Why do the Bucks play so well when Jason Terry is on the floor?

by Alex Boeder
Bucks.com Writer

He is the second-oldest player in franchise history. He is a shooter, but he is shooting the worst percentage from the field among any regular on the team. He is averaging 3.2 points per game. No rotation player has a lower PER.

And the Bucks are beating up on teams when he is on the court.

In 553 minutes with Jason Terry on the court this season, the Bucks have outscored their opponents by a combined 88 points. On a per-minute basis, that ranks as third-best on the team (behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe).

Statistically, there is little to suggest that the Bucks should play so well with Terry on the court. Maybe it won’t last. Maybe it is all about the guys around him on the court.

But there he is, showing up in each of the three most effective Bucks lineups in terms of scoring differential:

Lineups +/- GP W L MIN PTS FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OREB DREB REB AST TOV STL BLK BLKA PF PFD
G.Antetokounmpo, M.Brogdon, G.Monroe, M.Teletovic, J.Terry 38 15 10 5 61 148 55 97 56.7 18 34 52.9 20 22 90.9 14 48 62 37 19 6 4 4 20 26
G.Antetokounmpo, M.Brogdon, G.Monroe, J.Parker, J.Terry 35 12 9 3 33 81 26 54 48.1 5 14 35.7 24 29 82.8 4 26 30 18 5 7 6 4 8 19
G.Antetokounmpo, M.Beasley, M.Brogdon, G.Monroe, J.Terry 17 13 7 6 64 137 50 107 46.7 9 20 45.0 28 38 73.7 13 48 61 32 19 15 5 7 30 29

While he certainly isn’t the key to any of these lineups – Giannis is by far the best player on the team, while Monroe and Brogdon are the keys to the bench units that routinely outplay the opposition – Terry’s presence on the court and the positive results of his team may not be purely coincidental.

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A few years after winning the championship (capping a playoff run where he featured as the second-best player after Dirk Nowitzki on the Finals-winning Mavericks), Jason Terry left Dallas, approached age 35, stopped playing 30+ minutes every night, and commenced a new career as a role player.

In those 4+ seasons, Terry has played with four different teams: the Celtics, Nets, Rockets and Bucks. During that time, he has a +255 differential, meaning that his team has outscored his opponent by 255 points overall with Terry on the court. None of those teams have had a losing record – if the Bucks finish with a winning record, it will be Terry’s 13th straight season with a winning record.

Of course, these are team-dependent numbers. But since leaving Dallas and becoming a role player, Terry has consistently contributed to better team results than his individual numbers would suggest. As it stands, this will mark the fifth straight season that Terry finishes with a better differential (which is how many points the team scores/allows when a player is on the court) than PER (which is an all-encompassing individual player rating based on many individual statistics). The implication is (a painful cliché): Terry is doing things that don’t show up in the (old-fashioned) box score.

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So, what are those things that Terry does well?

Well, for one, he plays one or two passes ahead. Watch him off the ball on offense. He moves to the right spot on the court, whether to open a driving lane or make himself useful as a shooter. And if he does receive a pass, he tends to get rid of it quickly, having already surveyed the court before he ever gets the ball.

The Bucks sport an offensive rating of 109.9 with Terry on the court (which happens to be almost the exact same offensive rating his Mavericks had with him on the court the year they won the championship), and one of the small joys of the season has been watching Terry deliver perfect passes.

Who do you trust to toss an alley oop?

Instructional swing pass?

No-look?

Touch-pass?

Inbound awareness?

Say, cross-court underhand flip shovel for a three in stride?

No one else paying attention?

On national television, are we?

You know how Mirza likes transition threes?

All this from a guy averaging just 1.4 assists per game. And sure, this is a small part of what he does (though he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team, and of his career), and an even smaller part of what the Bucks do. But small things add up.

On the other side of the ball, the Bucks have a 101.2 defensive rating when Terry is on the court, which is a tick better than the best league defense in the NBA this season (the Jazz). He is by no means a stopper, and that rating won’t last, to that degree. But the Bucks are at their best when they swarm in unison like a starling murmuration – and Terry indeed chirps at his teammates to be in the right place, a sage reminding the city how it rightfully fell for Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia three years ago, or maybe letting it forget them.

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This is by no means a call for Terry to get more minutes, nor is it a suggestion that the team will keep playing this well with him on the court, or that the Bucks will be in trouble when he transitions to a coaching gig. They are better off with him on the court, and they will be better off after him, if they pick up on some of his ways.