Celtics

Which version of Terry Rozier will emerge this postseason?

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Terry Rozier’s rookie season in 2015-16 had more than its share of bumps in the road. The surprise No. 16 overall pick in 2015 NBA Draft played in just 39 games but looked overmatched for the majority of them. He shot just 27 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point range, while barely averaging a free throw attempt per 36 minutes (1.2). There were signs of potential with his athleticism but they weren’t translating to the NBA level right away, a normal situation for plenty of late first round picks in their first NBA season. He was in and out of the rotation all season, playing just 39 games for a 48-win Celtics team.

Rozier was saddled at the end of the Celtics bench that year (right next to James Young and R.J. Hunter) before a first-round series started against the Atlanta Hawks but that changed quickly once Avery Bradley went down with a hamstring injury in Game 1. With Bradley out, the Celtics needed some backcourt depth to chase around the Hawks speedy guards and provide some shooting off the bench. Hunter and Rozier both got opportunities in Game 2 and 3, but it was quickly apparent that only one player was better equipped to handle playoff basketball on both ends: Rozier. The rookie shot a respectable 36.4 percent from 3 while playing 20 minutes per game, serving as one of the few bright spots in a 4-2 series loss to the far more talented Hawks.

That episode started a familiar trend for the first three years of Rozier’s career: Saving his best basketball of the season for the postseason. In year two, he played over Jaylen Brown for large chunks of series wins against the Bulls and Wizards, providing solid 3-point shooting, strong rebounding and low turnover play. Last season, he took more of a leading role in the offense in place of an injured Kyrie Irving and posted sensational assist-to-turnover and rebounding rates. He scored in double digits for 15 of his 19 games, which helped carry the C’s to the verge of the NBA Finals before a disastrous 0-of-10 3-point shooting night in Game 7. That play lifted his value in the eyes of Danny Ainge and ultimately resulted in him being kept in the summer when trade offers for him proved to be underwhelming, per league sources.

By and large, Rozier has been a net negative for the Celtics over the course of the 2018-19 regular season. He’s posting some of his worst shooting numbers since his rookie year and the Celtics have performed worse on both ends of the floor when he’s been out there. That combined with a crowded depth chart clearly has led to him pressing ahead of his free agency and the results have not been pretty. Yet, with Marcus Smart sidelined with an oblique tear for likely the first two postseason rounds, the question marks surrounding Rozier from his underwhelming regular season are getting pushed to the side. He’s going to get a chance to play a lot of minutes this postseason, out of necessity more than anything else, something the guard is very eager for.

“Obviously it’s tough, especially with a guy like Marcus, his presence and the way he changes the game,” Rozier said. “Obviously it’s tough seeing it but I feel like I’m more important to the series now, I’m more needed. Obviously, I’m going to have to step up. I’m gonna be ready for it.”

So what exactly does Rozier need to do to return to his valuable playoff roots? Let’s take a closer look at what differentiated his play in the last few postseasons and his path to that type of play against the Pacers.

Defense first