NBA

Does Andre Roberson Have a Shot at Most Improved Player?

Does Andre Roberson Have a Shot at Most Improved Player?

I’ve always said that if, through some terrible means of fusion, we could combine Andre Roberson and Anthony Morrow, the resulting monstrosity might break the league. Can you imagine? Morrow’s efficient, lightning-quick three-point shot complemented by Roberson’s athleticism and slashing ability on the offensive end would make for the perfect running mate for Russell Westbrook.

As it stands, fusion technology doesn’t exist, and we should probably be grateful for that–although a Draymond Green/Steph Curry combination would be something to see. The Thunder have what they have; Andre Roberson won’t wake up with a silky smooth jumper tomorrow morning, and Anthony Morrow will look like a giraffe on roller skates when faced up with a starting-caliber NBA wing. These are basketball facts.

With the defection of Kevin Durant in the offseason (did you hear?), there’s a lot of production to be made up for. KD obviously can not be squarely replaced by just any warm body, but could Andre Roberson snatch up a lot of his points (and boards, assists) in his place? Could this season be the one where Roberson proves himself a complete NBA basketball player?

He’s a great defensive talent, but the crux of Roberson’s game has always been that he’s all D, no O.

The Thunder have traditionally favored a shooting guard who excels defensively rather than the offensively, if they couldn’t have both. Thabo Sefolosha played the part quite nicely during his Oklahoma City tenure, but he was considered expendable soon after Andre Roberson was drafted.

Roberson has done well in his time with the Thunder, certainly surpassing expectations. Coming out of Colorado, Roberson raised very few eyebrows with his skills, but he was, as a scout may say, a mass of walking potential. He was marble, waiting to be sculpted into the likeness of a professional basketball player.

We know what kind of a player Roberson is at this point in his career: he’ll give you elite perimeter defense (including a handful of blocks and steals per game), a couple of offensive rebounds, and he’s always good for one juice play a game. It’s usually a putback slam, a haphazard splay across the floorboards for a loose ball, a thunderous alley-oop reception—no matter what it is, ‘Dre provides the emotional oomph for the Thunder when Russ himself isn’t doing so.

But we also know his limitations very well: he simply can not shoot. His release is clunky, and he misses rim a good 25% of the time he releases it from long range. Despite his three-point woes (he’s a career 27.5% shooter), his teammates were practically blackmailing him to shoot his open corner three opportunities—of which there were many—based on the looks they gave him when he hesitated or passed it off. That must mean that:

A: Andre Roberson has very good teammates

or

B: His teammates truly believed in his ability to sink that shot–just taking that shot helps spacing, makes defenses respect his presence

I think it’s a bit of both.

Honestly, the main criticism leveled against him—that he’s a shooting guard who can’t shoot—is not entirely fair. He’s been unfairly typecast as a shooting guard because that’s the role he played while Durant was in the lineup, but Roberson’s a natural forward. In fact, he came out of Colorado as a power forward.

It’s no secret. He can’t shoot. It’s what allowed Draymond Green to play a free safety role on defense to such great advantage in the Western Conference Finals. But despite the numerous and fair criticisms of his game, the guy is only 24. We don’t even know what his ceiling is yet. Once Kawhi Leonard fixed his jumper, it opened up a world of opportunities for him.

Billy Donovan has been effusive in praise for Roberson, citing the evolving nature of his game as a reason for excitement. And that confidence has shown to be well-placed so far in the preseason: he’s expanded on his 2016 playoff effort, which was definitely the strongest stretch of his career thus far. Roberson has looked confident as a playmaker in the preseason, willing to push the ball in transition rather than pass off to a guard. Aggressive Andre is good Andre.

With Durant gone, the small forward spot is wide open, and I think I speak for all of us when I say OHGODKYLESINGLERNO  I hope that ‘Dre can prove that he’s a viable three-and-D threat. If he can up his three-point percentage by 5% this season (no small task for a player with three solid seasons of poor shooting), he’s earned himself a very large pay day next June in free agency. The Thunder are clearly invested in Roberson’s future; otherwise they would have cut Dion Waiters a hefty contract for his playoff efforts. They believe in ‘Dre’s development.

In fact, I think Sam Presti is privy to something a lot of people don’t see: Roberson has the tools, the attitude, and the coaching to become an evolutionary version of Andre Iguodala. I’m not saying Roberson’s going to an NBA champion and a Finals MVP, but he’s certainly got the potential to be that kind of X-factor in deep playoff runs.

The 2016 playoffs were Andre Roberson’s coming out party–you could practically see his confidence building higher and higher every game–and 2017 looks to be his signature campaign. He’s my favorite, at this admittedly early juncture, for the NBA’s Most Improved Player. His role will be expanded in the absence of Kevin Durant, and to that I say: fly, ‘Dre, fly.

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