Twenty-two minutes, five seconds.
That's how long OKC guard Andre Roberson lasted against the Pistons before his left patellar tendon gave out on an alley-oop attempt. I remember the injury quite vividly as I looked on with a couple friends that cold night at the end of January. It was a pure coincidence that we caught the incident live. Why, we we're essentially pros at channel flipping through league pass at this point. No one would've guessed it was an injury that severe at the time. He made a hard plant off of his left leg as he made an attempt to catch an airborne pass by Westbrook in the middle of the 3rd quarter. The game was out of reach for Detroit by all accounts and an extra slam with emphasis would of only served as insult to injury. He landed on his back pretty hard after losing his balance on the drive, so I thought he had suffered a bruised tailbone or something of that nature and he would return to the court shortly. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. His season ended at that very moment, only amassing 39 total games played in the 2017-2018 season.
By all accounts, he was robbed of the opportunity to win Defensive Player of the Year: a significant award. At that point in the season, Roberson was arguably the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the year. Fellow teammate Paul George, Joel Embiid, and Rudy Gobert we're also in the conversation according to most fans and experts.
Here's one example as to why he had such a strong case.
Roberson prides himself on making his matchup work as hard as possible to make any kind of positive play with the ball, especially elite players like DeRozan. One reason why Roberson is such an effective on ball defender is his ability to cut through screens. He's excellent and making himself as thin as possible angling his body correctly when the screen arrives so he can stay in contact with his man. In the clip above, you can see Andre completely blow up two screens with the second actually resulting in a turnover by DeRozan. Screens are designed to give the offense an advantage to work off of, but Roberson turns the action on its head and giving his teammate Westbrook the advantage on the resulting fast break.
Turnovers are a common occurrence when Roberson arrives on the scene. According to Cleaning the Glass, the OKC defense TOV% increased by 4.1% last season when he was on court, which put him in the 99th percentile relative to ALL NBA players. Not too shabby. He has ranked in the 87th percentile or higher in that area in all but his rookie year.
He's a pain to deal with for the opposition, and you can't be careless when handling or passing the ball. He will make you pay for every little mistake, similar to the NBA 2K19 CPU set to the Hall of Fame difficulty.
Notice how Roberson primary assignment was James Harden, one of the most cunning and devastating offense players in the world. Most players would give all of their attention to this man and for good reason. One wrong step will put you at his mercy and you'll be forced to foul him to avoid giving up a layup or open three. He's surrounded by knockdown shooters and shoots 85.4% from the line himself over his career, so it's wise to respect his ability to takeover contests and stay locked on him. Andre acknowledges this responsibility, but isn't afraid to come unhooked at the right moments to serve as an effect team defender. (He finished with four steals in this game by the way, with three of them against Eric Gordon...he loves to terrorize that guy.)
In the following clip, he deflects Eric Gordon's (who else?) pass even after gambling and getting hit with the back door cut. His defensive IQ is so high and his hands are so quick that he can eliminate the advantage here and reverse the possession. A good look for Houston turned into a fast break dunk by Westbrook. Most are cooked after overplaying the beard. Not this guy.
Speaking of turnovers, the Thunder's defensive turnover percentage increased by an incredible 4.1% when he was on the court.
That put him in the 99th percentile once again. I know these numbers aren't everything, but it's hard to ignore when a player ranks tops in the league in two defensive stats that account for when he is on the floor as opposed to when he is off. It's not like he's playing next to weak defenders that bolster these numbers either. The Thunder have ranked 13th, 10th, and 9th in Defensive Rating the last three years.
Some of the advanced defensive stats don't put him in a favorable light compared to George, Embiid, and Gobert, but that's partially because he missed so many games. Make no mistake, Roberson is one of the best all-around defenders in the league that can hang with the best offense players due to his combination of lateral quickness, length, and instincts.
In contrast, his offensive profile is as ugly as any player in the league. He shot 22% on threes, and 31% from the line. You'd be hard pressed to find numbers that hurt your eyes as much as those. Luckly, Andre and the Thunder understand these shortcoming, so he doesn't get a chance to do much on offense. His usage rate sat at an incredibly low 8.3% last season. That's at the absolute bottom of the association for his position and has been every year of his five year career. The next cloest DPY candidate from last season was Gobert at 14.9%.The benefit of Andre's reduced offense role this is that he can devote the majority of his mental and physical effort towards being a defensive menace every night. The debate on whether his defensive brilliance overcomes his offensive weaknesses will have to wait till another time, but this is a clear advantage he has over other candidates. They all play a moderate to significant role on offense, which hurts their defensive numbers, with the exception of Kawhi when healthy.
Now by no means will he run away with the award. Draymond is sure to be more motivated this season after a slight decline last year, while George, Embiid, Kawhi and Gobert are sure to be solid stoppers again as well. Roberson will also reportedly miss a few games while recovering from his injury.
With that being said, I'm just excited to see what Roberson will be able to accomplish on defense over a full season. He has been phenomenal his whole career and I'm predicting that he will finally be rewarded for it. Hopefully voters are tuned in enough to his contributions on the stat sheet and on film to see he should be a primary candidate once again in 2018-2019. This Thunder guard has been gypped once before by bad luck...let's not do the same to him by choice.