Roberts not worried about filling Walker’s shoes

Charlotte Hornets guard Brian Roberts has big shoes to fill now that Kemba Walker has been lost for as many as six weeks. But the new starting point guard isn't worried about a drop off.

John Geliebter/John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Brian Roberts was signed as a free agent by the Charlotte Hornets last summer, practically nobody noticed. Those that did all asked the same question, "Who’s that?"

Well, midway through the NBA season, nary a Hornets fan or media type is asking that question any longer as Roberts, who’s in his third season in the league, has done well for himself as a backup point guard.

And now that starter Kemba Walker is out approximately six weeks after undergoing surgery to his left knee on Wednesday, Roberts will be the guy going forward. It’s a role he’s very comfortable with, especially considering he was forced into the starting lineup last season in New Orleans 42 times.

"He’s played really well," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said of Roberts. "One of the advantages of bringing him here was he started so many games last year that he’s comfortable in the role."

Not that it’s a large sample size, but the Hornets (19-26) are 3-0 with Roberts starting at point guard this season. In fact, he has a higher shooting percentage from the field than Walker, including a vastly higher percentage from 3-point range (37 percent to 32 percent).

Nobody is suggesting that Roberts, who is averaging 6.8 points per game, will be able to immediately fill the void vacated by Walker. But there’s a strong likelihood that the drop off won’t be as drastic as one might think.

For instance, against New York on Saturday, Roberts finished with a team-high 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including going 6 for 6 from the free throw line, a couple of which were able to ice the win at the end.

For Roberts, being thrown into a starting role and an important one is something that doesn’t faze him one bit.

"Just to know I can come in and help the team win at the starting point guard position is something you can’t teach," he said. "Once you go through it, you have confidence, especially after you’ve been successful."

It’s been a strange journey for Roberts, who is 29 years old and is five years older than Walker, even though Walker has been in the league longer.

Roberts wasn’t drafted following his collegiate days at the University of Dayton. As a result, he signed in 2009 to play with Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa of the Israeli league. He followed that with a three-year stint with Brose Baskets in Germany of the Euroleague.

Roberts was signed by New Orleans in 2012, and averaged 17 minutes and 7.1 points per game. Last season, his minutes and point production increased.

But when he signed with Charlotte in July, he knew that he was going to be Walker’s backup and get roughly 15-18 minutes per game.

That, however, has all changed.

Roberts is now running the show for the Hornets, who continue to fight for their playoff lives. And if he has his say, Charlotte will continue its hot play despite not having Walker.

"To have that experience and step in and know I can help this team win games … it’s big," Roberts said. "We have to continue to keep that same mentality that no matter who’s going out there, we’re going to defend and a get it done and find a way to get a win."