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It’s easy to blame the head coach. He’s the one who draws up the plays, sets the line up and configures the game plan to stop an opposing team. Often, he’s the scapegoat of many excuses. However, as the Thunder struggle over the last six games.

Like most losing streaks, there is a correlation to what’s happening. This one is defense. Over the last six games, the Oklahoma City Thunder are allowing 109.5 points per game. That’s including allowing at least 114 points in four of their last five.

This isn’t Billy Donovan’s fault. There’s only so much he can do to get players to close out on shooters. It’s been proven when this team is healthy, they’re very good. They’re down right one of the top three teams in the NBA when they’re all together. That’s the correlation.

Over the last five games, there has been one real common denominator: No Andre Roberson.

You can complain about his offense all you want. You can cry about his free throw shooting in your adult beverage or chocolate milk (maybe both if you’re cool) but there is no arguing how good of a defender Roberson has become.

His ability to defend the team’s best perimeter shooter goes unmatched. Sure, Paul George is a quality defender and considered one of the best three-and-D players in the league but when it comes to pure lock down ability, not many rival Roberson.

Of every player in the NBA that has played in at least 20 games and plays at least 20 minutes per game, which is a 209 players (46.4 percent of the entire NBA), Andre Roberson is the No. 1 defender in the NBA with a defensive rating of 96.5. That means, Roberson is allowing only 96.5 points per 100 possessions he’s on the floor.

You flip that around, the Thunder without Roberson have been down right atrocious. While they’re 3-4 without him in the lineup, Oklahoma City is allowing 108.9 points per 100, worst on the team. That equates to 110.1 points per game. That’s a huge change from the 99.3 points per game with him in the lineup.

The defense becomes vanilla and in the NBA, you need to be Neapolitan. You have to be able to throw different shades of defensive changes. The switching and the deflections, which are significantly down without Roberson in the line up, are missing.

You can question paying players over others but at $10 million per season, Roberson has become a steal. For the Thunder, Roberson is the missing piece in an ecosystem that’s ever so fragile. Even one piece out of alignment and it all comes crashing down.

The Thunder need Roberson back sooner than later. The longer he sits out, the more questions about the holes in the defense Oklahoma City will have to answer.

It’s not Donovan’s fault Roberson is hurt. There’s questionable decision making that happens throughout all NBA games.

One thing up for question isn’t where Oklahoma City is 19 wins with him and only three without.

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Chuck Chaney

Founder & Editor-in-Chief.
Member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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