Entering his third season in the NBA, Terry Rozier has yet to carve out a truly defined offensive role in the Celtics’ rotation. Brad Stevens is still trying to figure out how to maximize Rozier’s nuclear athleticism on the scoring end, toggling the 23-year-old back and forth between both guard spots. Rozier may be a tweener, but he possesses rarified physical attributes, namely a 6’8” wingspan and a 38-inch max vertical jump, per DraftExpress. His defensive identity is apparent; T-Rozzay is a pesky disrupter who can lockdown either opposing backcourt player and obstruct perimeter passing lanes. His incendiary burst and versatile switchability are weapons that have helped him flourish on the defensive end, but his fit with the offense has yet to be fully determined.
Rozier has been fabulous thus far in the preseason, showing marked improvement on both ends of the floor. Through three warmup games, he’s averaging 20.7 points, 8.3 boards, 5.9 dimes, and an eye-popping three steals per 36 minutes. He was dominant in Monday night’s home contest against Philadelphia, but almost all of his preseason production has come playing alongside a primary ball-handler. The biggest question for Rozier is whether he can quarterback the offense by himself.
Rozier’s pace has been a significant factor holding him back as a pure facilitator. He knows one speed: go as fast as possible. His swiftness allows him to push the ball in transition and leave multiple defenders in his dust. He possesses above-the-rim finishing capabilities, and while you’d like to see a higher conversion rate, it’s impossible to deny the tantalizing physical tools that help him get to the cup.
The downside with Rozier’s road-runner pace is that he occasionally lacks control and recognition. His decision-making has yet to fully adjust to his hyper athleticism, and it often causes him to run directly into trouble with opposing defenders. He overly relies on being able to score before the defense can get set.
In the below clip, Rozier attacks the rim and takes on three 76er defenders. The issue here is that Terry is over-reliant on drawing contact. If Nik Stauskas doesn’t bail him out with the foul, this 4-on-3 fast break could have resulted in a turnover or a low-percentage contested layup.
The higher-efficiency play would have been to drop it off to a trailing Jayson Tatum for an easy bucket. Alternatively, he could have kicked it to the left wing for a wide open Gordon Hayward jumper. Rozier frequently finds himself in these kinds of plays, and it’s an example of how his court vision narrows when he’s charging full speed. What separates him from the upper tier fast break playmakers is an ability to deliver the ball to open teammates after collapsing the defense.
You won’t find many second-unit guards who can sky for a defensive rebound, take it 94 feet in four dribbles, and attract multiple defenders. Rozier will become a major offensive weapon in the open floor if he can add that final passing element. After the Celtics finished 12th in pace last season, Stevens wants to turn it up a notch, which will only serve to benefit Rozier’s uptempo tendencies. The run-and-gun offense caters to him, and he’ll rack up the assist numbers if he can handle the ball with more composure.
Last season, Rozier was behind Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk in assisted points created and adjusted assist rate, per NBA.com. While that can be partially attributed to Rozier’s frequent off-ball usage, it’s discouraging to see a combo guard trail traditional bigs in the advanced passing categories.
In half-court sets, Stevens’ system doesn’t require the guards to make crisp pocket passes or breakdown multiple layers of defenders. The system is predicated on constant ball and player movement that create imbalances in the opposing defense. So Rozier will thrive if he simply attacks creases, draws help defenders, and kicks to the perimeter or to basket cutters. Compared to last year, Boston’s roster is chock-full of multitalented playmakers and shooters, and the increased level of talent will help Rozier’s growth as a facilitator.
The backcourt rotation will have increased flexibility if Rozier is ready to assume more of a distributor role. Rozier could take control of the second unit, allowing Marcus Smart to be utilized as a shooting guard with the starters. Toward the end of last season, Smart was still ahead of Rozier as a pure point guard. Marcus is a natural floor scanner and plays with control and varying pace, all of which Tito needs to do on a consistent basis. To his credit, Terry has played with surprising command this preseason, and he has shown that he can downshift when needed. But I’m not fully ready to buy in until he does it in the regular season.
The late-July signing of Shane Larkin provides solid insurance for the backcourt depth. The 25-year-old guard isn’t spectacular, but he has four years of professional experience under his belt and posted a 29.3% assist rate in his most recent NBA season in Brooklyn. Rozier has a career 15.5% assist rate. Larkin has already reached his ceiling, but he’ll provide a viable stopgap option if Rozier necessitates another season of fine tuning. Larkin’s $1.471M contract is fully guaranteed, so he’s not a cuttable camp body.
“I think Terry is going to play a huge role for our team,” Stevens said on media day. “He’s gotten better. I loved being able to sub he and (Marcus) Smart into the game in the playoffs last year. We played that way most of the second half of the season. The energy, the enthusiasm had a contagious effect on our team.”
Earlier this offseason, Rozier boldly proclaimed that Danny Ainge wouldn’t trade him, and his forecast came to fruition. The Celtics won’t transform Rozier into a bonafide point guard. Perhaps they never will. But facilitation remains the area where Terry can grow the most. This preseason, Stevens has experimented with an Kyrie Irving-Rozier-Smart combination, a small-ball mixture which offers unique athleticism and agility on the wings. The luxury of playing Rozier and Smart off of the bench together will provide an instant jolt of energy on both ends of the floor. His defensive intensity is unquestionable. Now we need to see how Rozier fits on the offensive end.
All non-cited statistics are from basketball-reference.
All salary information is from RealGM.