De­fen­sive dy­namos

Rober­son, Ge­orge give OKC dis­rup­tive perime­ter pres­ence

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Brett Daw­son bdaw­son@ ok­la­homan.com

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.”

THE OK­LA­HOMAN] [PHOTO BY SARAH PHIPPS,

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.

THUN­DER

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