Terry Rozier Relishing New Opportunity with Hornets

by Sam Perley

In the early evening on Saturday, July 6, the Charlotte Hornets organization officially bid farewell to its all-time leading scorer and reigning third-team All-NBA honoree Kemba Walker and welcomed in fellow point guard Terry Rozier.

The Hornets and Boston Celtics have put the finishing touches on a sign-and-trade deal that swaps the two players, a pair of second-round picks and provides both sides with a bit of salary cap maneuverability moving forward. Walker was beloved in Charlotte both on and off the court, but like other NBA stars in similar positions beforehand, the time had simply come to move on.

With Walker departing, Rozier will slide right into the team’s starting point guard position. Either internally or externally, Charlotte will also be looking to replace a few other rotational pieces including Walker’s former backup Tony Parker, who announced his retirement last month after a magnificent 18-year Hall-of-Fame career.

So, who is Terry Rozier? He’s a Youngstown, OH native who played two years at Louisville under then Head Coach Rick Pitino before the Celtics took him with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. He spent much of his first season shuttling back and forth to the G League before eventually finding his niche as the primary backup to Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving.

“My game definitely changed. It got better,” Rozier said in an exclusive interview with Hornets.com. “I had to learn a lot of things. I had to be patient. Coming in as a rookie, you got to be patient and still learn because you might not be getting the minutes you want.”

When Irving went down late in the 2017-18 season with a knee injury, Rozier started 13 of the final 15 regular season games and averaged 14.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.0 APG and 1.2 SPG. In the 19 ensuing playoff starts, Rozier put up 16.5 PPG on 40.6% shooting, 5.3 RPG, 5.7 APG and 1.3 SPG, leading the short-handed Celtics to within one win of the NBA Finals.

“Around that time, you turn on the TV and you see the ESPN guys and everybody just writing us off because we lost our starting point guard,” he said. “Just me getting that opportunity, a lot of people just didn’t believe we’d make it to where we did.”

Rozier’s role was scaled back with Irving and Gordan Hayward’s return to the rotation this past season. At times, he, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all struggled with handling reduced responsibilities after experiencing so much success the previous postseason. He finished the campaign with overall marks of 9.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG and 0.9 TPG in 79 games and 13.1 PPG on 42.9% shooting (40.5% from three), 5.2 RPG, 5.0 APG and 1.8 SPG in 14 starts.

Standing six-one with a six-eight wingspan, Rozier’s physical dimensions give him an advantage on opposing players defensively. Of the 64 NBA guards who averaged at least 20.0 MPG in 70+ appearances last season, Rozier ranked 11th in defensive rating (105.9). Under these same parameters, he ranked eighth out of 130 overall players in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.40).

“I love that he plays defense,” said Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “He’s in the gym all the time. He’s a great worker. I only think he’s going to get better and better. He’s got the physical tools. I think that’s perfect with our coach and our emphasis on player development.”

“I like to score the ball. I’m not selfish. I like to make guys around me better,” Rozier added. “I believe I compete and it’s contagious. When I compete the way I do, it rubs off on the next guy and when I compete the way I do, I can say a little bit to get my guys going. That’s just what I did during the playoffs when I got that opportunity.”

Rozier will bring no shortage of energy and confidence to the Hornets. He needs to get to the line a bit more often (just 1.2 FTA per game last season) and his offensive efficiency warrants some improvement, although he did shoot a combined 36.8% from distance between 2017-19 (272-of-739). The 25-year-old converted 77-of-121 attempts at the rim this past season (63.6%) and ranked ninth amongst NBA guards in rebounding per 36 minutes (6.2) as well.

“Rebounding is probably one of my better assets,” he said. “It’s one of the best things I do as a point guard. A lot of point guards – no knock on anybody – they don’t really mix it up and get in there. That’s just who I am. I grew up at a park where I was always the smallest, always the youngest. Everybody played for themselves. I had to go up and grab rebounds over the guys that were way bigger than me and it just still translates to today.”

Rozier has been itching for a starting job ever since last year’s postseason run and now he’s got his opportunity. After backing up a pair of All-NBAers in Boston, he’ll now be replacing one in Charlotte. Expectations will be rightfully high and he doesn’t want it any other way.

“I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to growing with [my teammates], learn more with them, connect with them. I feel like we’re going to have a great relationship off the court and it’s just going to keep growing. I feel like point guards most of the time are heads of the snakes. If you’ve got a voice and people around you see how hard you play, the things you do for the team, they have nothing to do but respect you. I feel like it’s going to be great. I’m ready for it.”

Rozier isn’t going to step in and immediately make Hornets fans forget about Walker, who is unquestionably leaving behind a gigantic pair of shoes to fill after eight seasons with the organization. But the team’s newest frontman certainly possesses the attitude, heart and overall edge to someday, just maybe, also make a big name for himself in Charlotte.

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