Less than a week removed from the Game 6 loss that eliminated the Celtics at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, it's still difficult to believe that that thrill of a season came to an end all too soon. There remains a wound in my heart that makes it all so painful to look back at a year of intense emotion and swings, but the time has come. This summer is crucial to the future of the franchise and to the fate of the current core they have assembled.
There's plenty to discuss. The free-agent status of Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, and Tyler Zeller. The draft lottery that looms large on May 19. I'm always down to talk Kevin Durant no matter the odds. But as often happens, one of the more minute developments from 2015-16 stuck out to me so much that I had to hit on it before I moved on to the important roster proceedings ahead.
Terry Rozier ended up carving out quite the remarkable season for himself when all was said and done. The thought of him playing significant playoff minutes when the Celtics called his name as their first draft selection last June would've provoked some head turns, but there he was. Certainly the Avery Bradley injury, Kelly Olynyk's ailments, Sullinger's poor play, and other factors contributed to his rise, but there was one edge that put him above the others in his youth class on the team.
Unlike R.J. Hunter, who looked like he always was going to need extended time and shot attempts to get going offensively, Jordan Mickey, whose impact on the interior didn't seem to be of particular interest to Brad Stevens save for spot appearances, and James Young, who continued to be a relative nothing on the court, Rozier found ways to be productive no matter the situation.
Whether it was represented in the box score or not, Rozier was able to do things on the court that stood out as important minor plays. A significant factor in measuring a young, unknown player's future impact with me has always been what he can do in short spurts of minutes. Any youngster can take 30 minutes and put up numbers, but those in a situation like Boston's with so little room to make an impact feel added pressure to make plays without the emphasis on them. Those who are able to make an impact despite limited minutes always stick out to me.
Of all the attributes he brought to the table, the rebounding ability shot right out of the TV screen above all his other skills. Rozier could leap with the big boys and displayed sensational timing. There were moments where it seemed like he was courted to specifically assist a smaller lineup on the boards. At 6'2", he pulled in 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes while only receiving an average of 8 minutes per game in 39 appearances.
Down the stretch of the season, it became clear that Stevens was pressing a rookie to step up and assert himself in the rotation. With his steadiness on both ends of the court, eye for making an impact off the ball, and energy in rebounding and pushing the pace, the rookie who only saw about 100 minutes of NBA action before the All-Star break would be putting himself in position to play in the playoffs.
That was the story of Rozier's 2015-16 campaign: making the most of opportunities. Whether it was playing time with the Red Claws (33.4 minutes,19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.9 steals per game in 14 appearances), getting into Cs games in garbage time, or finally getting his shot in meaningful moments, it all eventually translated to about 100 minutes of playoff court time.
Rozier is a ruthless worker. To be so effective in such short spurts of opportunity, you have to be. That's what 2015-16 told us about him. We also saw that he is a phenomenal raw athlete who has potential to grow to further heights should he be able to specialize in another skill set outside of utilizing his athleticism.
Stevens affirmed this as well, raving about the strides that Rozier made in '16 and his potential going forward:
"I just think that he's got a burst that is pretty unique...he's still learning how to do things, but he's making good progress, and his attitude's really good. I mean, he's a non-stop worker. He wants to be really good, and that's a great trait for a young guy whose minutes are inconsistent."
There is reason for optimism with Rozier, which is incredible to think now given the questions surrounding him on draft night. But the cloud of uncertainty hasn't completely dissipated. From watching him this year, the comparison I'd make to a player I watched in my lifetime would be a guard version of Gerald Wallace. The scrappiness, the motor, and the athleticism are a fit, and we saw with Wallace there is star potential for players who can craft their energy into a well-packaged game.
That's what I envision Rozier becoming as his development continues, but where he sits on this Celtics roster next year is much less clear. Given the long-held sentiment that the Celtics will look to make a splash in the trade market this offseason, Rozier could very well find himself donning another uniform come the fall. But if he remains in Boston, he made it clear in '15-'16 that he's going to make the most of any opportunity or role thrown his way. In my eyes, that's the mark of a young player who gets it, and the future is bright for those kind of young talents.