Russell Westbrook had beaten his man, was hard-charging into the paint, the defense came up to meet him, and Andre Roberson cut back door from the weak-side. Westbrook threw up the alley-oop and before we knew it, Roberson was 4 feet in the air, and parallel. When Roberson planted his left leg for the jump, he had ruptured his patellar tendon. Roberson was stretchered off the court, and with him he took Oklahoma City’s chances at a top 5 defense.
For how limiting Roberson is on offense, he allows the Thunder’s defense to flex their collective muscles a lot more when he’s on the floor. Westbrook is nabbing two steals per game – which would put him on NBA 2K’s Franchise mode All-defensive team – which puts him 5th in the NBA in that stat, and interestingly enough, his teammate Paul George is first in the NBA at 2.2 steals per game.
There is little to no correlation between high steal numbers, and good defense. High steal numbers are often a result of a type of defense, or a player who’s willing to take chances on defense (a strategy that is usually hurtful). Rounding out the top 5, you have Eric Bledsoe, Kris Dunn, and Jimmy Butler, and up at 11th one Mr. LeBron James resides. Bledsoe plays for the trap-heavy Bucks who rank 22nd in Defensive efficiency, Dunn plays for the Bulls at 25th, Butler plays for the Timberwolves at 24th, and James comes in at 29th with the Cavaliers. James himself collecting a nice defensive rating of 111.6, that’s good for 437th worst in the league. Defensive Player of the Year Frontrunner Paul George’s defensive rating when sharing the floor with Roberson: 94.2, and that’s great because they’ve played over 740 minutes together, the bad news is his rating without Roberson: 111.2.
When George was in Indiana, he would often take the premiere defensive assignment (James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony) and he made his name, at first, as a defensive stud. He’s gone on to cement himself as a top-20 player in the league, and made his way to Oklahoma City. Waiting for him was Roberson, to take all of his toughest assignments. That’s right, George has not been guarding the toughest matchups this year.
Roberson allows George to play rover in the OKC defense. As alluded to above, the only defense that has high steal players, and also grades out as elite. This is largely a product of Roberson’s suffocating on-ball defense. Often times you’ll see a player get trapped after picking up their dribble, and have to try to make a skip pass out of it, and what teams who have played against OKC have learned; that isn’t so simple when Westbrook, and George are playing defensive back when the ball is in the air.
To be fair, the numbers could be a bit overblown, seeing that Anthony is often the alternate to Roberson, and Anthony is far from a good defender. Even if the numbers are bit juiced, they’re staggering, and spell out in all-caps that “ROBERSON IS IMPORTANT TO THE OKC DEFENSE”. Going forward this calls for a change in playstyle somewhat. OKC has had their share of trouble on offense this year, and it’s time that they sort it out, as it’s likely that they’ll have to outscore teams at a higher frequency.
Luckily for them, they already have a perennial All-NBA defensive team player in their company (George), and Steven Adams is terrifying for opposing players to attempt to shoot over at the rim. The players are there for the Thunder to build from this in a different way, and maybe we’ll see them hit their potential for the first time this year. Ahh, wishful thinking, this could get messy.
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