One of the least talked about Celtics this summer could be the player to take the biggest leap in the upcoming season. Terry Rozier is one of few Celtics to survive the most recent roster shakeup without an impending free agency to worry about. The Celtics roster has been reloaded with forwards galore but could have a gap to fill in the guard department. In the age of Brad Stevens Positionless Basketball™, minutes might not open up based on position, but the overload of forwards still leave some guard minutes up for grabs with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier being the only true guards returning to the roster, with Shane Larkin expected to be injury insurance, for now. The most interesting wrinkle is Gordon Hayward, who has experience as a two-guard. Even with the new found length, I still expect Brad Stevens to deploy a small-ball lineup now and then to throw teams for a loop.
In terms of minutes played, four of Boston’s 10 most active players from last season are no longer on the team, marked by an asterisk in the table below.
Two 20-minute players just ahead of Brown and Rozier on the depth chart have conveniently left the door open for some younger talent to grow into their role. The introduction of Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, and Gordon Hayward will soak up some of those available minutes, but two of those three will likely be in the starting lineup, leaving plenty of minutes available for bench players to develop.
Rozier’s stats alone are not impressive, but show clear improvement and highlight his capabilities as a point guard. It’s hard to compare his rookie and sophomore years statistically because a fair amount of his rookie minutes were played in garbage time, but he has played relevant minutes in the playoffs in each year and outperformed his regular season numbers both times. His most notable improvement was his passing, where Rozier assisted on 17.1% of his team’s made baskets while he was on the court in this year’s playoffs, compared to 9.9% the previous year (per basketball-reference.com). Rozier’s 9.9 turnovers per 100 possessions are one the of lowest rates among the team’s guards, beaten out only by Avery Bradley’s 9.8. Keep in mind that Bradley played the point less than any other Boston guard. For comparison, Marcus Smart turned the ball over on almost 20% of his possessions in the 2017 playoffs and had an almost identical usage rate as Rozier (16.4 and 16.5 respectively).
Nylon Calculus of Fansided projects the Celtics offense to be the third best in the league, which seems high, but I think improved bench scoring will contribute just as much as a bolstered starting lineup towards living up to expectations. Rozier’s blinding speed is something you can’t teach, and his absurd athleticism is something most players will never have. He doesn’t have to be a maestro with the ball to make the second unit work, he just needs a unit that can run with him.
Rozier’s shooting game has ways to go, but he’s already deadly in transition. While Boston’s offense would sometimes become stagnant with the second unit in, I think a lineup of Smart, Rozier, Brown, Tatum, and anyone else could run another bench off the court. Although the Celtics may still lack some of the desired sizes to grab the all-important rebounds to initiate transition offense, it is worth noting that Rozier had the highest defensive rebounding percentage among all of Boston’s guards last year at 16.3%. Avery Bradley, who garnered a lot of praise for his improved rebounding, grabbed 16.2% of available defensive rebounds while he was on the court.
Lastly, the departure of Gerald Green means the Celtics needs a new “irrational confidence” guy. Their J.R. Smith, their Dion Waiters, their ace in the hole who can come in and hit any shot. Why not Rozier?
While Gerald Green delivered in the playoffs, the fact that Boston relied so heavily on him, even for just a couple games, is a problem. A “deep” roster shouldn’t be trying to pry offense out of their 11th best player in order to win playoff games. While Tatum and Brown bring diverse offensive skill sets to the bench, Rozier has one more year of experience, which designates him as somebody who should be able to run the offense or to provide an alternative to having Smart as the backup point guard.