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The most important two weeks of Terry Rozier’s career

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Boston’s going to need the best version of Terry Rozier III during Marcus Smart’s absence.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

“The best time to be your best self is right now” -Me, just now.

Fake quotes aside, this philosophy is especially true for Terry Rozier after news surfaced yesterday that Marcus Smart will miss the next two weeks due to a laceration on his hand after swiping (punching?) a picture frame. A big argument for those who are for Smart leaving, though, is the emergence of Terry Rozier III (commonly referred to as “Three Sticks” because of his status of being third to his name). Rozier had an amazing stretch throughout the month of December, culminating in the early-January showdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers in which Three Sticks Rozier (or Rozier Three Sticks) put up a career-high 20 points. The very next night, Rozier followed that performance up with 14 points and 9 rebounds against the Minnesota Timberwolves to keep the momentum going.

If that’s the Rozier that we got nightly—not necessarily high scoring every night, but consistent enough to give a positive contribution on a nightly basis—losing Smart would be manageable. Here’s what concerns me, though: the next six games after that peak featured the following point totals: 2, 8, 7, 4, 2, and 9. Over that same stretch, Smart posted the following point totals: 11, 5, 16, 13, 2 (yikes), and 22.

The point is that they cover for each other. When both are on, like they were against Minnesota, the Celtics are almost impossible to beat. When one is off, at least the other is there to cover for the other to at least keep the bench on life support before Irving or Horford are re-inserted into the game. If Rozier is to be good enough to cover for Smart’s potential departure, then he has to be more consistent. Looking at his game log, Rozier has peaks of a few games where he scores at a high level, and then he’ll go through long droughts of doing the opposite.

Additionally, when Terry Rozier III scores in double digits, he typically rebounds more and hands out more assists. So his scoring activity is what dictates much of how he plays overall. Because of Smart’s presence on the bench, Rozier’s job has not been to run the second unit’s offense this year, a change from last year when Rozier did not do so well in that role. Without Smart over the next two weeks, Three Sticks will need to shoulder that burden in addition to scoring.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Can he do it? Sure. Can he do it consistently? That’s what we’re going to look to find out over this upcoming stretch, beginning with tonight’s game against the Golden State Warriors. So far this season, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier III have spent a lot of their time on the court together. As a result, Rozier’s on-court numbers with and without Smart are pretty similar. Naturally, Rozier has notched 12 more assists in 3 more games without Smart on the court, but almost everything is the same.

Terry Rozier’s stats with Marcus Smart on the floor (StatMuse)
Terry Rozier without Marcus Smart on the floor (StatMuse)

That has to change starting now if he’s to prove that he can handle the load. The second unit’s (and by extension, the entire team’s) offense has been extremely bad, especially over the last month - a stretch that has placed them last in in the league in Offensive Rating. I don’t see how Boston’s bench offense is going to get better with just Terry Rozier (and, to be fair, Shane Larkin) without Smart, but if there’s ever a time to prove it, it’s now.

Rozier typically spends most of his minutes with either Smart or Irving on the court, so now he has to be more self-sufficient because he can’t play all of his minutes with Irving. This means that he’ll have to be a scoring threat while working with Marcus Morris, and most importantly, Jayson Tatum in the second unit as Brad Stevens continues to experiment there. Let’s take a look at a few situations where Rozier can, and will have to, improve or sustain over the next two weeks on his own.

Here’s an example of Rozier making the right read out of a pick-and-roll to Daniel Theis:

Rozier’s quick penetration into the paint put him into a good position to either kick out to Theis, kick out to Tatum, or take an ill-advised floater. He made the right choice; we need more of that.

In this clip, we find Rozier pushing the ball in transition after playing good defense on Dwyane Wade. Boston’s transition attack has been lacking lately, so consistently seeking good looks after good defense will help both Rozier and the team.

Finally, let’s look at what Terry Rozier absolutely cannot do during Smart’s absence:

On the other end of the floor, the defense will sorely miss Smart. He’s easily the team’s best non-Al Horford defender this season, and he’s one of the best in the league at guarding and chasing players off ball. Rozier gets shaken pretty easily here by Korver, giving up the 3-pointer. This example is just to illustrate that while Smart is out, Rozier has to lead the second unit’s defense as well, and he has to do so both on and off the ball.

It’s true, adding Gordon Hayward next season will offer the team a lot of flexibility in choosing what to do with Smart this offseason, but Terry Rozier can do himself a favor while also giving the team more to consider with this upcoming stretch. After Wednesday night’s win against the L.A. Clippers saw Rozier post 15 points to boost the second unit, hopefully that is a sign of consistent contributions for the rest of the season.

I still don’t believe that the Celtics should move on from Smart this offseason, but I’ll be watching closely. I’m also sure those who are ready will be watching intently to see how Rozier handles this situation.

No matter what happens next, though, Terry Rozier III is finally back on Twitter, and for that, we should be thankful.