Celtics

Robb: Terry Rozier’s criticisms about the Celtics deflected from the real problem

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Celtics have had Terry Rozier’s back since Day 1 of his NBA career. Danny Ainge surprised the world by selecting Rozier with the 16th pick overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, far ahead of his projected spot in most mock drafts. The Celtics used four draft picks in 2015 and Rozier was the only one who panned out for Boston, to his credit, beating out the likes of R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey and Marcus Thornton (never played in NBA) for a meaningful role.

It was a slow start for the 6-foot-1 guard in his opening two seasons in Boston as he played behind a deep backcourt and struggled tremendously on the offensive end (32 percent shooting from the field, sub 30 percent shoot from 3-point range) while adjusting to the NBA game. However, Rozier’s athleticism was striking and he was a strong contributor out of the gate in other facets of the game (rebounding, defense, low turnover rate) which made him a useful playoff piece in Boston’s first two playoff appearances under Brad Stevens in 2016 and 2017.

Last season, Rozier had a very strong year off the bench and then performed above expectations in a starting point guard role once Irving went down. The Celtics went 11-5 in his regular starts with Irving sidelined as Rozier posted very solid per game averages (15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists) with those extended minutes, while shooting better from 3-point range (38.9 percent) than the field (38.1 percent).

The strong play (for him) continued (16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists) in the 2018 postseason even though Rozier’s shooting averages were rather pedestrian (40% FG, 35% 3-pt) compared to other guards. The way Rozier references his abilities and sacrifices makes it seem like he was putting up All-Star numbers. In reality, Rozier played well enough to be considered a potential starting point guard in the NBA.

Rozier overachieved like the rest of that squad in 2018 but he was also maybe the fourth- or fifth-most important contributor in that postseason run. The Celtics were still a better team with him off the floor in the regular season in 2017-18 and the team had just a +.6 net rating in the postseason when he did play (sixth on the team). For as good as he was against the Sixers (and their lack of true point guards) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he struggled just as much against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals (37% FG, 22% 3-pt) capped off by a horrific 2-of-14 performance in Game 7.

This all served as a backdrop to Rozier’s current season of ‘sacrifice’ and subpar play, along with his venting on several ESPN programs this week. I won’t rehash the specifics of those comments here but I felt like it was important to create an accurate backdrop for his career to date before making a few closing points about the 25-year-old guard who felt like taking subtle shots at the coaching staff, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward was warranted on the heels of an ugly 4-1 series loss to the Bucks. Some final thoughts on the matter:

1. The Celtics were upfront with Rozier since Day 1 this year about his role: It’s completely understandable why Rozier was frustrated in his role this season. You can’t fault any guy for wanting more opportunity on the heels of success and it’s fair to say the Celtics' front office miscalculated how much Rozier would be able to handle a normal bench role after last postseason (they probably would have traded him if they had a second chance to). However, Rozier always knew this was going to be the deal for the 2018-19 season. Of course an All-Star like Irving is going to get priority over him. For as good as Rozier was last postseason, he still came nowhere close to the numbers that Irving was putting up while healthy. The C’s were incredibly successful with Irving on the floor in 2017-18 so it’s hard to envision what Rozier was expecting to be different this time around with a top-20 NBA player coming back.

There was plenty of competition for minutes and opportunity on the rest of the roster and Rozier flat out was beaten out for those minutes in 2018-19 by guys like Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Yes, Hayward played more than he should have over Rozier and others at the beginning of the year but his track record earned him that right. For the second half of the season, Hayward outplayed Rozier anyway so there really wasn’t anyone on the Celtics roster that Rozier was losing minutes to without proper cause. If the fourth-year guard would have played better, he would have played more. If anything, Rozier was playing a lot more than he should have based on his own performance.

2. No one had Rozier’s back more during the 2018-19 season than the coaching staff: