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Cut From The Same Cloth: In Terry Rozier, Miami Acquires The Right Fit At The Right Time

The offensive theory of the Miami HEAT, what they need to hit a higher attack tier beyond the make or miss of shooting, has remained relatively unchanged over the past five seasons.

There have been developments, sure. Bam Adebayo comes back a little bit different and a little bit better each season, all that little bit adding up to a wholesale profile change when you look at the multi-year picture. Tyler Herro has tightened the screws in his on-ball game, becoming a reliable creator who can punish any team’s drop coverage. Jimmy Butler is Jimmy Butler, one of the most efficient players in the league, routinely posting upwards of ten more points than shots taken. Duncan Robinson has been freaking defense out for years and his game is as balanced as ever. Erik Spoelstra has maximized all the role players around the core as they’ve come and gone. On the right night, when the threes are falling, it can all look like one of the best offenses in the league.

Actual efficiency numbers have long lagged behind the game-to-game highs. Miami hasn’t had a Top 10 offense since the 2019-20 season, the first year of the Butler era and the same season fresh faces in Robinson, Herro and Kendrick Nunn had opposing teams scrambling to build out an entirely new scouting report. As great as Butler and Adebayo are, the spacing has always had to be just right to get the most out of their lineups. For as much dynamic movement Spoelstra has built into his system, as precise as he is about spacing, Miami hasn’t had players who consistently tilt, bend or break defenses, either by drawing two players to the ball or by applying consistent rim pressure. Miami has lingered around the bottom of the league in rim pressure since Goran Dragic was traded, and their two-on-the-ball prospects, either with doubles coming in the post or a pull-up shooting threat that teams felt they had to outright eliminate, have been inconsistent. The offense this season has been Bottom 10 since the beginning of December, with three-point shooting cooling off after a scorching start, and getting healthier hasn’t induced a positive trend on that end.

Enter Terry Rozier, perhaps the most dynamic lead guard, both in theory and in practice, that Miami has had since Dragic’s best days. That’s no slight on Herro, the other name in that competition who shares more than a little skill crossover with Miami’s new acquisition (for Kyle Lowry and a first round pick), but Rozier leans a bit more toward point guard on that specific spectrum with his 30 percent assist rate. What Rozier can do has the potential to unlock the HEAT’s offense in ways it has only ever been temporarily unlocked, matchup-specifically unlocked, a-possession-here-and-there unlocked. Potential, yes, not quite guaranteed in the transformative manner of an MVP-vote getter, but potential that has been sometimes dormant.

The term three-level scorer get tossed around a bit too liberally these days. Any high-usage player scores enough times in different zones for a YouTube compilation to make a small-sample argument and suddenly they’re a three-level scorer. But just as there are always fewer true Superstars in the league at any given time than you’d think given The Discourse, three-level scorers aren’t exactly available off the shelf. If Rozier doesn’t quite meet the necessary qualifications – elite at the rim, in the mid-range and from deep – he gets pretty close.

The shooting is there, no question, particularly off the dribble which might well be the most important skill for a guard in today’s league. This season Rozier is taking 6.6 off-dribble threes per 100 possessions and making 38.9 percent of them, No. 7 in the league out of the 32 players who have attempted at least 100 shots. That’s a game-changing, scheme-breaking percentage if it continues, and while Rozier is also exceeding his career norms with such lofty efficiency, he’s also been well below his own averages on catch-and-shoot threes (30.7 percent this season, 39.2 percent in the previous three) so we’re likely looking at natural fluctuations. The most important part is the volume, especially for a HEAT team that has fallen back to the middle of the pack in terms of three-point frequency. One of Miami’s saving graces offensively over the past five seasons has been an ability to scale up their volume against specific opponents, but at the midway point of this season they’ve only attempted 40+ threes twice after doing so 14 times last season. Between Rozier and Herro, Miami has the option to always have at least one volume pull-up shooter on the floor in addition to the gravity of Robinson’s funky on-the-move groove. For Butler and Adebayo, that translates to precious extra time and space in the middle of the floor.

Mid-range is just an extension of the arc game, and Rozier can get there just about any time he wants with a good first step and tight change-of-direction handle. Of the 62 players that have taken at least 200 non-rim two-pointers this season, Rozier ranks seventh shooting 52 percent. Again, perhaps a bit above career norms – we should allow for, though not necessarily expect, percentage gains at 29 years old – but if the floor is right where Butler and Adebayo typically settle in, Miami is looking at someone who can create the tough looks and make them at a rate that can win you a game – especially in postseason games where sometimes those looks are the only ones available. You don’t have to look very hard to find big scoring nights from Rozier’s Boston days, including in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Rozier may not get to the rim as often as Butler – expecting that would be a little strange – but he does get there and he gets there in a different way. Where Butler gets much of his on-ball rim pressure without screens, the way teams defend him and Adebayo making it difficult for that pair to generate lower paint touches in actions together, Rozier has the shake and the patience to work his way there off a screen and even split a pair of wide defenders. Rozier doesn’t throw a ton of lobs – less than one per 100 possessions, about the same as Chris Paul over the past three seasons – but his ability to occupy the screener defender going downhill could pay dividends in a partnership with Adebayo, especially with the way Spoelstra designs and scripts those actions.

Put it all together, and there’s a reason Rozier is producing 1.08 points-per-possession (No. 5 of 56 with at least 200 possessions), according to Second Spectrum, in pick-and-roll possessions where he doesn’t pass out, and that number climbs to 1.20 in fourth quarters, trailing only Tyrese Haliburton and Damian Lillard. The effectiveness remains the same using handoffs, where Rozier is No. 1 of 33 players with 200+ possessions at 1.19 points per. Attacking switches, an on-again off-again bugaboo for Miami’s offense, nobody has produced more in pick-and-roll than Rozier’s 1.31 points-per, and he's scoring over a point per possession in isolation. You want scoring? Rozier is the action and the juice.

One quick, interesting wrinkle: nobody has used more flare screens than Rozier over the past three seasons, and those have produced well over a point-per-possession for Charlotte. Spoelstra has found a ton of success using Robinson, Herro and Max Strus in those actions over the years and Rozier’s willingness to move off the ball before the catch should fit right in. Slotting in four players with usage rates at or north of 25 percent is never easy, but both Rozier and Herro being comfortable without the ball should smooth out any adjustment period. Movement shooters often act as a spiritual cleanser for any lineup.

Perhaps best of all, Rozier keeps his turnovers down – ideal for a possession-focused HEAT team – while remaining a playmaking threat. He may not be managing the court the same as an elite level point guard, but he’s capable of throwing a skip pass to the weakside and has plenty of drive-and-kick to offer a system that thrives on drive-and-kick.

Defense is going to be a question. Rozier is 6-foot-1 and it’s difficult to be a plus defender at that size without preternatural instincts or a body type that can absorb a bit of force. He does have good hands – third on Charlotte with 1.8 deflections a game – that should play well in Spoelstra’s aggressive, help-heavy defensive system, and as seen with some of the bench lineups Miami has been using this season – Kevin Love at center, multiple shooters alongside him – Spoelstra has a way of manufacturing a baseline level of night-to-night defense as he blends schemes together, zone and man tweaked to the opponent, no matter who is on the floor. The question isn’t so much whether Rozier can fit into the system or how Spoelstra can balance out his lineups – Haywood Highsmith’s defensive talents have only grown in importance – but whether Miami’s optionality has decreased. Adebayo solves all sorts of problems on that end and has adapted well to the shift towards more traditional, on paper, pick-and-roll coverages like drop, but he’s one of the best switch defenders in the history of the league and the number of HEAT lineups that can truly switch most actions, especially in a postseason game against the best teams, has been shrinking. Still, that was a question even before this week and Rozier – who graded out as an average defender during his time in Boston – is the sort of tenaciously competitive that can play above his weight class.

A few words on Lowry are warranted here. Expectations may have been warped some upon Lowry’s arrival given his All-Star and championship pedigree, but he was never going to be a 20-point scorer in his late 30’s. He was supposed to be a pull-up threat, and he was exactly that, picking his spot and hitting some massive shots when Miami had nothing else going in tight, postseason spots. He was probably Miami’s best passer, transforming the transition game with his hit-ahead passes – Rozier is no slouch in that area – while his reliable entry passes to Butler, along with his screening when that pair went mismatch hunting, and pocket passes to Adebayo allowed Spoelstra to refocus the offense with a menu more sustainable for postseason methodology. And defensively he had every trick in the veteran book, his swipes and willingness to put his body in harm’s way saving points along the backline and enabling a switch-heavy scheme during the 2021-22 season. Even as age started to catch up to him the past two seasons, Lowry always graded out positive in metrics like Estimated Plus Minus. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but his impact was more dramatic than he’s been given credit for.

That’s all in the past now. Rozier is top of mind and by all accounts he’s thrilled to be part of a team that not every player is built to be part of. This is not a trade without risk, nor is it one with a cloudy vision. Only time will tell exactly how the fit plays out. What the skillset projects, however, is plain as day. Miami’s offense has long needed exactly what Rozier provides, and he provides it in a way that should matter when the lights shine brightest.