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Season in Review: Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts signed as a rookie free agent with the New Orleans Hornets in August 2012 after performing well with the team in Summer League. Signing with the team for an unguaranteed minimum salary and with a team option for a second season at the minimum, he’s had low lows and high highs, but how well did he do? What does his performance say about the future for the New Orleans Pelicans and for Mr. Roberts himself.
Let’s set the table.
After 4 years at Dayton and going undrafted in 2008, the 6’1″-ish 175lb-ish guard spent 4 years playing professionally outside of the NBA (1 year in Israel, 3 years in Germany), before signing with the Hornets. This made him an atypical rookie, as he turned 27 during the 2012-2013 season and had won 3 titles in Germany. In those first 2 seasons in Germany, he came off the bench as combo guard while learning how to run an offense from the starters. In that third year, he was handed the starting job due to injury to the incumbent and performed well. At that point, he returned to the NBA when the Hornets learned of him through the grapevine:
“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.
Roberts’ choice to come to the NBA was not some money grab or a chance to live in the limelight. Rather, it was likely at least in part a chance to taste some forbidden glory. To do this, he had to take significant financial and basketball risks, as it would require another change to his game while playing for a team that was decidedly inglorious. He had to succeed, which means he had to impress, but with his shooting suffering while in playing across the Atlantic and a coach that values real basketball over vainglorious efforts, he would have to rely on his improved basketball skill in the face of declining shooting accuracy. . . and luck.
Roberts ended the season with the following statistics:
At a price tag of per-xactly $473,604 American dollars, Roberts was a bargain. Was he the high profile bargain the Ryan Anderson was? No. Has had made as made fans gnash their teeth in frustration as often as he had them dancing hard wild enough to make the dog pee in the corner? Yes. But the guy makes about 3.5% of what Eric Gordon made this season. If that seems a little unfair to Eric, it’s not intended. It’s just some perspective about how small his contract his in today’s NBA. In fact, he only made more than the 10-day-ers on the Hornets and Amundson since his deal was pro-rata, though Amundson’s pay rate his higher since he’s not a rookie. His salary is tied with Miller, his fellow rookie on a minimum deal.
Meanwhile, his 1324 minutes places him 7th on the team in terms of minutes played, exactly 1 hour more than Eric Gordon, performing at a rate that places him 6th on the team in WS/48 (1st among guards) and 7th in PER (3rd among guards). His AST% is second behind Vasquez’s 44.9% (who’s only behind Paul and Rondo), but his TOV% is fourth lowest on the team and the lowest among guards. This also places him as about average in the NBA, at least when facing backups for long stretches. His AST%/TOV% slightly exceeds Vasquez’s, 2.45 to 2.41, as does the ratio of the raw numbers, AST/TOV, 3.08 to 2.85. He’s doing this against backups primarily, so this is not to say he’s better than Vasquez, but he’s about as skilled a passer when accounting for differences in competition. Again, Roberts delivered value throughout the season.
The down side of Roberts is his shooting. His TS% of 0.509 puts him around 45th (there is a tie) of the 143 players who play at least some guard, around the 30th percentile of guards who played at least 500 minutes this season. Further refining to players who play primarily point guard who average less than 24 minutes per game, he’s tied for 18th best among 34 players . . . so basically mid-pack. Of the players with better TS% only two players are rookies: Pablo Prigioni and Patrick Beverley. Both are worse passers who have less usage. Both are, perhaps not coincidentally, non-traditional rookies, as well. So in the role as backup point guard, one can make the argument that Roberts is in fact presents the best combination of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in the NBA.
Another downside, potentially, is his defense. All of the guards on the Hornets have horrible DRtg, largely because the team was poor defensively, and though he grades out a tick worse than all but Rivers, this is not meaningful given the situation. He’s shown mental lapses at time that have cost the team points and wins, but when the system is broken, it’s hard to point fingers just by looking at statistics. Roberts has heart and has fought through screens effectively, but he’s not particularly big for a point guard, nor is he exceptionally fast. He does not have the making of a strong defender, but, again, is just fine in his role as a backup.
An interesting trend in his shooting highlights his appropriateness as a backup. In his 78 games, he started only 5 (yes, a small sample, but nothing to be done except note it and not be too crazy about inferences), and his TS% averaged 0.452 in those game compared to 0.518 in the games as a backup. Interestingly, this does not mean that he degrades as his minutes increase. The data suggests the contrary, in fact:
The correlation between minutes played and TS% is 0.38, which is middling but meaningful given the size of the data set. Examination of the plot while ignoring the 5 games as a starter (the ones with the most minutes played), shows that Roberts had some strong shooting games when playing small minutes. If you desire to mentally remove those from the calculation, it increases the correlation. Either way, it is clear that Roberts can consistently shoot significantly better than he did as a starter when playing heavier minutes as a back up.
Despite this, no evaluation of Roberts’ season would be complete without mentioning his start against Denver on March, 25, 2013, as that was Roberts’ career game. 13 points, TS% 0.597, 18 assists, 3 turnovers, all without Gordon, to end the Nuggets’ win streak at 15.
The combination of these facts . . . poor shooting as a starter, improved shooting as minutes increase, and outperforming his shooting as a starter, shows that his skills are maximized as a back up. His ability to spot-start bolsters this.
Throughout the season, Roberts did not do much to materially affect his game. His shooting did not improve nor did his AST% did not improve. His TOV% was essentially constant, though he did seem to have a few bad games which he quickly remedied. He did seem to get more comfortable with the system and his role, but his overall game was the same the day he had his 3 points (allowed) 9 seconds debut against the Spurs . . . he just used his game after he shook off the jitters.
Though he showed no steady improvement, he did acclimate to the game. His lapses became less jarring, and he showed that he can spot-start. The start against Denver may have been a fluke, but he still ad to actually perform in the game. So while his game may have stopped in terms of steady improvement, the “intangibles” have improved and may continue to do so.
Also, while he had an entire training camp and Summer League with the team, he was one conversation away from being cut and had to adjust to the NBA game. If he makes it to the upcoming training camp, his deal will be guaranteed for the season, so maybe he can focus on his shooting. He was a much better shooter in the past, so it’s not out of the question that he could improve, if not to the levels of years past. His shooting flashes and increase TS% with playing time (against backups) also hints and some smoldering, untapped shooting potential.
Roberts, at his salary, was both a wonderful bargain and solid contributor on the team. He’s in the neighborhood of an average point guard who shot a little too much than his skill would indicate he should, but who falls in the category of good backup point guard. His status as `old rookie’ on a team of “young vets” and young rookies makes him the odd man out on paper, but he played his role, waited his turn, and delivered more than necessary to make this not only this season a victory for Roberts in making his transition to the NBA in a sustainable way, but also for the Hornets in setting the Pelicans up with fine backup point guard.
Roberts will almost certainly have his option picked up by July 20th, which will give him a minimum deal for the coming season that will be worth $788,872. Needing the cap space or roster spot to fill out another position after bolstering the backcourt are the only reasons I can think of to not pick up the option, and these are far-fetched. He may, however, find his way as filler, as Dyson did. His team option can make him quite useful in that capacity. Either way, he’ll see more minutes and a bigger next contract if he can keep growing as a floor leader and improve his shooting either on the Pelicans or elsewhere in the NBA.
Check out the entire Season in Review series here at Hornets247.com.