Late in the first round of June's NBA Draft, when the Thunder selected Andre Roberson — a projected late second-rounder out of Colorado — no one was more surprised than the team's superstar.
“No disrespect,” Kevin Durant admitted. “(But) l never heard of Andre before we drafted him.”
Durant would quickly learn of the high-energy rookie, first with a YouTube search that revealed a stable of highlight dunks, then with a training camp loaded with daily matchups against the 6-foot-7 defensive pest.
“He's probably the best defensive rookie I've seen in a while,” Durant said. “He makes it tough for me in practice. He's definitely making me better as a player.”
In college, Roberson was recognized for that rare and coveted acumen. He earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, in part because he was second in the nation in rebounding at 11.2 per game, despite being far shorter than a majority of frontcourt players.
“Just the willingness to go out there and do it,” Roberson said of his unique ability to search and capture loose balls. “Just be relentless, rely on my instincts.”
Rebounding has long been viewed as a skill that immediately translates from college to the pros.
And in preseason, Roberson has been an early example of that theory, grabbing 16 rebounds in his 38 minutes on the floor.
“Athletic as they come,” Durant said of Roberson. “And his rebounding is like, you know, I told one of the coaches if he was up there at 25, 30 minutes a game, he could average 11, 12 rebounds a game. He has a knack for that rebounding. It's great for us. It's going to help us out.”
Growing up as a lanky wing who prided himself on the ability to cover all positions, Roberson said he modeled his game after Scottie Pippen, an NBA legend and six-time champion who contained a souped-up version of those versatile skills.
The 8 Best Natural Gas Stocks. Find Out How to Invest.