There are many things about the new Celtics squad that have me excited about the upcoming season. But I find that many of those really exciting things to me don't seem to have gained a lot of traction as far as discussions among the Celtics faithful. One of those reasons for excitement is Jason Terry, and what his presence could potentially mean for this squad. I think it goes way, way beyond just having a great 6th man or a guy on the second unit that can create his own shot. Those are good things (and what seem to get the most attention in most Celtics discussions), but to me they undersell Terry.
Terry has proven himself to be a true impact player on championship caliber squads. And not "just" a 6th man level impact...he's been pretty close to "legit second option" level when the Mavs have competed in recent years. The Mavs have had three 57+ win teams in recent years, and two of those three teams have played in the Finals. In those seasons Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with an average Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus (RAPM) score of +6.7 in those three seasons. However, checking in at second on those teams in RAPM was Mr. Jason Eugene Terry with an average RAPM of +2.2. To put those numbers in perspective on this generation of Celtics, since 2008 Kevin Garnett has sported an RAPM of +6.4, Paul Pierce has been at +3.2, and Ray Allen at +2.6. Thus, in rough terms, Terry was contributing almost as much impact to those elite Mavs teams as Pierce or Ray were contributing here in Boston.
So the question becomes, HOW was Terry having such a tangible positive impact on such championship-caliber teams? I would argue that there were three primary things that Terry brought to the table: 1) An offensive engine for the second team, 2) a dynamic two-man offensive game with Nowitzki, and 3) a skill-set that made him an ideal primary ball-handler in crunch time. And the obvious follow-up, then, is to ask how those three areas of impact translate to his new gig in Boston?
I'd say that it translates perfectly, because the personnel on these Celtics are such that we a) have real need for Terry's skills and b) have the personnel to take advantage of those skills in a similar way.
The Celtics' need for a second unit offensive engine (role 1) is obvious and well documented, so I won't spend much time there. However, I would like to spend some time on Terry's (2) and (3) from the list above because I think they will yield tangible benefits this season that will be larger than what most expect.
During the 2008 playoffs, in the 4th quarter of Game 6 against the Pistons and the 3rd quarter of Game 1 against the Lakers, something remarkable happened: Pierce and KG started playing a 2-man game on offense. It was remarkable only in the sense that it had rarely happened to date in Boston (and it rarely happened again in future seasons either), but it was unremarkable in that I'd seen it before many times in Minnesota. But it's beautiful basketball when it happens, because when you pair a shooter that can handle the ball with Garnett's combination of length, court vision and shooting touch you get magic. Magic that the opponent really has no answer for. In those two key playoff junctions in '08, the results were a) Pierce and KG scoring 16 straight points (8 points each) to turn a 10-point 4th quarter deficit into a series-clinching win, and b) Pierce and KG combining to score on 5 straight possessions (Pierce with 3 buckets and 2 assists to KG, KG with 2 buckets and 2 assists to Pierce) to set the tone for the Celtics' 2nd half comeback win (in the Wheelchair game) that jump-started them into winning #17. In Minnesota I had seen the same type of 2-man pick-and-roll/pop game boost previous "journeymen" Chauncey Billups and Troy Hudson into big contracts and starting gigs, and lead Sam Cassell to the only All Star game of his long career while helping Garnett win a near-unanimous MVP. It's a potent weapon.
In Boston, after 2008, we never really saw that consistent 2-man game between Garnett and Pierce again. Rajon Rondo became the primary ball-handler, and when Pierce handled the ball he tended to go more iso. Pierce and KG still run it on occasion (one memorable example was the play when Pierce set up Garnett for the buzzer-beating jumper against the Knicks), but it's not a staple.
Now, Rondo running the pick-and-pop IS a staple of the offense with Rondo and any number of his teammates (KG, Pierce, Bass, etc.). And this is also a potent weapon, as it often sets up either a Rondo drive to collapse the defense or an open jumper from some of the best shooters in the league. However, it's a DIFFERENT kind of potent weapon than the 2-man game I mentioned before, because it is much more Rondo-centric. Rondo is always the decision maker, and if a shot results directly it is almost always either a set-shot jumper for the pick setter or a Rondo layup if the opponent doesn't recover fast enough. The problem with the play, though, is that the very Rondo-centric nature of it makes it inherently more defend-able than the kind of 2-man game I was describing above. This is an example of where the inconsistency of Rondo's jumper hurts, because if opponents send one defender under the screen to cut off the drive and have the other stick to the pick-setter, the play is effectively cut off and results either in a Rondo long jumper or an offense reset (which, if it happens too much leads to late shot-clock forced jumpers). We see how killer it can be when Rondo's jumper is on (this was the kernel for a good part of his 44-point Game 2 explosion against the Heat last playoffs)...but when it's not, good teams can blunt this weapon for the Celtics.
Enter Jason Terry.
Terry will never have the explosive speed that Rondo does. Terry will never have the court vision that Rondo does. Nor will he ever have his ability to run a team. But what Terry DOES have is a solid handle, adequate passing ability, an excellent jumper, long shooting range, and Sam Cassell huevos. He's built the second half of his career by playing a 2-man game off of a mobile 7-footer with excellent shooting touch, and great offensive instincts...and wouldn't you know, we happen to have one of those as well that ALSO has an excellent history with the pick-and-roll/pop game.
Let me pause for a moment and disclaim: I don't expect this 2-man game between KG and Terry to be an all-game, every game thing. That would be relying on it too much at this stage of their careers, and their team roles don't allow for it either.
One of the biggest problems in recent years...yes, even bigger than the perceived rebounding issue...is that the Celtics can go on extended offensive droughts. The team is full of great shooters and Rondo is a great creator, but there were few "go to" moves in the arsenal anymore for when the opponent clamps down and doesn't allow the easy shots. Pierce's iso is a lower probability proposition as he's gotten older...the team isn't throwing it to KG on the block and expecting him to create buckets on the regular anymore...Ray's lack of handle and age slowing made him almost purely a finisher as opposed to an initiator...and Rondo just doesn't have any go-to scoring moves if the rim is cut off.
THAT is where the new KG/JET 2-man game has me excited.
Because even if an opponent is sagging off of Rondo/going under screens to prevent that play from working...when the offense resets to Terry, they are NOT going to sag under the screen when Terry has the ball. The KG on-ball pick when Terry is handling it pretty much guarantees either: a) an open look for Terry (which is a good shot), b) an open look for Garnett (which is a good shot), or c) a scrambling defense to try to take away both KG and Terry which means that either Pierce, Rondo,or Bass/Sully/Green now have either an open look or an open path when they receive the ball from either KG or JET, both of whom are good passers.
This one little addition can completely change how opponents have to defend us. The threat of the KG/JET 2-man game makes life easier for Rondo because now teams can't just play for the offense reset/forced jumper...it makes life easier for Pierce because between Rondo/Terry and 2 jump-shooting bigs the defense will often be off-balanced when Pierce gets it...it gives us another very reliable weapon to use when the offense would have previously gone into droughts...and it has big implications on our crunch-time offense, as it should cut down on either the Pierce isos or the Rondo dribble-the-clock-down-then-force-it which were the two main closeout plays that the team ran last season. Not to mention that Terry is both a good ball-handler and an excellent free throw shooter, giving us an automatic close-out option when the opposing team is in foul-late mode.
All in all, I'm unreasonably jazzed about seeing how this team looks with JET now in the fold. I think most are expecting positive things from Terry, but I think that most are going to be even more pleasantly surprised when you see the actual impact that he has on how our team performs offensively this year.