The return of Andre Roberson via a solid first outing offers up plenty of options for OKC Thunder depth and versatility.
OKC Thunder fans experienced a happy Friday with their team back on the court looking no worse for wear despite missing over four months of action. Playing a scrimmage match versus the last team they played before the suspension the Thunder once again beat the Boston Celtics.
Notably, Kemba Walker was not in the lineup but the damage done by the Thunder occurred primarily in the frontcourt where Steven Adams feasted.
Of course, there as a bigger story and greater dynamic to take away from the win as beloved Thunder player Andre Roberson made his triumphant return to the hardwood. After being off the hardwood since January 27th, 2018 when he tore his patellar tendon this day often felt like it would never arrive.
Roberson offers OKC Thunder myriad of options
But arrive it did and Roberson not only looked recovered he looked GREAT as Billy Donovan opined post-game. Immediately the defensive prowess of Roberson was on display. He was calling out sets and directions to his teammates as if he’d never missed a game.
He ran down a play and blocked the shot on the backboard just like he’s done in the past and was active all over the court deflecting balls. His presence quickly was noticed by the Celtics who began passing to players not being covered by Roberson. To say it was a triumphant return might feel like a reach but in reality, there were so many positives it’s hard not to be effusive in our praise.
To that end, the offense which was always his shortcoming has seemingly also improved. He nailed a 3-point attempt showing off a new shooting form that hints it wasn’t just his leg he worked on over the extended time spent away from competitive play.
An interesting dynamic of his return is the versatility he affords the Thunder now. In the two and half years he’s been away from the game positionless players are far more common as are small ball systems.
Given Dre’s size and capacity to guard essentially one through five, Billy took advantage of Roberson playing primarily at the four and even got some burn at the five. The latter was due more to the decision to rest Steven Adams the second half and Nerlens Noel held out to allow him more time for his sore ankle to heal.
Moving forward, there is a myriad of options a healthy Andre Roberson offers this team. As we highlighted in our recent article having a healthy Dre will be advantageous particularly when Dennis Schroder has to exit the bubble for the birth of his child. To reiterate, Roberson could be inserted into the starting rotation so Lu Dort can run the second unit.
The clutch time lineup that has feasted on the opposition could also utilize Dre while Schroder is out or even in the offense-defense subbing to complete games.
Another player who looked improved in our first sighting of him since the hiatus was Darius Bazley. His upper body has definitely added muscle and he looked far less tentative on the court.
Bazley has spent time primarily at the four this season but Friday, Donovan even had him handling the ball more (thank you Billy) which we’ve pined for given his handle and underutilized playmaking ability.
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With Dre back healthy and capable of playing three positions and Bazley’s versatility there is also an option to run out an extremely lengthy secondary unit featuring one of Hamidou Diallo or Terrance Ferguson at the two and Roberson, Bazley and Nerlens Noel at the three through five. If they can find enough scoring that could be an interesting option.
Presumably, if Donovan used this lineup when Schroder leaves for the birth instead of using Dort he may have to alternate Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to run the point and be the primary scoring option. The point is there are many more options at Donovan’s disposal just by virtue of having a healthy Andre Roberson available.
Ultimately, the OKC Thunder just got much stronger with the return of Roberson and maybe now the pundits will start giving them a bit more consideration as a top team.
His presence and ability offer depth and an x-factor that makes the Thunder an even more difficult team to beat. One of the biggest questions of this squad has been depth and Roberson’s presence answers some of those concerns. The fact Donovan has him playing minutes in three different positions speaks to the fact the coach recognizes his value.
As for the return, it was a long time coming and took dedication, effort, and heart, but it sure felt great to see Roberson back where he belongs — in his OKC Thunder jersey, leading the defense.
While we digest how special his appearance Friday night felt, we’ll also try our best to not get ahead of ourselves. Then again, it’s hard not to believe this already strong squad just took another step up the ladder.