Andre Roberson is worth all the money the Thunder are going to pay him
Perhaps the shrewdest trick ever pulled off this offseason by far was the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s highway robbery of the Indiana Pacers. Once Thunder general manager Sam Presti convinced Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard that Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis were equal to at least a year’s worth of Paul George‘s services, it blew the roof off of Twitter and shook the foundation of front office logic in the NBA.
It wasn’t, however, the only clever move Presti has done this offseason, as he was also successful in locking up Andre Roberson for three more years for the price of $30 million.
Paying Roberson $10 million a year seems to be a bit much even for people who liked what the forward did last season. Heck, Roberson must have been shaken upon knowing he’s going to make 10 times more this season than he did in the 2016-17 campaign when the Thunder deposited $920,000 to his bank account. Roberson’s worth has been devalued by some due to his lack of offensive prowess. Last season, Roberson averaged just 6.6 points per game—a career high. He can’t shoot from beyond the arc to save his life, sinking just 0.4 treys per game on a pathetic 26 percent shooting.
Apart from that, he’s a salivating target for opponents looking to foul intentionally, as he’s a career 49.3 percent shooter from the charity stripe. However, the Thunder aren’t keeping him because they’re expecting $30 million would transform Roberson into Kevin Durant but because they’re going to need Roberson to continue what’s he’s done for them defensively. With George now in Oklahoma City to help Westbrook carry the offense, there’s lesser pressure for Roberson to fill a bigger role in scoring and more time for him to focus on what he does best, which is being a defensive menace.
The 2016-17 Thunder will mostly be remembered and defined for and by Russell Westbrook‘s nightly statistical assault. But in the backdrop of Westbrook’s soul-crushing campaign was Roberson’s silent ascent to the elite level of defenders. For every poor soul Westbrook savagely dunked on, there was a clueless ball handler, whose pocket was picked on by Roberson. For every rebound Enes Kanter and Steve Adams could’ve corralled but let go for Westbrook to snatch, there was a pick-and-roll play by their opponent foiled by Roberson.
It might shock you to know that Roberson beats San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard in terms of defensive value added in relation to different defensive plays categories last season per NBAMath.com.
As what the graph shows, Roberson is ahead of Leonard in all the presented categories. This seems to be a significant twist to the generally accepted tenet that Leonard is the crème de la crème one-on-one defender with Roberson putting a better value-added number on isolation situations on defense.
It’s not the only perception of Roberson that needs to be brought to light for clarity. Most of those who thought that the Thunder shouldn’t have kept Roberson because he’s a liability on offense might be surprised to know that Oklahoma City scores more points (+3.9) per 48 minutes when he’s on the floor than when he’s not.
Perhaps one of the best trivia to illustrate Roberson’s unique value on defense is the fact that he’s in the 82nd percentile in the league when it comes to post defending, limiting his man to convert just 36.1 percent of shots in such situations. Interestingly enough, opponents shoot worse inside 10 feet away from the basket when Roberson is around than they do from longer distances per NBA.com.
Roberson didn’t win the Defensive Player of the Year award this year. He wasn’t even a finalist. But the numbers don’t lie. Roberson doesn’t need a new hardware on his trophy case to prove his worth. For the Thunder, Roberson not taking home the best stopper plum made it a whole lot easier for them to negotiate a new contract with Roberson.