Checking in With … Andre Roberson

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

In mid-December, the blinding, bright lights came on at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

When his vision cleared, Andre Roberson stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 17-time All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, preparing to guard him for 36 hard-fought minutes. For most second-year players who had started just a couple dozen games in their career, the moment might have been too big. Instead, the Thunder’s cool, collected shooting guard went about his business, stifling Bryant into a 3-for-15 shooting night, helping the Thunder seal a dramatic 104-103 victory at the buzzer as Roberson defended a Bryant shot bounced off the rim.

It was just one game, but it wasn’t necessarily the result, but rather the demeanor with which Roberson attacked his work that night that was emblematic of his 2014-15 season. As he checked in earlier this month with Matt Pinto, the voice of the Thunder on the Thunder Radio Network, Roberson showed the same level-headed approach to his offseason training regimen. He is getting much-needed rest to heal the bumps and bruises produced by a challenging year, but is also focused on improvement in all facets of his game.

“I’m getting stronger with my injuries and in the weight room as well. That’s big time – gaining some weight and getting stronger and faster,” Roberson said. “My shooting will definitely get better, handling off the dribble. Defensive coverages, I have to stay polished on them and continue to get better with them.”

The mental aspect of the game is crucial for each player, but the learning curve is especially steep for young players. Roberson has been a student of the game during his first two years in the league, keying in on opponents’ tendencies and finding small ways that he can disrupt his assignment’s offensive rhythm. By working tirelessly with assistant coaches, trading advice with teammates and by watching games on his own, Roberson is gradually picking up more of the nuance that makes up an NBA basketball game.

“It’s seeing how they adjust each and every game,” Roberson explained. “Every game is different. It’s cool seeing that. It’s all about learning your opponent and growing from it. Watching little tricks here and there will help me get better next year.”

“I’m still learning a lot,” Roberson continued. “I’m a young guy in this league. I’m still learning a lot, each and every day there’s something new. Whether it’s Kevin (Durant) telling me something, the coaches telling me something, Russell (Westbrook) telling me something or Steven (Adams) telling me something, we’re all learning from each other and that’s what a team is all about.”

This summer will be full of work on the floor for Roberson, not just in the weight room and film room. From offseason workouts with assistant coaches to playing in Summer League in Orlando from July 4-11, Roberson will have a chance to hone his craft, which already showed marked improvement from Year One to Year Two.

In 2014-15, Roberson worked on his three-point shot, shooting 33.3 percent on attempts from the left corner for the season and during a two-month stretch from mid-January to mid-March, he shot 41.9 percent from three, including 5-for-10 on above-the-break shots and 8-for-21 (38.1 percent) on shots from the corner.

Roberson also stayed strong in the areas that helped him earn a spot in the league – defense and rebounding. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound, long, limber guard grabbed 3.8 rebounds per game and also could be relied upon to battle and frustrate opposing wings on the perimeter. In fact, Roberson forced his opponents to shoot just 39.8 percent from the field in 2014-15, including just 31.0 percent on three-point attempts.

“I never limit myself with a ceiling, but I try to do everything to the best of my ability,” Roberson said. “Whether it’s rebounding, defending or being tenacious on the ball, I try to go out there and switch it up every game. Every opponent is different and you’re guarding somebody new every night. You have to do a little bit of everything and take advantage of your opponents’ weaknesses.”

Roberson started 65 of the 67 games he played last season, playing 19.2 minutes per contest despite it just being his second season in the NBA. He’s found a niche in the league and has shown his value on the court, but will have to continue to prove himself. This upcoming fall, he’ll have a new head coach, Billy Donovan, to help him develop and grow as a role player and contributor for the Thunder, regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench.

Donovan has had the chance to speak with everyone on the Thunder roster and while the new man at the helm hasn’t charted things out on the court for next season, Roberson was able to get a sense of the kind of person he’ll be working with every day come October.

“I’m not sure what he’s going to do in terms of on the court, the system and what he’s going to run, but he’s a great guy, all for the team and built on pride and community,” Roberson said of Donovan. “He’s all in, so I believe in him and trust in him.”

Listen to the full interview: