NBA hopeful playing for breakthrough
e_SDLqThings are looking good, but I just want to keep playing hard and learning and getting better.” Brian Roberts, Hornets point guard
Brian Roberts has always been known for his big-time shot. Now, Roberts is making a strong case for his shot at the big time.
Roberts, a 6-foot-1 point guard in training camp with the New Orleans Hornets, appears to be ready after honing his skills for four years overseas, in what could be perfect timing for his career. He is averaging 11.7 points and 5.0 assists this preseason, but more important has had two big games for the Hornets (3-1), both victories.
“Things are looking good, but I just want to keep playing hard and learning and getting better,” said Roberts, 26, a former Dayton standout.
Although confident, Roberts is taking nothing for granted. Greivis Vasquez is the Hornets’ starting point guard, and rookie first-round draft pick Austin Rivers is doing on-the-job training for the position. Also, starting shooting guard Eric Gordon can play the position when needed.
Even after a scintillating showing against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night in Charleston, S.C., in which he scored 16 points and had eight assists, both game highs, coach Monty Williams was still taking a wait-and-see approach with much more preseason left to play.
“We like him, but he has a ways to go,” Williams said.
However, all Roberts has done since coming to the Hornets is excel. He played well for the Hornets in the Las Vegas summer league, particularly after Rivers was injured, averaging 11.4 assists and 3.0 assists. He signed a two-year contract and set his sights impressing against the Hornets’ best players in training camp.
Then, in the Hornets’ first preseason game, against Orlando in Mexico City, Roberts had a game-high 17 points, shooting 3 of 4 on 3-point attempts. He scored 12 points during a strong fourth-quarter rally as the Hornets came from behind to win 85-80.
“The thing I like, he didn’t have any turnovers,” Williams said. “And to play 27 minutes and not have any turnovers, that’s pretty good.”
Roberts scored just six points in Tuesday’s 97-82 domination of the Bobcats in the teams’ first meeting this preseason. However, after somewhat of a lackluster first half, he finished with four assists in the second half. Two came in which his European experience was evident, as he drove into the lane only to kick the ball back out for 3-pointers by Ryan Anderson and Darius Miller.
Perhaps challenging Roberts, Williams decided to put him in the starting lineup Thursday in the second game against the Bobcats. And Roberts strongly delivered, making seven of nine shots, shooting 2 of 3 on 3-point attempts.
“I felt good the whole game,” he said. “My first shot fell, and I just felt like I was going to have a good night. I want to be as aggressive as I can, and I know good things will happen if I stay with that mindset.”
That should be no problem. Roberts has been known as an aggressive, scoring point guard ever since his elementary and middle school days going against older players at Sleeping Hollow Park in Toledo, Ohio, known as “The Pond.” At St. John’s High School, he was the 2004 Ohio Division I co-Player of the Year after leading it to the state championship game. Then, at Dayton, he led the Flyers in scoring his final three seasons.
However, even though the NBA has coveted scoring point guards ever since Isiah Thomas was drafted in 1981, Roberts was not selected in the 2008 draft.
“I felt like I played well at the draft camp, but my year was a pretty deep class,” he said, “Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo . . .”
Hornets assistant general manager Tim Connelly said there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with Roberts. However, teams may have wanted less of a shoot-first mentality and more of a playmaker.
“He had a little Dana Barros in him,” Connelly said, referring to the diminutive former Celtics and Nuggets point guard who’d rather drive and pull up than drive and dish. For the most part, he just wasn’t good enough yet.
So Roberts went overseas, first to Israel for a year. Then came a career-changing move. He signed with Brose Baskets of Bramburg, Germany, a Euroleague team known as a perennially solid program.
Brose won the German National Championship and the German National Cup all three years Roberts was with the team.
More important was his development. His first two seasons, 2010-11 and 2011-12, he said, he came off the bench and his job was to score and be aggressive.
“Mostly, I played (shooting guard) my first year in Germany,” said Roberts. “Then, my second year, I played about 60 percent two guard and 40 percent point guard.”
All the while, he said, he was learning the nuances of running a team from Brose’s starting point guard, John Goldsbury. Then, as Roberts’ third season began, Goldsbury became injured.
“I was put into the starting position,” Roberts said, “And I got better each game and just tried to keep learning from him and also just pick up different things.
“That’s when I flourished, I think. I really felt comfortable being the starting point guard of a high-level European team. I really benefited from playing for a coach who ran a structured system.”
As fate would have it, Brose’s head coach, Chris Fleming, who is from Richmond, Va., is a good friend of Connelly. Fleming gave a good recommendation, and Connelly contacted Roberts about playing on the Hornets’ summer league team.
“I talked to Brian directly; he was without an agent,” Connelly said. “I kind of explained to him the opportunity, and he took a chance on himself. He turned down a lot of money” that he would have gotten had he stayed in Germany.
Roberts said he felt as though he had learned a lot in Germany, that he was a different guard than the one passed on by the NBA.
“I became more familiar with different situations and understanding time and score and (what teammate) has got it going and when do I need to be aggressive,” he said.
Williams wants to make sure Roberts is seeing the court and that he makes the right decisions regarding which teammates are out there with him and the strategy involved. However, one thing that likely is in Roberts’ favor is that his defense has impressed Williams, whose system is a lot about stopping the opponent.
“Defensively, he’s tough,” Williams said. “He can get through screens, and he’s a hungry guy.”
Roberts’ scoring is not lost on the coach, either.
“He can put the ball in the hole,” Williams said, “coming off screens, attacking the basket, knocking down jump shots.
“But the key is for a guy like that, how can you put games together in a string like that?”
That may be a question only Roberts can answer. Meanwhile, Vasquez, 6-6, has been known to struggle shooting, and Rivers, 6-4, is still a work in progress. Both are big point guards, and going against the smaller, quicker guards likely would be a challenge.
In that regard, Roberts would seem to have niche, particularly if he continues to have impressive games. Connelly likes his chances.
“First and foremost, he has the character,” Connelly said. “And I think his playmaking is underrated. He’s got a calmness now that only comes with experience.
“He can really shoot, and in the biggest moments is when he plays the best.”