For several weeks, Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Brian Roberts wasn’t shooting well, which is different from not playing well.
To Clifford, backup point guard Roberts was keeping his team organized and playing solid defense. His jump shot wasn’t falling, and at one point he made just 23 percent of his attempts.
Then Wednesday happened. He made his first six shots against the Portland Trail Blazers, including two 3-pointers. He ended up with a career-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
As Clifford put it post-game, “Brian Roberts was our best player.”
That won’t happen a lot this season. At 6-1 and 173 pounds, Roberts is a smallish NBA point guard. So he certainly won’t play much shooting guard, as he did Wednesday. That was in part because of the Trail Blazers often using an undersized backcourt of Damian Lillard and Steve Blake.
Roberts signed a two-year contract worth about $5.6 million to replace Luke Ridnour as the Hornets’ backup point guard. After playing college ball at Dayton, he played four seasons overseas before making it in New Orleans the past two NBA seasons.
He seems to be fitting in as a Hornet.
“It’s getting there. I’m feeling pretty good out there on the floor, getting to play with these guys and know their strengths, and they get to know my strengths, too,” Roberts said.
“I think that’s going to translate to help this team get some wins. Individually, it’s OK, but we’re trying to get some wins.”
That hasn’t happened lately. The Hornets enter Friday’s home game against the Golden State Warriors on a seven-game losing streak. They are 4-12 this early season, and the growing pains of incorporating five new players into the rotation have been apparent.
“We have a much different team when you’re playing five new guys,” Clifford said Wednesday. “We had a really good defensive and rebounding mentality (last season), and we didn’t beat ourselves offensively.”
This season is more of a struggle. Lance Stephenson, the major off-season acquisition, didn’t play in the last two fourth quarters against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers.
A tough, crowded schedule (through Saturday the Hornets will have played 18 games in 32 days) has contributed to that as have numerous injuries. But the Hornets also must recapture the synergy that got them to the playoffs last season.
“Before we can play well, we need to stand for the right things,” Clifford said. “I’m going to make sure we do, and they want to do the right things.”
What would that entail?
“Not giving up fast-break points, protecting the paint and not fouling much,” Clifford said. “Offensively, we’re going to have to be a ball-movement team.”