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The rise of Terry Rozier

Terry Rozier has stepped up during the Summer League, but is he ready to take on a full time role in the Celtics' rotation?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With 5.6 seconds left on the clock and the Celtics down by two points, coach Micah Shrewsberry (normally an assistant coach with the Cs) called a timeout and subbed in Guerschon Yabusele. The Celtics surrounded the big man with shooters, including James Young and Malcolm Miller, and set up the ATO.

Really it didn’t matter who was on the court, the ball was always going to end up in Terry Rozier’s hands. Over the past three games in Utah, Rozier has emerged as a star of the Celtics’ Summer League unit, and with the game on the line there was no one else on the team who had shown the poise and patience to be trusted with the clutch bucket.

It was a serendipitous coincidence that the ball was passed by this year’s #16 pick to last year’s. Yabusele, who had a pretty good game himself, received the inbound from Miller, and when looking for options the French forward found Terry, who let fly with the long ball, a rainbow arc shot that went straight through the hoop.

With less than two seconds left on the clock the three would have been enough to seal the game, but to add insult to injury Murray was called for swiping at Rozier on the shot, making it a potential four-point play. Rozier didn’t end up converting at the line, probably still rushing with adrenaline after hitting the game winner, but the damage was already done. When the foul shot rimmed out Yabusele quickly cleaned up the board, and the Celtics won the game 87-86. The young squad left Utah undefeated, ready for the rest of the Summer League.

We’d probably still be talking about Rozier’s buzzer-beating bucket even if he hadn’t played so well in the Summer League so far. When players make big shots like that, it has a way of gaining people’s attention. But after already having performed so spectacularly throughout the Utah Summer League, for Rozier that final shot was simply an exclamation point, albeit an emphatic one!

Rozier did a lot more than sink a single bucket. While players like James Young and Malcolm Miller have shown up for the Summer League and put in solid performances, the focus has rightfully been on Terry Rozier’s standout play. He’s improved across the board and looked like a real leader on the court, controlling the tempo, commanding plays with confidence, putting in effort on defense, and of course making big-time buckets.

In the game against the Spurs, Rozier ended up with 23 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds and 1 steal. He even secured the critical rebound that allowed him to take the final shot of the game. With Jaylen Brown, R.J. Hunter and Jordan Mickey all being rested, Rozier saw plenty of usage as the only real seasoned rook on the Summer League squad to play against the Spurs. But even in the game against Philly, where Brown and Simmons battled it out, Rozier scored 18 points and looked every bit as legit an NBA player as the #1 and #3 picks from this year’s draft.

But is Rozier ready to take on a bigger role within the Celtics regular season rotation? He seems to think so. When talking after the game Rozier said "With Evan Turner not signing back to us, we need somebody to step up and I need to be that guy."

Evan Turner, the Logo himself, usually quick to chime in with a quip, clearly believes in Rozier’s abilities and development. In a comment that now seems like he may have been preemptively passing the torch to the young spaghetti-sandwich-eating guard, when talking with CSNNE Turner said of Rozier, "He’s going to be a good player in this league, he already defends at an NBA level, a high level, so that’s half the battle right there."

Last season due to Boston having several key players already at the guard position, Rozier didn’t get a lot of burn on the regular roster, only seeing limited playing time in the big leagues for most of the year. But while Rozier may not have seen a lot of action on the court with the Celtics, he played almost freakishly well when he saw time with the Maine Red Claws, averaging 19.4 points, 8 assists and 6.4 rebounds across 14 games.

It wasn’t until an injury-riddled Celtics squad called on him in the playoffs that Rozier was able to see significant time on the main stage. The playoffs aren’t usually the place for a rookie to get his feet wet, but Rozier performed admirably. I mean, he hardly set the world on fire, but he did pretty well for a guy who had only seen minutes in garbage time or in D-league units. Perhaps more importantly he seems to have learned considerable lessons about his game that he has taken with him into the offseason.

During the brief break between the playoffs and the Summer League he’s been working on his shot, scheduling shooting sessions through his agent. But overall he just seems more comfortable with his game and himself.

It was likely a tough adjustment for the Ohio native with a troubled background. After coming out of some of the worst possible circumstances, Rozier made a name for himself on the national scene while slugging it out at Louisville. The Celtics picked up Rozier with the 16th pick of the 2015 draft in a move that was greeted at the time with the same scepticism that Yabusele’s selection has seen this year.

But Terry Spaghetti showed some promise early in last year’s Summer League where he looked a little raw, but it was still apparent that there was clearly something to work with. Yet the differences between last year and this year are pretty staggering. Rozier just looks more comfortable on the court and seems capable of completely controlling the flow of the game. With a few playoff performances under his belt and his rookie season behind him, Rozier appears to be mentally prepared for the challenges ahead.

For the Celtics, the timing of Rozier’s rapid development couldn’t be better. As mentioned, with Evan Turner signing to the Blazers, the Celtics will now need someone to handle the ball for their second unit, and Rozier has staked his claim to the role.

The obvious choice for a backup PG might be Marcus Smart, but a backup backcourt that includes Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart could prove to be a lethal combination. All three payers can alternate positions and each of them are strong on the ball, giving the Celtics a litany of options to switch and swing and offering Stevens plenty of versatility, which you know he loves.

It’s also possible that Marcus Smart will end up filling in more as a sixth man, playing across multiple positions, but primarily along the wings. His frame and versatility make him an ideal candidate for the sixth-man spot. Plus Smart’s skills as a defensive specialist also make him the perfect attack dog to sic onto an opponent in order to shut them down. So if Smart is slotted into the sixth-man role it could give Rozier a clearer path to becoming the Celtics primary ball-handler for their second unit.

To me, that scenario might be the best possible outcome for the Celtics lineup. For all of Smart’s skills, Rozier is definitely more of a conventional point guard. He often displays the craftiness the role requires, and after a year of watching more seasoned players like Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner, Rozier seems to have developed a strong understanding of the intricacies of the point position.

I know it’s only been a few games and its only the Summer League, but Terry Rozier is taking advantage of the time that’s been given to him, as he has with every opportunity he’s ever been allotted. With the Celtics searching for someone to fill in as a backup PG for IT, Terry Rozier is doing everything he can to show he’s ready to take on the responsibility. For now he seems to be focusing on what’s important: taking that next step, next season.

"I can’t wait until next season...We’ll be better. I’ll be better. That’s the important thing." – Terry Rozier