Brian Roberts is a Backup Point Guard.
Backup Point Guards come in virtually the same mold these days. A Backup Point Guard is between 6'0" and 6'4" and is athletic enough to play defense that an observer would normally describe as "adequate." A Backup Point Guard distributes the ball at an even pace, finding open teammates to create open looks reasonably well while turning the ball over fairly infrequently, so the team doesn't lack for offensive opportunities when the starters are on the bench. A Backup Point Guard can move the ball and run an offense, removes bad shots from his repertoire, and uses both of those abilities to get to draw fouls.
This is the Backup Point Guard, boiled down to his most inherent characteristics. The Backup Point Guard species will come in a few different forms, but a Backup Point Guard doesn't stray too far from the mold. Most, if not all, NBA teams have at least one Backup Point Guard, and they all essentially perform the same role.
However, there comes a point where the Backup Point Guard loses some of its shine. Like a college freshman, the Backup Point Guard will inevitably shed many of the characteristics that were previously used to define its personality. Sometimes this change will result in a more well-rounded persona that generally has a positive impact on any situation. Sometimes it means your Backup Point Guard will suffer a crisis of identity, leading to an overall feeling of malaise, alienation from the bigger picture, and a relative ineffectiveness in the pick and roll.
Brian Roberts has reached that identity crisis. His body is intact, and it's not quite wearing down on him yet, but it's not working the same way it used to, and there might not be a point of recovery.
Brian Roberts posted career-worst numbers in most of the vital areas for a Backup Point Guard. Roberts had developed a reputation as a quality (but not great) range shooter during his two years in New Orleans, but posted the lowest three-point percentage of his career, with a .321 mark from range, compared to .386 and .360 in the years prior. This problem was compounded by his jump in attempts from beyond the arc, heaving the longball at a career-high rate. Roberts struggled with an area of the game he normally succeeds in, and when the struggle turned into a long slump, he doubled down, hoping that his increased reliance on the three would allow him to find his stroke. It didn't. In February, Roberts averaged over 4.2 attempts from three per game. He shot .263 from three during that time.
That increase in outside shooting took Roberts away from the rim, resulting in fewer fouls drawn and, likely, fewer points. Roberts was and is a very good free-throw shooter, but his free throw attempt rate plummeted from .229 in 2013-14 to .164 last season, 13th of 17 Hornets, and just about the same mark as Al Jefferson, whose post-centric offensive game does not allow him to draw many fouls. (Of note, Jannero Pargo and Troy Daniels had the two lowest free throw rates. I'm starting to think someone at Backup Point Guards, Inc. should look into their Charlotte line of distribution, as the Hornets have had a ton of faulty units.)
Roberts' defensive rating was one of the highest on the team last season, which was to be expected, as he's never been known for his defense. But with his shooting ability diminished, his great percentage from the free throw line becoming less and less of a factor, and his assist percentage slowly dropping, one has to wonder whether his offense makes up for his defense anymore.
(Also of note, two of the three Hornets with a worse defensive rating than Roberts last year? Troy Daniels and Jannero Pargo. Someone get me the customer hotline for Backup Point Guards! This is becoming a real problem!)
Jeremy Lin is on the team this season, and he will almost certainly be the first point guard off the bench, unless he or Kemba lacerates a spleen, or something. That means Roberts is probably competing with Daniels, Elliot Williams, and Aaron Harrison (all of whom can play point guard) just for a roster spot in 2015-16, and with 12 spots already guaranteed, there's no certainty that Roberts will make the team. I'd have to speculate that Roberts has the edge over all three of his preseason competitors, for a few reasons, mostly due to his experience level and some baseline for the team to judge his NBA ability by.
That said, I doubt he'll play much unless in case of injury. Lin and Kemba Walker will get the majority of minutes at point guard. We'll see Roberts at times, but he won't be doing much except trying to run the bench unit competently in limited minutes. If he bounces back from his struggles last season, there's a decent chance he can do that. But Roberts won't be a wildly different player. He's still a Backup Point Guard, through and through.
Areas to Improve
Well, saying "everything" makes it seem so daunting, but it's not really that pessimistic an outlook. Roberts needs to regain his stroke from deep, and we fans have to hope that last year's statistical outputs were data anomalies, and that Roberts isn't actually on quite so steep of a downward slope. Both of those things are very possible! But time waits for no man, not even the Backup Point Guard, and it's equally possible that Roberts has little time left as an effective NBA player.