After 138 painfully long days, Thunder basketball is finally back! But for Thunder shooting guard Andre Roberson, it had been over 900 days since he last played in a competitive basketball game– until yesterday. Last night, Roberson made his long-awaited return to the Thunder in a scrimmage against the Boston Celtics. Even though ‘Peake fans weren’t there to give Roberson the resounding welcome he deserves, Dre received a touching standing ovation from the entire Thunder staff and his teammates. Regardless of whether Andre Roberson returns to his status as an elite defender or not, his ability to simply make it back to the court after almost three years of obstacles and setbacks is a testament to his incredible work ethic and perseverance.
Roberson had his initial repair surgery for a patellar tendon rupture on January 28th, 2018, and was fully expected to return for the 2018-2019 season. Unfortunately, Roberson ended up needing two more arthroscopic procedures to relieve inflammation (May 29th, 2018) and resolve a suture irritation (October 4th, 2018), respectively. Roberson’s biggest setback, however, occurred in November 2018 when he suffered a patellar avulsion fracture while going up for a layup during practice. From that point forward, Roberson’s recovery was filled with ups and downs and promises of a return that never came to fruition. He declared himself a “full go” at media day in 2019, but remained absent from Thunder games (and practices) before deciding to rehab on his own in Los Angeles. All hope of a Roberson return seemed lost, until one fated day when Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test changed the course of the entire 2019-2020 NBA season.
The break in the season actually turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Roberson to get reps in with the team without the pressure of the impending post-season. I’ve got to say… Roberson looks *pretty good* considering he hasn’t played competitive basketball in over 900 days. However, it is important for Thunder fans to have realistic expectations of what Roberson’s role will be this season. Best case scenario, Roberson becomes a regular part of the second unit. He adds his incredible defensive skills off the bench and works on his conditioning and shooting. Worst case scenario, Roberson only gets a few garbage-time minutes per game and/or doesn’t play at all in the post-season. The Thunder have a long roster heading into the playoffs with a significant portion of the bottom of the roster composed of young players who could use the experience. That being said, Coach Billy Donovan appears to be in strong support of Roberson’s return and helping Roberson build up his confidence.
In his debut last night, Roberson definitely looked a little rusty, but understandably so. He had a few mistimed contests and looked uncertain at times on offense. Even Roberson acknowledged his nerves getting the best of him at first and attributed some of his uncertain movements to his shoes slipping on the new court.
Before I go on, can we just acknowledge for a second how great it is to see Andre Roberson so happy? He had good reasons to be pleased with himself, too, because there were certain things he did really well… dare I say even better than before he was injured. The most noticeable changes were Roberson’s improved shooting form, his quickened shot release, and his confidence/lack of hesitation when shooting an open three. Personally, I didn’t have “Andre Roberson makes a corner three in a mid-season scrimmage” on my 2020 Bingo Card, but I’m extremely here for it.
That being said, some things about Roberson’s game haven’t changed at all including his defensive acuity. He still has an elite ability to see the game in slow motion and predict his opponent’s next move. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander even called Roberson the smartest defensive player he’s ever been around and noted how Roberson is “always doing the right thing defensively.” I’ve got to say: it felt really good to see a classic pin-the-ball-to-the-backboard block from Roberson.
After the scrimmage, Donovan and Dre’s teammates poured out praise for Roberson, guessing about how excited they were to see him play competitively again. “It was great. The guys couldn’t be more excited for him. I know I was,” said Donovan, who has coached Roberson throughout his recovery. “You were able to see glimpses of what makes him such a great defensive player. He actually played really really well.” Chris Paul echoed Donavon’s sentiments, saying, “To see [Roberson] out there playing the game he loves was special for everyone.”
Roberson rounded up last night’s media availability by thanking Thunder fans for sticking with him throughout his recovery process: “I can feel the love from all the way back in Oklahoma. I just want to thank everybody, Oklahoma City and fans all around the world for sticking with me and supporting me through this journey. I couldn’t be more thankful and appreciative of the support.”
Personally, I’ve been covering Roberson’s recovery journey since Day 1. This post from the night of Roberson’s injury was actually the first feature piece I ever wrote for Daily Thunder. It feels so satisfying to see Roberson’s recovery come full circle and to see all the support for him from Thunder fans. I’m excited to have him back as a Thunder player, but more importantly, I’m just excited for him as a human being. He deserves this moment and I can’t wait to see how his game has changed.