Roberson, George give OKC disruptive perimeter presence
From a distance, Andre Roberson sees in Paul George a kindred spirit.
The Thunder guard has watched the way his new teammate “wreaks havoc” defensively, he said, has observed the intensity with which he insists on high-profile assignments.
“He’s a guy that goes in there and disrupts. Likes to guard the best players, especially in crunch time,” Roberson said this week. “I’m gonna fight him for that, to be honest. I’m gonna be like, ‘Nah, I got him.’ It’s gonna be a fun year.”
Maybe not for opposing offenses.
It’s a new era of super team in the NBA, and the Shaq-and-Kobe model is dead. The trail to playoff excellence – blazed by the Warriors, winners of two league titles in three seasons – is an extrapotent perimeter.
From Golden State, with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, to Cleveland with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to Houston with James Harden and Chris Paul, the cream of the NBA crop is stocked with wing threats.
“The league is changing,” Roberson said. “Teams are stacking up. It’s multiple options on every team.”
It demands defensive flexibility.
And with the addition of George, Oklahoma City has it in droves.
In Roberson, 25, and George, 27 the Thunder has one of the league’s best defensive tandems on the wing.
“I think with Andre and Paul on the perimeter, those two guys
defensively have guarded a lot of different players,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think also with Russell (Westbrook) at the point guard spot, the three of them on the perimeter have got great length and size and range.”
Roberson was a secondteam All-Defensive selection last season as a small forward, but he guarded a wide range of perimeter weapons. He was matched up with the league’s best small forwards – James, Carmelo Anthony – but also defended point guards, including Harden, and shooting guards like Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.
“What impresses me is (Roberson) plays the game on the other side of the ball how I do, and that’s just being a pest, all over the ball, not taking anything,” George said. “He’s just going to be all over you, and he’s fiery. He has an edge. He reminds me of myself playing on the perimeter.”
This season, Roberson and George will be able
to share the responsibility of defending a team’s best perimeter weapon. And that puts a highlevel defender on a team’s second-best perimeter option.
The combination also affords Donovan some options he lacked last season.
In a first-round playoff series loss to the Rockets, Donovan left Roberson on the floor late in games even as Houston hacked Roberson, who made 3 of 21 free throws in the series.
Roberson was on the court for his ability to guard Harden. Adding George allows the Thunder to sit Roberson in such situations without suffering defensively.
It also gives Oklahoma City a wealth of defensive combinations. Alongside probable starting power forward Patrick Patterson, the Roberson-George combo should be adept at switching pick-and-rolls. And a lineup of Roberson, George and reserve power forward Jerami Grant would give Oklahoma City length, versatility and athleticism on the wing that would be tough to match.
“It opens up a lot of things,” Roberson said. “It’s gonna be tough for teams to score on us. My goal is (this) year, hopefully nobody scores 100 points on us.”
That’s a lofty – and almost certainly unattainable – goal for a team that allowed 100 or more points 56 times in its 82 games last season.
Still, the new-look Thunder figures to be a better defensive team than the one that allowed 105.1 points per 100 possessions last season, 10thbest in the NBA.
Guard Victor Oladipo, who went to Indiana as part of the trade that brought George to Oklahoma City, was a fine defender. But he lacked the length that makes Roberson and George so disruptive.
It’s that length – combined with athleticism, quickness and versatility – that makes the Thunder better-equipped to defend the NBA’s better teams. And maybe even its best one.
On paper, Oklahoma City might stand the best chance of slowing the Warriors, and Roberson said he likes the Thunder’s ability to throw different looks at Golden State.
But for as dynamic as the OKC defense looks, it’s yet to make a stop – against the Warriors or anyone else.
“They’re still the champions,” Roberson said. “We gotta prove everything. We ain’t done nothing yet, to be honest.”
In the past, Paul George, left, often defended a team’s top perimeter scoring threat, like the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. In Oklahoma City, George will share that duty with teammate Andre Roberson.