2. Andre Roberson
Lost in the tracking of Russell Westbrook’s quest to average a triple-double (spoiler alert: he did) was the emergence of Andre Roberson as one of the best and most versatile defenders in the NBA.
The Colorado alum had been playing the role of defensive stopper for the Oklahoma City Thunder for the better part of the last three seasons, but the team also had plus-defenders in Kevin Durant, Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka that they could use to try and stifle an opponent’s best player. Two of those three players are no longer around to help Roberson out.
This season, Roberson has had to cover the opposing team’s best player nightly regardless of position — except centers, of course, that was left to Adams. He would have to guard Chris Paul one night then turn around and try to stick with Dirk Nowitzki in the next game.
While his stats don’t jump off the page, his importance to the Thunder is going to be under the brightest spotlight in the postseason. It will be up to him to slow down James Harden if Oklahoma City wants to have any shot at advancing past the first round. This year, Roberson has been the among the best defenders against Harden.
In the four meetings between the Rockets and Thunder, Harden has posted the following numbers: 20.5 points (with horrific shooting numbers of 34.3/22.6/79.4), 7.3 rebounds, 12.3 assists, and 6.25 turnovers per game. Roberson has been good at preventing Harden from using his foul-baiting tricks to get easy points.
In their Western Conference Finals tilt against the Warriors last year, the coaching staff was able to scheme ways to use Roberson effectively on offense despite him being a non-shooter (off-ball cuts, screen setter in pick-and-rolls). They will once again be put to the test of finding a way to keep Roberson on the floor as his defensive acumen is too important to have him wasting away on the bench because the team they’re facing doesn’t fear him on offense.