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Terry Rozier is no one’s consolation prize

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How the veteran guard is thriving as a third wheel

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

On July 6th 2019, the Charlotte Hornets traded their All-Star point guard, Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics. Kemba wasn’t just an all-star, he was the franchise. If something good happened to the Hornets organization between 2011 and 2019, odds were it was because of him. He was the lone stand out on multiple Bobcats squads. He was an emotional leader during playoff runs; willing the team to wins. He had grown roots in his adopted Queen City and Charlotteans wore his name and number on their backs. He is still the franchise leader minutes played (20,607), 3-pt field goals (1283), Win Shares (48.5), and notably 40-pt games (16).

Nevertheless, Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak, reportedly, did not extend a max offer to the best player in Hornets history and traded him to Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics. In return for agreeing to a sign and trade, the Hornets replaced Kemba Walker with Terry Rozier at 19 million dollars a year on a three year contract.

Terry was a fourth year point guard at the time who was losing minutes to the likes of R.J. Hunter and Marcus Smart on the Celtics. He was getting lost in a roster that had up and coming talent and ambition to make the leap to contender as quick as possible. The 56.7 million dollar contract the Hornets agreed to was roundly considered well above his value. It was seen as another albatross contract to pair with Nicholas Batum’s and Bizmack Biyombo’s.

However, Terry hit the honeycomb court running. Not only was he the undisputed point guard of this young Charlotte squad, but he was the veteran, the grit, and a main part of Borrego’s burgeoning pace and space offense. It is no surprise that, as a starter, his minutes increased from 22 to 34 mpg. His per game scoring doubled from 9 to 18 ppg. All the raw numbers went up as to be predicted when opportunity increases. However, Terry got more efficient.

Mr. Rozier increased in efficiency in almost all the shooting metrics; FG%, 3-pt FG%, effective FG%, True Shooting. He was taking more shots and hitting more of them. In 2020, he was 40% from the arc on seven attempts per game. But all the metrics in the world won’t tell the full story of that 2020 team. They were not very good, but they had a great time on the court. They cheered each other on from the sidelines. Dapped up their teammates in enthusiasm not in obligation. The Charlotte Hornets that have become league-pass must sees of 2021 learned to be a team with Rozier at the helm… or was he?

Two things became clear in that 2020 season: Terry could score the lights out even against the best competition; and he wasn’t the best point guard on the team. While Rozier was busy proving the contract detractors wrong, Devonte’ Graham, on a fraction of the salary($1.416 million), was stealing the show. Although Terry had slightly better shooting statistics, Graham showed talent in areas Rozier did not; 2.6 AST/TO on 8 assists per game, AST% (35.8), USG% (24.8), and win share (3.4). In a league that is increasingly less interested in the orthodox concept of specific positions, the Rozier/Graham backcourt became the Graham/Rozier backcourt in less than a season.

See what had happened was... the Hornets drafted LaMelo Ball in the 2020 draft. And an already talented, entrenched guard unit added another playmaker. Before the quarter mark of his rookie season, LaMelo Ball had played himself into the starting lineup. Coach James Borrego, interestingly enough, hasn’t chosen to bench one of his starting guards as of yet. Covid-19 has knocked the season for a loop in all too many horrid ways, but the protocols have led to the rare three guard starting lineup for the Hornets. The Hornets are starting Rozier, Graham, and Ball paired with whichever forward/center is cleared to play for the night. The results have been mixed, but not dismissable. Meanwhile, Terry Rozier continues to light up the scoreboard.

He has once again made strides year over year in shooting efficiency. In 2021, he is shooting 45% on 9 3PA. So, again his volume has increased as has his accuracy. However, like his first year in Charlotte and like his time with the Celtics, Terry is being outshined at the guard position. Not only is he not the best guard on his team, he may not be the second best guard on the Hornets. And the man is averaging over 20 points per game.

In the summer of 2019 Charlotte traded away the hope of the franchise and got back Terry Rozier. Kemba has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play in Boston. Terry has not become what Walker was to the city of Charlotte. So, neither team can declare a clean trade advantage. With the ascendancy of Devonte’ Graham and the drafting of LaMelo Ball, not only will Terry never live up to his predecessor, the Hornets don’t need him to. What he can achieve that Kemba, despite all his efforts, was never able to do is help lead this young team to the second round of the playoffs. He may not be a historic player and he may not be this team’s future, but Terry Rozier is the present, not the consolation prize.