Terry Rozier is finally showing the development that Danny Ainge expected when he was selected in the first round
Two summers ago, the Boston Celtics drafted Terry Rozier with the sixteenth overall pick. The move was largely panned by fans and pundits. Boston’s roster at the time already included several small guards, and both the team’s best player, Isaiah Thomas, and the man everyone hoped was its star in the making, Marcus Smart, played the same position as Rozier. It seemed fair to suggest tha the Celtics could have used their pick on a position of greater need, be it a bigger wing, or a potential rim protector.
Danny Ainge has never been one to bend to conventional wisdom, and he made the decision to go with a player he believed in with the Celtics’ first of many picks. Rozier got the call, second guessing ensued, and unfortunately, his rookie campaign was in many ways validation for those who chided his selection. He struggled to get minutes, and when he did find his way onto the court it was ugly. Rozier worked hard on defense, but was hesitant and ineffective on the offensive end of the court. He shot an abysmal 27.4 percent from the field, and an even worse 22.2 percent from three.
In his thirty-nine games with the team last year, Rozier only managed 312 minutes of playing time, during which he averaged 1.8 points, 0.9 assists, and 1.6 rebounds. He turned down open looks, seemed overwhelmed driving to the basket, and bricked the majority of the shots he put up. It was a painful, forgettable year that left many feeling as displeased with Boston’s selection as they were at the time it occurred.
Things are different this year. Rozier has managed to shake his freshman jitters, and has shown significant development through the early stages of the 2016-17 season. It’s been that way since day one of the new campaign. Rozier was the team’s unquestioned leader and best player in Summer League play, and his confidence has transferred to the regular season nicely.
He continues to be an on-ball pest on the defensive end, and is growing as an off-ball defender as well. He’s a remarkable rebounder for a player of his size, and he’s cut his turnover rate from 14.7 percent to just 9.7 (for a point of comparison, Chris Paul is currently at 13.3 percent). Those components of Rozier’s game were never truly in question, and what is most significant is his development into a reliable offensive cog with the second unit.
Rozier has upped his shooting percentages to 41.2 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from deep. Those aren’t incredible marks, but they are substantial improvements from what he was able to produce last year, and they indicate a capacity for growth that bodes well for the future.
Rozier could still improve as a facilitator, but he’s playing with a far more decisive style, and that alone has allowed the offense to run more smoothly with him on the court than one season prior. The Celtics scored a depressing 97.0 points per 100 possessions when Rozier played last year. That number has increased to a very respectable 107.2 points per 100 possession with him on the floor in the current season. There is no hard statistical correlation between that increase, but Rozier’s ability to make smart, quick decisions has undoubtedly factored into it.
As improbable as it may have seemed last year, the Celtics’ selection of Rozier looks like a smarter and smarter pick by the day. He’s gone from something of an on-court disaster to a legitimate backup point guard, and there is no reason to believe he can’t continue to increase his effectiveness. That’s particularly meaningful given the frequency with which Smart continues to play on the wing rather than at the point. Rozier has a well-defined role and the confidence to fill it well, and he’s doing it on the cheap.
Rozier’s contract totals just under $7 million for the next three years (assuming they pick up his option in 2018). Having him in the fold ensures that the Celtics won’t have to commit additional resources to find a suitable back up to Thomas. That’s significant, especially for a team that will be seeking to maintain enough cap space to add a superstar within the next couple of years. Rozier isn’t that player, and he doesn’t have to be. For the time being, what he’s grown into is perfect, and the Celtics look smart for having the patience to wait for it to happen.