Brian Roberts has been late-game catalyst for Pelicans
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Already red-hot offensively, New Orleans Pelicans point guard Brian Roberts dribbled quickly to his right around a Lance Thomas pick Monday, freed himself from Dallas defender Mickey McConnell with a deceptive behind-the-back dribble, then fired a pull-up jumper from 20 feet. All net. Roberts’ nifty, change-of-pace move capped one of the best individual fourth quarters you’ll ever see: 17 points in an 11-minute span. Even better, the clutch hoop gave the Pelicans a one-point lead with 21 seconds remaining. New Orleans held on for a 94-92 preseason victory over Dallas.
Two nights later, Roberts was back at it in crunch time against Orlando. The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder scored 10 fourth-quarter points as the Pelicans prevailed 99-95. He drilled a wide-open three-pointer, dropped in a floater and sank five straight free throws to seal the win.
Although the Pelicans’ late-game lineups in preseason are not necessarily reflective of what they’ll use in the regular season – Monty Williams has rested his starters in fourth quarters – Roberts has made an early, compelling case to be on the floor. After missing the preseason opener at Houston due to an ankle injury, the veteran of overseas professional basketball scored 27 of his 33 total points in fourth quarters. A dangerous perimeter shooter who made 38.6 percent of his three-point attempts as an NBA rookie, Roberts also shot an outstanding 90.9 percent from the foul line last season. In his backup point guard role, he compiled an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.1 in 2012-13. Add it all up, and the 27-year-old possesses several traits that make him valuable down the stretch of close games.
“Brian can finish games,” Williams said. “His shooting ability stretches the floor, and he can make free throws.”
Almost exclusively as a result of his big fourth quarters, Roberts is New Orleans’ second-leading scorer in preseason at 16.5 points per game, behind only Anthony Davis (25.0). He’s averaged 24.0 minutes in his two appearances, which ranks sixth on the Pelicans.
“I was happy when he got his opportunity here in New Orleans,” said Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow, who like Roberts went undrafted in 2008. “He’s definitely capitalizing on it.”
In some respects, Roberts is a throwback guard, with a polished skill set that allows him to play either backcourt position, on or off the ball. During his ultra-successful career as a pro in Germany, he was a go-to scorer and relied upon to make critical baskets, invaluable experience that has helped him in the NBA.
“He’s definitely a pro guard,” Morrow said. “He can do a lot of things. He works hard. Defensively he’s made a lot of strides. He has quick hands and can make shots offensively and can run a team. I’m really impressed by him.”
It’s an extremely small sample of 48 minutes played in two preseason games, but Roberts has shot 50 percent from the floor (10-for-20) and is perfect in his three attempts from three-point range. Not surprisingly, he’s again at 90.9 percent (10-for-11) on free throws. As the floor leader of the Pelicans’ second unit, perhaps his best statistic is zero turnovers to go with eight assists.
Given the Pelicans’ recent infusion of talent and the team’s overall backcourt depth, there’s no guarantee that Roberts will have a similar role when the regular season begins Oct. 30. Still, at this extremely early juncture of the season, Roberts has been one of several positive developments for the Pelicans, who are 3-0 in no small part due to his timely buckets. New Orleans has won its three games by a combined seven points.
“That’s something that’s key for Coach (Williams) – he wants us to finish games,” Roberts said after Wednesday’s win vs. Orlando. “When I’m out there, I’m another guy he wants to look at on the court, maybe. It feels good. (But) we had a lot of guys step up and make good plays. It wasn’t just me... It was just overall a great team win.”