The Pelicans starting point guard Brain Roberts has had quite the storied journey to arrive at the helm of the New Orleans franchise.
Roberts went undrafted after a signature collegiate career at The University of Dayton. He spent several years honing his skills playing overseas in Israel and Germany, while returning to the US to participate in the Summer League with squads like the LA Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, hoping to make an impression.
Roberts finally found an NBA home in New Orleans after a successful Summer League outing with the then Hornets franchise in 2012. Last season, Roberts tasted what being a starting NBA floor general is like when Grieves Vasquez was injured briefly for the Hornets.
All of that experience helped prepare Roberts for this year, when a season-ending leg injury to starter Jrue Holiday in early January left Roberts firmly in command of the Pelicans for much of the season, 40 games and counting as a starter.
"He’s grown tremendously both in confidence and strength – mentally and physically," head coach Monty Williams said. "Last year, I remember seeing a lot of point guards push him around, but that’s not happening anymore. He realized he needed to get stronger, and he accomplished that."
Roberts now leads the league in free throw percentage, shooting above 95% and riding a streak of perfection on his last 32 consecutive attempts. He’s averaging 9.5 points per game on 43% shooting from the field and sporting a player efficiency rating of +8.03
"All of his preparation this past off season allowed him to step up big when Jrue went down and the opportunity presented itself," assistant coach Fred Vinson said. "Brian is so dedicated in how he trains and how he prepares. He was really ready when we needed him."
Vinson is in charge of developing New Orleansâ point guards and has helped Roberts prepare since he arrived in the Crescent City, officially as an NBA rookie.
The two ramped up their training time together when Roberts took the franchise’s reins. Vinson is enjoying watching Roberts blossom and says the biggest change in the 28-year-old is a stronger belief in himself.
"His confidence is so much higher," Vinson said. "He’s playing against All Stars and starters night in and night out nowâ¦ and holding his own. That gives you confidence: knowing, not just thinking, that you can play with the best."
Vinson and Roberts are some of the first people on the court before a Pelicans game, warming up mentally as much as physically. Vinson likes to show Roberts exactly what he should expect from his match up defensively that night.
"We study how the opposing team plays defense and how his individual defender treats other point guards specifically," Vinson said. "Then we walk through it on the court as meticulously as we can pregame."
Roberts, a dedicated family man, is one of the more quiet voices on the team. That soft-spoken personality is something Vinson believes helps Roberts maintain his league-leading free throw percentage.
"His personality allows him to keep his composure naturally when he goes to the line," Vinson said. "That’s a high pressure spot – standing at the line. But he’s never struggling to get control of his emotions because he’s just naturally in control all the time."
However, Vinson has learned through all of his time with Roberts that the dedicated husband and father of two is not always totally reserved.
"He’s a great dancer," Vinson laughed. "The man has moves! You’d never guess it because he’s so quiet, but when you get him out on a dance floor, he’s fabulous!"
For his part, Roberts is just as complementary of Vinson’s skills as a coach and mentor.
"It’s been vital for me to have someone to talk to when things aren’t going smoothly," Roberts said. "He’s invested so much in me. When I’m playing, I’m definitely thinking about executing what we just discussed."