It’s time for the Warriors to stop treating Andre Roberson like they did Tony Allen last year. Switching Andrew Bogut onto Allen was a watershed moment in the Playoffs last year, and it paid off for Golden State. They watched Allen brick shots at a steady rate en route to a handy defeat of the Grizzlies in the conference semi-finals. This year in the Conference Finals, they’ve tried a similar strategy with the Thunder’s defensive wing in Roberson. This time, though, the result is different; he’s punishing them for it. How badly, and how? Let’s look.
For reference, here are Roberson’s regular season standard stats:
From an offensive standpoint, it’s unimpressive. That’s not surprising, he’s on the court to play defense first. He only attempted 3.9 field goals per game this season. Compare that, however, to his impact in the Western Conference Finals:
Since Roberson became the invisible man, he has increased his efficiency along with his usage, and nearly doubled his contributions in terms of counting stats. That player in the second chart? You defend that guy in the playoffs. Since it’s still Roberson, maybe not in-the-jersey tight defense, but you have to try and throw him off. We’re living in a reality now where we know that Roberson has the ability to capitalize if teams try to play 5 on 4 when he’s on the court for their opponent.
Guess who on OKC has the highest effective field goal percentage among players getting meaningful minutes in the Conference Finals? Roberson. He’s rocking a ridiculous 69.0% eFG%. It’s nearly all plays where he’s left alone, too. He’s near the bottom on the team in drives and pull ups. He doesn’t need to score by creating a shot because the Warriors are letting him create them without the ball in his hands. He’s third on OKC in catch and shoot points per game, on which he’s shooting 54.5%.
The Warriors seem to just be forgetting he exists at time too, like a number of plays in Game 3 of the WCF where he caught a pass for a wide-open layup. He’s big and long enough to finish fairly well near the basket, and Golden State is ignoring him to the point that he’s snaking his way inside for easy shots (as well as making the open jumpers he gets). Guess who leads the all players in paint touches in the conference finals this year?
It’s Steven Adams. (But Roberson is second, at exactly the same as LeBron).
Roberson is shooting 87.5% on paint touch shot attempts, good for best on Oklahoma City. He’s scored over 13 points five times in his career, and three have been in the last five games he’s played.
Honestly, this might be one of the most important factors in the Thunder’s throttling of Golden State so far this series. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been stellar, that’s true. They’re taking and making unbelievable shots, playing smart, and getting their teammates involved. But we expect that from the Thunder, especially after their they dismantled one of the best defensive teams ever in the Spurs. They’re also doing an incredible job on Stephen Curry, who’s working harder to get the ball in his hands than most players do to get open. The exhaustion from all the pindowns and bumps he’s getting hit with all over the court on offense are playing a huge role in his uncharacteristically dismal play so far. If he was injured, there’s no way Steve Kerr would be putting him in front of Russell Westbrook. Put that excuse to sleep right now. He’s just getting smothered. The defensive harassment the Thunder are executing on him is a masterclass on defending reactionary motion offenses that thrive on a central engine like GSW’s. Still, we expect teams to work hard to slow or stop Curry.
But what do you do when the team you’re facing can field two of the five best players of the game at the same time, and they’re getting meaningful, efficient offensive contributions from their non-shooting defensive wing? Not much. If Roberson forces you to pay attention to him, where is there to hide? Who are you going to pay less attention to? Westbrook, who had a triple double in Game 3? Kevin Durant, one of the best offensive players in the league? Dion Waiters, who you’re already using as a hiding place on defense, but is also punishing on open shots? Steven Adams, who’s probably the third most important player on OKC right now?
The reality of the situation is that Roberson taking and making shots is breaking the best game plan for handling this Thunder team, which is to leave him on an island and overload on their best two players. The Warriors are in trouble. Roberson is putting the kind of pressure that the peak-level Warriors did on teams all year, where every single player on the floor needs to be respected, and that’s stretching them way too thin. It’s making their defense porous, and it’s exhausting their offensive talent on the otherend of the floor, leaving them unable to keep up with the Thunder’s firepower.
Golden State still has a shot, but it’s exceedingly slim. They always have a puncher’s chance, and they’re still a 73-win team. That’s still meaningful. It looks bleak, though. There’s just no good way to defend this Thunder team when every starter is capitalizing on their chances. That being said, the Warriors had better find a way. They need to start watching Roberson if they want to survive, because if they don’t they’ll be watching him in the Finals from home.