Terrance Ferguson is turning Andre Roberson into an Afterthought

The Oklahoma City Thunder's 2018-19 campaign has been full of surprises, but none may be bigger than the development of second-year shooting guard Terrance Ferguson.

The date is January 27th, 2018 and the Oklahoma City Thunder are riding a season-high six game winning streak into the Detroit to take on the Pistons. After a rocky 8-12 start, the frantically-assembled Thunder have finally figured it out improving 28-20 before the start of this game.

The Thunder are leading the Pistons 91-66 late in the third quarter, absolutely dominating both ends of the floor.

Then, all you hear is "Roberson crashes to the floor".

All the good that had begun to form for this Thunder team was thrown out the window with one injury to Andre Roberson and questions began to percolate about the Thunder. "Who will pick up the slack for Roberson?" "Can this team still defend at a high level without him?" "Does this injury effect Paul George's decision in his upcoming free agency?".

The Thunder's only solution was adding Corey Brewer later in the season after he received a buyout from the Los Angeles Lakers. While Brewer held his own on offense, it became clear that the Thunder wouldn't be the prolific defensive team they were with Roberson in the lineup.

After a first-round exit against the Utah Jazz, the Paul George re-signing dilemma kicked into high gear, as it became almost certain to some in the media that there was no chance George would be returning to Oklahoma City, but rather returning home to Southern California.

An ESPN camera crew arrived, a conversation with Dwyane Wade occurred, a party in Oklahoma City was thrown, a Nas performance to top the night off, and a brother-like friendship with Russell Westbrook ultimately led George to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The question still remained as to who would be the Thunder's starting shooting guard as word came out that Roberson would be out until at least December. After a small avulsion fracture to his already injured knee, a setback came for Roberson leaving him without a timetable to return.

Enter Terrance Ferguson

Ferguson is the Thunder's first-round draft pick (#21 overall) in the 2017 NBA draft. He's a high-flying wing that that has become one of the  Thunder's most improved players. Last season, Ferguson was an afterthought, appearing in 61 games and averaging just 12.5 minutes. This year, he's started in all 48 games he's played in and is averaging 24.2 minutes per game, nearly doubling his time on the floor since last season.

After ranking first in the league in defensive rating for most of the season, the Thunder have recently dropped to third, still an impressive ranking for a team missing arguably their best defender, Andre Roberson.

Ferguson has played a big part in achieving such a great ranking on the defensive side, as he's usually tasked with defending the other teams best guard or wing. One night it's Donovan Mitchell, another it's Kyrie Irving. Whoever it is, Ferguson is usually tasked with containing an elite player.

The defensive side of the ball is where Ferguson has made his greatest strides. While guarding the Western Conference's best wings, it has given free reign for Paul George and Russell Westbrook (#1 and #2 in steals per game in the NBA) to absolutely ball hawk.

The Thunder currently lead the league in steals per game at 10.3 SPG, and Ferguson plays a huge part in that. Not just getting steals, but putting offensive players in bad spots by forcing players to make risky passes they otherwise wouldn't be making.

This example comes from a January matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers where Ferguson provides help defense, closes out, stays in front of Josh Hart, forces him to pass the ball, leading to Westbrook steal, all in a six-second time frame.

Another example comes from a December game against the Jazz in Utah, where Ferguson is in Donovan Mitchell's jersey from the moment the ball is inbounded to Ricky Rubio. It's the 4th quarter and Mitchell wants the ball, but Ferguson denies ball initially, leading to a Rubio drive to the rim, where he's eventually stripped by Russell Westbrook.

These are two huge defensive plays by Ferguson that ultimately go unnoticed by many, but helped to contribute to two wins on the road against likely Western Conference playoff teams for the Thunder.

Terrance Ferguson is allowing opponents to shoot just 38% on field goals against him and .885 points per possession as a primary defender, which ranks him in the 66th percentile in the NBA, leading Synergy analytics to label him as a "very good" defender.

Offensively, Ferguson has transitioned into a knockdown three-point shooter. In just his second year as a pro, Ferguson has increased his three-point percentage from 33.3% on 2.0 attempts last season to 38.7% on 3.6 attempts this season.

In 13 games in January, Ferguson shot 47.9% from three on 5.5 attempts per game, a month in which the Thunder went on a six-game winning streak. Ferguson put forth his best scoring month in January as well, averaging 10.3 points per game. Not a stat that is going to jump off the page, but impressive nonetheless as Ferguson is usually the 4th or 5th option to score the ball in almost every possible Thunder lineup.

His hot January has continued into February as Ferguson is averaging 9.0 PPG on 38% shooting from three, as the Thunder have improved to 5-1 in the month with wins over very good teams like Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Ferguson and Westbrook have this telepathic connection on backdoor baseline drives, where Ferguson fakes like he's going to the top of the key to screen, but cuts baseline where Westbrook finds him with a left-handed dime.

Adding onto their symbiotic relationship, Westbrook and Ferguson have connected on some crazy alley-oops this year. None more spectacular than this one against the Memphis Grizzlies on February 7th, 2019, where Westbrooks pass is less than perfect, to say the least.

This ability for the Thunder to lull off-ball defenders to sleep as they focus on George and Westbrook, has opened up an ample amount of scoring opportunities for guys like Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson who have taken advantage of this throughout the year, as both guys are putting forth their best seasons yet as pros.

While Andre Roberson has certainly been one of the best wing defenders in the league, making the NBA's all-defensive second team in 2017, Terrance Ferguson has stepped in nicely and his shooting ability has made the Thunder into a real contender in the Western Conference. When Roberson returns, the Thunder's defensive output will only be maximized to an even greater extent.

There is no question that the Thunder's ceiling on the offensive end of the floor is raised when Ferguson is hitting threes, but his contributions on defense are what has elevated the Thunder's prowess as one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

The Thunder have won 11 out of their last 13 games and show no signs of slowing down as we enter the all-star break. With the buyout market heating up, and Andre Roberson's eventual return to the lineup, the Thunder look poised for a deep playoff run and possible championship contention.

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