Celtics guard Terry Rozier has gone from playing 20+ minutes per game to receiving two consecutive DNP’s due to a coach’s decision. Why is he stuck on the bench and how can he regain playing time?
It has been nothing short of a whirlwind second season for Boston Celtics reserve point guard Terry Rozier. The Louisville product entered the season touted as the unquestionable backup to Isaiah Thomas in the rotation of head coach Brad Stevens, following a scintillating Summer League showing. His play during training camp was lauded by teammates and coaches alike, and he kicked off the season by following suit with a handful of impressive performances.
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His 11 points in 22 minutes on November 12 led the Celtics to a 105-99 win over the Pacers, and he followed that up by scoring 12 fourth-quarter points to pilot Boston to a come-from-behind victory over the Timberwolves nine days later. His minutes per game hovered around 20 throughout November, and when Thomas was forced to sit out four games with a groin injury from December 9-December 14, Rozier averaged 26.25 minutes per game.
Once Thomas returned to the lineup, however, Rozier’s confidence seemed to deteriorate. In a December 16 win over the Hornets in which he played 16 minutes, Rozier posted twice as many turnovers (two) as assists (one). This harrowing trend continued, as in the four games immediately following Thomas’ returned, Rozier’s assist-to-turnover ratio was just 1:1. Coincidentally, the Celtics emerged victorious in all four of those matchups with Rozier playing just seven minutes in wins over the Grizzlies and Pacers. Rozier was effective (two points, two assists, and three rebounds) in limited minutes in a loss to the Thunder last Friday, but has not been able to see floor time over the course of the Celtics last two outings.
Rozier’s significantly high total rebounding percentage from a season ago (10.8 percent) has remained steady at 9.8 percent, and his 16.9 percent defensive rebounding percentage is substantial for a point guard of his stature and an improvement on last year’s mark. Rozier’s turnover average per 36 has decreased in half from 2.2 to 1.1, his steals average per 100 possessions has been bumped from 0.9 to 1.7, his offensive rating has increased from 81 to 101, and his points per 100 possessions average has ballooned from 11.3 in 2015-16 to 16.4 this year.
If Rozier has upped his numbers in so many statistical categories, then why is his playing time plummeting? The fact of the matter is that his performance in a few major areas has been subpar compared to what Boston expected from him. Based on his eye-opening Summer League campaign, many fostered the expectation that Rozier would develop as a playmaker this season with the ability to penetrate and create for his teammates. This has not come to fruition, as Rozier’s assist rate per 100 possessions has fallen from from 5.8 in 2015-16 to 5.1 this season. By comparison, fellow reserve point guard Marcus Smart is averaging 7.3 assists per 100 possessions this season, well over his 2015-16 rate of 5.4.
The Celtics also witnessed the blossoming of Rozier’s shooting stroke in Summer League play and expected this to translate to the regular season. This has not been the case, as Rozier is shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from three-point range despite receiving 5.9 field goal attempts per game in comparison to 2.7 shot attempts per game last season. Rozier’s horrific December shooting numbers have had a considerable impact on these percentages. After shooting a stellar 43 percent from the field in November, including a superb 40 percent mark from deep, Rozier has seen these numbers plummet to 30.9 percent from the field and a stunningly low 19.2 percent from beyond the arc this month. These numbers are especially discouraging considering that Rozier is averaging an increase of 1.5 shot attempts per game in December in contrast to November. This has resulted in a decrease in points from 6.5 per outing in November to just 5.2 in December although he is receiving an average of only 1.2 fewer minutes per game.
Another key factor facilitating Rozier’s drop from the rotation has resulted from his decrease in effectiveness on the boards. A hallmark of Rozier’s game, one that commanded Stevens’ respect, is his effort on the glass. In December, the dedication to rebounding that Rozier showcased throughout his first season has been absent. His per-game defensive rebounding average has fallen from 3.1 in November to 2.3 this month while his overall rebounding average has slid from 3.5 to 2.8. Boston is deprived of effective rebounders, ranking 27th in the NBA in rebounding differential. If Rozier wishes to regain his standing in Stevens’ rotation, he must recover his knack for the boards.