Season Recap: Terry Rozier’s Career Year Highlighted by Leadership, Adaptability

by Sam Perley

A new organization, a new opportunity and eventually a new role all helped Terry Rozier put together undoubtedly the best season of his now five-year NBA career.

Acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with the Boston Celtics last July, Rozier was finally awarded a long-awaited opportunity to become a full-time starting NBA point guard in Charlotte. Ten games into the season, Head Coach James Borrego made the move to put Rozier at the two-guard spot, allowing the quickly ascending Devonte’ Graham to take over at the one.

“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” said Rozier when asked about the position switch. “I’m a guy that played off the ball in college. I always called myself a combo guard – playing on the ball, off the ball. It was just a little bit of an adjustment for me, but it was a challenge that I had to take on and accept. When Devonte’ started playing super well, it let me know how much I needed him to do anything to make this work. “

In the first game featuring the Graham-Rozier starting backcourt on Nov. 13, the latter erupted for a then career-high-tying 33 points at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. He topped that mark with 35 points in Cleveland on Dec. 18 and then rolled off four consecutive 25-point games to open the 2020 calendar year.

“At first, I was fighting a lot of things,” he explained. “When you have plans coming in to be a starting point guard and then things change so fast, sometimes you don’t know how to handle it. I was beating myself up a little bit when I came home. But then I’d be in the gym, and think, ‘I can’t be upset. I’m a team-first guy.’ It was about making it work.”

Throughout the season, Rozier continued to showcase himself as one of the team’s best pound-for-pound on-ball defenders and rebounders (4.4 RPG) relative to his 6-1 size. He was regularly commended by Borrego for how he handled the unexpected maneuver, becoming the vocal veteran leader the young core needed throughout the season.

“Terry’s been fantastic,” said Borrego on Jan. 6. “He’s growing, has an aggressive mentality to the rim, making plays for others, shooting at an elite level, competing on the defensive end and is looking more and more comfortable every game. I give him a ton of credit. I think he’s played extremely well.”

“I think he would say he’s working to become a leader and we need him to be. To do that, you have to vocalize out there on the floor. You have to speak to your teammates. That’s a part of leadership and I’m starting to see more and more of that. I think now that he’s starting to feel more and more comfortable, settled and understands his teammates, he has to take more of a leadership role out there. Part of that is just being more vocal in the game, calling guys out and making sure everybody’s in their spots.”

Rozier stated during his media exit interview how February’s All-Star Break brought him some much-needed get-away time. He averaged just under 19 points, four assists and shot 52 percent from distance over his final 10 appearances upon return, which was capped off by a career-high 40 points and eight threes in Atlanta on March 9.

Rozier ended the campaign with new personal-best averages in points (18.0), assists (4.1) and steals (1.0) across 63 games. He ranked sixth in three-point percentage (career-high 40.7 percent) amongst the 25 NBA players with at least 400 three-point attempts this season and was third in catch-and-shoot efficiency from deep (45.9 percent; mini. 200 attempts) behind CJ McCollum and JJ Redick.

Only Graham (13.5 PPG) and All-Star Trae Young (10.5) had higher increases in scoring this season compared to last season than Rozier (9.0). He and Graham were also the second Hornets duo ever to each record a 40-point game in the same season, joining Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace in 2007-08.

“Terry was exactly what we thought he’d be when we signed him,” said Hornets General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Mitch Kupchak. “We had great confidence in him. One of our best on-ball defenders. We always put him against the other team’s best backcourt player. I don’t think we thought he’d shoot 41 percent from three maybe, but he was exactly what we thought he’d be when we signed him.”

There was skepticism about Rozier when he first signed with the Hornets and whether he could be a permanent NBA starter. He not only proved he could, but also displayed tremendous selflessness and leadership in the process. “I felt like I handled the situation better than a lot of other people would,” he said. “I’m just grateful to be playing this game.”

Rozier has two years remaining on his contract and should enter next season as a huge focal point of the team’s offensive and defensive strategy. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the upcoming NBA offseason, but the 26-year-old already has one major goal in mind for the team.

“I want to get us to the playoffs. I want us to feel that type of energy – it’s different. Getting there is the most important thing to all of us. We got better as the year went on. We like where things were left off. We’re very happy, but we’re not satisfied. I felt like we were doing something special, and we’re confident going into next year.”

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