When Thabo Sefolosha went down with an injury late last month, Thunder coach Scott Brooks characterized the starting shooting guard spot as fluid.
Before Thursday night, it hadn’t been. Perry Jones started all six of the previous games in Sefolosha’s place.
But maybe Brooks was tired of getting burned by opposing perimeter players. Because on Thursday night, he injected some defensive energy into the opening minutes.
Andre Roberson got the starting nod, tasked with slowing Jodie Meeks, the Laker guard who torched OKC just four days before, dropping a career-high 42 points.
And the rookie did his job, helping slow Meeks and the Lakers in the Thunder’s 131-102 domination in The Peake.
Meeks finished an inefficient 6-of-15 for 19 points. The Lakers shot 39 percent overall.
“Dre came in and gave us some good energy,” Brooks said. “Made it tough on Jodie Meeks early on.”
Early on as in right from the tip.
On the opening possession, Roberson hounded Meeks out past the 3-point line with the type of pressure he’d lay on him for the rest of the night.
As Meeks held the ball, Roberson slyly swatted it from his hands. It caromed right to Russell Westbrook, who translated it into a crowd-pleasing slam on the other end.
And the rout was on.
“He happened to get lucky the first time,” Westbrook said of Meeks’ 42 points back in Los Angeles. “We’re not worried about what Jodie Meeks does.”
But Brooks seemed to at least remain aware of it. Conscious enough to make the Roberson adjustment.
And moving forward, it may be one that he’ll stick to. Roberson provides more of a Sefolosha feel to the starting lineup, a traditional 2-guard with a defensive mindset.
Plus, his contributions aren’t limited to the defensive end.
Roberson’s shot remains broken. He’s 1-of-6 from deep this season and understandably doesn’t look confident when putting it up.
But as a slasher, he can be productive, as shown on Thursday night.
Twice, Roberson bolted for a surprise backdoor cut, finding himself open for an easy bucket off two gorgeous Westbrook passes.
“Dre does a great job of cutting,” Westbrook said, agreeing that the two have already developed a nice on-court relationship. “His basketball IQ is high. He does a great job of reading me and as long as he continues to do that, it’s going to be easy buckets for him.”
And, of course, his best skill might be rebounding. Roberson finished with eight points and seven boards in his 24 minutes, including a sneaky rebound putback in traffic. As Westbrook said, he has “an itch for the ball.”
“He’s good on the baseline,” Brooks said. “He’s really good on the baseline.”
And when he’s in the starting lineup, the Thunder has also been good.
Including Roberson’s four spot starts early in the year, OKC is now 5-0 with him on the floor at the tip.
Expect that unblemished mark to continue to be put to the test.