loose balls, Roberson gives his all every possession.

Roberson also brings leadership to a Thunder roster full of young players. A recent Sports Illustrated article described Roberson as an “an active part of the Thunder’s roster” despite being injured.  It highlighted how Roberson has taken rookie Luguentz Dort under his wing, giving him lots of advice. Roberson’s impact on Dort is evident, as Dort has gone from undrafted to a starter for the West’s fifth-place team.

All the intangibles Roberson brings to the Thunder are invaluable and they can greatly benefit from by getting him back on the court.

Offensive Rebounding

Most people consider Roberson an offensive liability because of his poor shooting, but Roberson finds other ways to contribute. He is great on the offensive boards and creates many second chance opportunities for the Thunder. Roberson only scores around five points per game, but his offensive rebounding creates points for the team.

During the 2017-18 season, Roberson averaged 1.9 offensive rebounds per game. The Thunder had their highest offensive rebounding percentage when Roberson was on the court. Currently, Oklahoma City ranks dead last in offensive rebounds per game. The ability to have a perimeter player who creates multiple second-chance opportunities would provide a huge boost.

While there is no guarantee Roberson will play in the NBA’s restart, the possibility of him returning is certainly intriguing and exciting. If Roberson is indeed healthy enough to play, then Oklahoma City receives a major boost and greatly increases chances of the Thunder being this year’s dark-horse team in the playoffs.

Follow us on Twitter @ThunderLead for the latest Thunder news and insight.


About James Mueller

James Mueller is a current student at the University of Houston who is majoring in both Sports Administration and Journalism. James has been passionate about sports his entire life and has extensive knowledge about all the major sports.

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