Pelicans’ second-year man making case to back up newcomer Holliday
When New Orleans Pelicans guard Brian Roberts hobbled into an interview session Thursday after practice, it appeared his right ankle hadn’t healed that much.
However, Roberts explained that the ankle, which was sprained on Wednesday, Oct. 2 — the second day of training camp — was just stiff after lengthy post-practice ice treatment.
Of late, those type sessions have been the few times Roberts has seemed less than 100 percent healthy or cooled off. In his past two games, it has been as if Roberts has come out of nowhere, from not even practicing to being a late-game commando lifting the Pelicans to victory as they went to 3-0 on their just completed preseason road trip.
“It’s been a success,” he said. “Kind of like having a week off from practice after spraining my ankle, it was good to get out there and get the rust off. But, so far, so good. It’s been a good preseason not only for me, but the team is coming together a little bit.”
Roberts was held out of the Pelicans’ exhibition opener on Saturday at Houston to give the ankle a couple more days to heal. Then, he was inserted into the second game on Monday at Dallas in the fourth quarter. He took over.
Roberts scored all 17 of his points in the quarter, sinking two big 3-point shots, and he passed off for four assists. He also had three rebounds and drove the lane and created fouls. He sank five of six free throws.
“Right now, I’m just coming off the bench and being aggressive,” he said. “I think that’s the key for me. When I’m aggressive, usually good things happen. I know coach Monty (Williams) wants that from me. He wants me to attack guys and get to the basket and set (teammates) up (for baskets).”
He came back for another Captain Late performance in Wednesday’s win against the Orlando Magic in Jacksonville, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter in which he again was effective driving and getting to the free-throw line, making all five of his foul shots.
Williams said the effective closer role at which Roberts has excelled the past two games was not by design. However, it has put something on the coach’s mind, although Williams adds that it’s just two games and in the preseason, nonetheless.
He said it remains to be seen if Roberts would be in a late-game role for the Pelicans this season and intimated that it might not be a bad idea.
“In the preseason, we were just trying to get the starters out of the games, but Brian can finish games,” Williams said. “He did it for us last year. His shooting ability stretches the floor, and he can make free throws. So, we don’t know, yet.”
With as many as four players in the plans to get minutes at point guard this season, Roberts said he’s just trying to get a niche and cement a spot. Austin Rivers also is vying for the backup point guard spot. And, guard/forward Tyreke Evans will play some at point guard, his position when he was selected the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. Roberts doesn’t want to be in a position where he’s the odd man out because there just isn’t enough to go around.
He’s nailing shots in an effort to nail down the backup position behind Jrue Holiday and ensure a key spot on a strong bench.
“That’s the goal,” he said, “just to be part of that second unit.”
Even Williams is intrigued about Roberts in that role.
“He’s such a change of pace for us,” Williams said. “He’s different than Jrue. He knows our sets, he’s talking more on the floor. He’s really a joy to coach.”
As much as Williams liked how much Roberts, who had played professionally in Germany, grew running the team in his backup role last season, he told him he needed to improve on defense, particularly against the pick-and-roll.
“Just getting into the ball more, not allowing his guy to reject the screen and have both options on the pick and roll,” Williams said. “He was new to that type of defense, having played overseas. It’s certainly a different type of pick-and-roll defense.
“With us, you have to really get into the ball, and that takes a lot of work.”
Evans, who sprained his left ankle against Houston, was back on the court shooting after Thursday’s practice, as was guard Eric Gordon, who has been only doing conditioning work after having ankle surgery in May.
“(Eric) will probably start to practice next week,” Williams said, “but we haven’t talked about it.
“He completed a conditioning test (Thursday morning), so we’ll see how his body reacts to that.”
Williams said he hadn’t talked to the team’s medical personnel about Evans, so he didn’t want to speculate.
“From a few days ago, (the prognosis) was a week to two weeks, so I think we’re still on that timetable.”