Terry Rozier hit the water. He submerged himself into the pool, fully clad in a specially selected suit. The temperature could have been ice cold or scorching hot – he doesn’t recall. His drenched body was numb to it, filled with too much excitement to feel anything in that moment.
The celebratory plunge in front of an exuberant crowd at a private party for family and friends on Draft Night was the culmination of 21 years of working hard and chasing dreams. Life was about to change for the hard-nosed guard from Ohio.
Then again, Rozier’s life has always been about change.
A Change in Home
The streets were filled with kids looking for a pickup football or basketball game to get involved with outside. Rozier was one of the more active children. He participated in any sport he could get his hands on and took on new ones to avoid having an offseason.
Inside his two-story Youngstown home, the scene was just as busy. His mother had friends and relatives over on a regular basis, each visitor was a welcomed face to Rozier. He enjoyed having people around.
“Somebody new would come every day and you’d look forward to it,” he told Basketball Insiders during a sit-down interview.
Rozier liked to be active and on the go. But around the age of six, it went from preferential to mandatory. His father was arrested, sparking a backlash that put Rozier in jeopardy.
“When my dad first got out, I moved with him and was living with him. I was having the time of my life,” Rozier recounted. “We’d put on the gloves, he had me running with weight vests, it was a lot of fun just to be with my dad. He had got in trouble, charged with murder and kidnapping, and there were some guys that couldn’t get a hold of him because he was locked up. The word on the street was, they were going to come after me.”
As a result, Rozier was forced to move from his mother’s house to live with his grandmother in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. He didn’t want to leave.
“I couldn’t even accept it at first,” he said. “There was so much of me wanting to me be with my mom. My grandmother, we still talk about it to this day, how we didn’t really click at first, it was crazy. But I love that woman.”
Rozier was a tireless child. His grandmother brought him to the park to release his energy. New to the neighborhood, Rozier tried to get acclimated with his surroundings. He discovered there were other kids who shared a similar love of playing sports. They bonded over the commonality.
“That’s when I started to find myself,” he said. “At first it was, ‘Why is she taking me here?’ Then it was, ‘I can’t wait to go back.’ I loved the park. That’s basically where I grew up.”
A Change in Basketball Plans
Rozier started playing organized basketball around sixth or seventh grade. He modeled his game after Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade. At first he didn’t shoot the ball much – he had a flair for crossovers and passing. Even though football was his first love, he began to draw more attention for his skills on the court. Once he joined an AAU basketball team, he chose that sport over football.
Rozier rose in the ranks to become the top player in the Cleveland area. He was recruited to play college basketball at the University of Louisville. Rozier clicked with head coach Rick Pitino from the time Pitino had watched one of Rozier’s high school games.
“I respected him since day one,” said Rozier. “I like a guy who won’t sugarcoat anything and will be honest with me. That’s the kind of guy he is. He has his times when he’s uptight a little bit, but I love that man.”
Rozier’s sights were set on college, but those plans were altered when he found out he had to improve his academics. He was frustrated to learn a summer course he had been taking to increase his grades didn’t count for credit. Instead, he had to attend prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.
The time at Hargrave during the 2012-13 season was a crash course in discipline. Rozier woke up every day at 6 a.m. The noise of horns blaring and staff members knocking on his door became familiar sounds. Some days they took away his phone, a temporary disconnect from the outside world.
Rozier used the time to think and read. He reflected on being a teenager back home with all the freedom in the world, texting his friends whenever he wanted and seeing them as he pleased. At Hargrave, he had to make new friends and maximize the situation he didn’t expect to find himself in. Rozier averaged 29.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists that season, highlighted by scoring 68 points in a double overtime win.
“Once I couldn’t go to college and I heard the worst news of my life that I had to go to prep school, it turned out to be the best thing for me,” Rozier said. “I’m off in a military school. I had days when I’d cry, it was the worst. It was something you’re not used to. But I actually found myself. I got stronger, I started getting the confidence that I was really good at this game.”
A Change in His Body
In between Hargrave and Louisville, Rozier changed up his training regimen. He enrolled in Crossfit. For two months, he pushed his body to the limits. Eventually he excelled so much he was breaking records and other athletes there were encouraging him to become a Crossfit competitor.
Thousands of pushups, pullups, situps and burpees later – as well as countless hours of being screamed at by his trainer, Gina, to keep grinding – Rozier underwent a mental and physical transformation as he prepared for his first season in college.
“I liked it, I was seeing progress from my body,” Rozier said. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t wait for that feeling to go away. But once it went away, I kept doing it. I stopped being sore and you could see the results. People were saying you look bigger and you just love to hear that, I couldn’t wait to get back in the gym.
“Crossfit tests your mental toughness because no workout was over 30 minutes so you had to fight through it and get to the next one. That, Louisville, things that happened when I was young, all adds up to my mental toughness. That’s why I can run after a hard workout. We had to do a three-minute run with all the guards, I’m training to do things like that so I can fight. I can tell my legs, ‘You can push through this.’”
A Change in the Public Perception
Rozier played two seasons for Louisville and declared for the 2015 Draft. He left school averaging 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a sophomore, and believed he was ready to become an NBA point guard. Others, however, didn’t have the same opinion.
Because Rozier played primarily off the ball in Louisville, there were critics who questioned his potential at the one spot.
“I know people say I can’t play point guard when I’ve been playing it all my life,” Rozier said at the NBA Draft Combine.
Rozier worked with trainer Cody Toppert at the Elev8 Sports Institute. Whereas he changed his body going into college, the 6’2 guard changed aspects of his game going into the league.
“We had to battle the perception that he was a volume shooter, only looking to score, not looking to pass, wasn’t great in the pick and roll, but who had all the physical attributes you’re looking for,” Toppert said. “Those are a lot of things to change in a short amount of time.”
Rozier was also critiqued for his shot. Toppert described Rozier’s shooting technique out of college as “kind of catapulting the ball.” They worked intensely on attaining the optimal 47.5 degree angle, analyzing the differences in such detail that a matter of two degrees made a major impact, focusing on where his elbow finished on the release.
Toppert also resonated the importance of running the floor. Since the role wasn’t solely on Rozier’s shoulders at Louisville, Toppert noticed Rozier often was the inbounder. Going into five-on-fives at the Draft Combine, Toppert told Rozier he had to the be the player who dribbled the ball past halfcourt, unless they were in transition. By being more demanding of the ball, Rozier was able to show himself more as a point guard.
During the draft process Rozier worked out with 16 teams, including twice with the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs. He participated in a Pro Day toward the end of his workout schedule. Even though he had shown most of the teams what he had to offer at that point, he was hard on himself for what he considered a poor offensive performance. He insisted on spending at least another hour putting up more shots while the activities wrapped.
“He’s a blackout worker and he’s so dedicated to his craft that those changes were easy,” said Toppert.
A Change in Leadership
The role of a point guard is to be the floor general. In addition to ball handling, they are tasked with communication and vocal leadership. The non-basketball aspect of the position was a new challenge for Rozier.
“I definitely feel like Terry can be a great leader, but he’s never had to be in that situation before,” former college teammate-Houston Rockets rookie Montrezl Harrell said. “It’s something he’s going to have to learn, but I think he definitely has a chance to be great at it.”
With every aspect of a player’s game under a microscope during pre-draft workouts, Rozier’s verbal leadership was a talking point during the process. Rozier recalled a conversation he had with Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge about it during a visit with the team.
‘He said, ‘I’ve been around the game for a long time – how Jason Kidd was, how Larry Bird was, as far as they don’t talk on the floor that much, but you might have a lot of stuff built up inside of you, but it works well for you because you take it out on the court,’” Rozier recalled. “He was like, ‘Some people probably wonder why they can’t get through to you, why you don’t talk enough.’ He was right on the money.”
This emphasis has continued throughout Rozier’s training. Toppert implored him to become a vocal mainstay, talk consistently and adopt the communication style E.L.O. — early, loud, often. Even though Rozier’s style is leading by example, it is important for him to work in leading with his words as well.
“Terry is a great guy, nice guy and because of that sometimes he was non-verbal in his communication with his teammates at Louisville and even early on in the draft process,” said Toppert. “That was something he really had a big improvement on. He did a great job at coming out of his shell.”
A Change in Life
Rozier was one of the surprises of the 2015 NBA Draft, skyrocketing up the boards to go 16th to the Celtics.
From standout sophomore to eager rookie, Rozier now finds himself in a position to learn from his teammates rather than being a go-to. He is approaching his first season with a balance of soaking up proven basketball knowledge and fulfilling his role as a contributor.
“Terry’s unbelievable,” said Marcus Smart. “He’s a quick learner and really coachable. … He has an ability to create for himself and others. Most rookies don’t come in with that type of motor. He’s really aggressive getting to the rim and making plays.”
Off the court, the irony is Rozier isn’t much different at all. He is still the ambitious kid from Ohio, the one who visited his former school after being drafted and remembers where he came from, a motivating factor in why he wants to keep moving forward.
“I’ve seen too much (failure), “he said, “You want to be the reason why your family smiles. You want to change up everything.”
In the midst of the Draft Night festivities, as Rozier stood dripping from a poolside celebration, his cousin told him, “Nobody makes it out of Youngstown.” Rozier did. Even though he had changed his location and many aspects of his game along the way, there was one thing he refused to alter.
“I’ve been motivated since I was young and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop,” Rozier said. “That’s what I learned to get me through and get me to this point, so why change?”
NBA Daily: Jarrett Culver Ready For Point Guard Duties
Many instinctively see Jarrett Culver as a forward, maybe a shooting guard, but the Minnesota Timberwolves hope he can be their point guard for years to come.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for the sixth pick on draft night, the immediate assumption was that they were targeting Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. Minnesota rostered one point guard at the time, and Jeff Teague is on an expiring deal. When the Cleveland Cavaliers stayed put at No. 5 and took Garland, many wondered if the Timberwolves had missed their mark in gauging the market.
As the offseason progressed, though, it seemed as if Minnesota may have found its point guard in the draft after all in Jarrett Culver, even though he played primarily at small or power forward when it mattered most for Texas Tech last year.
In the Raiders’ last five games, the crux of their run to the NCAA title game, Culver spent 48 percent of the team’s minutes at power forward and 23 percent at small forward, per kenpom.com. He served as the point guard only 12 percent of the time.
Yet, for the season Culver led Texas Tech in assist rate at 26.1 percent. Even if his draft profile listed Culver as a small forward, distributing and handling the ball was a key part of his skill set.
“I’ve played point guard, shooting guard, going back-and-forth between both all my life,” Culver said two weeks ago at the Timberwolves’ Media Day. “Just being comfortable, having confidence playing those positions, I feel like I’ll do well.”
And Minnesota will need him to. Though Teague may feel revitalized, both in health and through an organizational shift, he cannot carry the ball-handling duties alone. The only other true point guard on the roster is Shabazz Napier and, setting aside the ironic circumstances of his arrival — a pursuit itself arguably set in motion by the Cavaliers grabbing Garland and a transaction necessitated by the Timberwolves’ miss of free agent D’Angelo Russell — Napier is not the point guard of the future that Minnesota needs.
That coming vacuum could be Culver’s to fill, and it may also be his quickest route to consistent playing time. Working anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, he will have to compete for minutes with Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and the like. At point guard, though, there may be no one established standing in Culver’s way beyond this season.
“They for sure want me to handle the ball some and be able to play that position,” Culver said. “I’ll have to take that position and learn from Jeff Teague and some of the other guys in the league and grow into that position, and do what I have to do to be the best point guard and shooting guard I can be.”
Albeit in exhibition games, Culver has already shown glimpses of those point guard abilities. While scoring 17 points against the Golden State Warriors, he added three assists. On Sunday, he notched four assists in a 131-101 victory against Maccabi Haifa, his first action in front of fans in Minneapolis.
OKAY. Jarrett Culver showing off some playmaking here in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/CjVslZ4VGt
— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) October 14, 2019
Culver growing into a distributor’s role would allow Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders to lean into his preferred switching defensive scheme. At 6-foot-5, Culver might be big for a point guard, but he could unlock a prospective small-ball lineup, with his 6-foot-9 wingspan adding needed length. More traditional point guards might not inherently take away from that thought, although Napier is only 6-foot-1, but Culver’s positional versatility should outright enhance Saunders’ defensive plans.
Those schemes are a piece of a broader approach by the franchise to change nearly everything they do. In doing so, the idea is to get on the same page across the board. Make no mistake about it: The rookie got the memo.
“I feel like the culture is changing a little bit,” Culver said. “I feel like everybody here wants to win, from [president Gersson Rosas] to coach [Saunders] to everybody to all the players putting in the work. I’m ready to get started, I’m very competitive, so I’m excited to get out there and try to win games.”
When Minnesota opens its season in nine days, the hype around Culver will likely view him as a forward, but his future in pushing their culture toward wins may come at point guard, creating not only for others but himself as well.
NBA Daily: The Knicks’ Point-Forward-In-Waiting
As the regular season inches closer, Drew Mays makes the case for the New York Knicks to play Julius Randle at point guard.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The New York Knicks struck out in free agency.
New York’s hopes were high again this summer – and again they were let down. Kevin Durant twisted the knife in the wound last week:
“I didn’t really do any deep, full analysis on the Knicks.” Then, even worse, continued and delivered the knockout blow: “It’s like the cool thing right now is not the Knicks.”
Some of the media’s opining that New York could land Durant or Irving or another star wound up as empty speculation — thus, the fanbase and their clamoring for stars will continue.
What made the Knicks’ offseason all the more puzzling wasn’t that they didn’t land a star, it was who they acquired in the aftermath. It’s a strong collection of veterans that don’t inspire any future promises — but they do, in a weird way, give New York a slight chance of relevancy now.
While the NBA zigs to small ball, the Knicks zagged, albeit not in a way that raises hope, like the moves in Philadelphia.
But for the first time in a handful of years, New York has something here, that’s for sure. And the way to best maximize whatever this new-look squad has is to play Julius Randle at point guard.
The point guard battle in New York is currently comprised of three players: Elfrid Payton, the non-frontcourt addition to the New York roster, Dennis Smith Jr., the still-intriguing 21-year-old, and Frank Ntilikina, the much-criticized 21-year-old.
Payton is a middling player who has been more placeholder than foundation over the last few seasons. His inability to shoot — a career 30 percent three-point shooter on 1.7 attempts per 36 minutes — is a large part of that; however, he’s maintained a steady 8.0 assists per 36 minutes over his career. That’s impressive, especially considering the teams of which he’s been part.
Smith and Ntilikina are uber-talented, but equally as inconsistent. The former was sent to the Knicks after overstaying his welcome in Dallas, while the latter may be overstaying his welcome in New York, an encouraging FIBA performance notwithstanding.
Playing Randle at point mitigates many of these issues. Payton’s lack of jumper inhibits his game; Randle, a 250-pound bowling ball, doesn’t need a jump shot to be a capable scorer. Defenses can’t sag off of him as they can Payton – standing off only gives him a running start. Randle going downhill can spin into layups and bully into half-hooks and scoop shots. He’s even flashed Draymond Green’s four-on-three playmaking ability in spurts. Better, his floater is too good for defenders to wait for his arrival.
More importantly, Randle as a playmaker lowers pressure on both Smith and Ntilikina. Point guard is the most competitive and toughest position to learn in the NBA — that in itself is a reason for Smith and Ntilikina’s struggles. With Randle shouldering more ballhandling responsibility, the two have less to worry about. Before the Porzingis trade, the fit of Smith next to Doncic in Dallas was intriguing because it allowed Smith to use his athleticism and aggressiveness off the ball. Randle as a ballhandler reaches the same goals.
Ntilikina now ideally owns an improved jumper – his looks will be easier and the up-and-comer can be more prepared for them when he isn’t worried about actually playing point guard.
Both of these positives also hold true for The Great New York Hope, R.J. Barrett. Barrett is a skilled offensive player, a scorer who played point guard out of necessity at times for Duke last year. Extremely talented, he struggled with turnovers, forcing plays that weren’t there and shooting when he should’ve passed.
What helps all of those things? That’s right: Offloading playmaking responsibility onto Randle. Barrett can then develop his passing ability as he maintains his one-track scoring mentality without torpedoing the offense. As the Knicks’ most significant perimeter threat, he’s likely to have a huge role with the ball anyway — so why not make it easier on him?
Perhaps the two most commanding reasons for inserting Randle at the point are that he’s New York’s best player and they have nothing to lose.
Ideally, if you’re striving for wins and not ping-pong balls, your best player should spend the most time with the ball. Randle is the Knicks’ best player and the only surefire guy that would log minutes on a competitive team. Every bit of usage that head coach David Fizdale gets out of Randle over Ignas Brazdeikis is a good thing.
It would also cause matchup problems for opposing defenses, without having to alter expected rotations – all three of the guards in the point guard battle will get minutes, so Randle doesn’t even have to play the position full-time. Randle and Payton in the backcourt would force opposing teams to contemplate matching size; Randle with Ntilikina would give the Knicks a chance defensively, whereas Randle and Smith could be surrounded with whatever the best shooting lineup ends up being to mask inequities.
Really, the 2019-20 version of the Knicks may be best served by playing a throwback style. Marcus Morris was suspended after one preseason game for hitting Washington’s Justin Anderson in the head with the basketball. The bully-ball approach Morris advocates would muck up the game and give the less-talented Knicks more chances to win. Of course, these methods are also more apt to succeed with bigger lineups — obviously, bigger lineups will naturally surface if Randle is playing the point.
Over 311 career games, Randle has averaged 3.4 assists per 36 minutes. But per Cleaning the Glass, his assist percentage has been in the 85th percentile or better over three of his four seasons. Those assist numbers were affected by playing with the Kobe farewell tour, D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Lonzo Ball in Los Angeles and Jrue Holiday in New Orleans.
He’s never had the chance to make plays on a consistent, full-time basis. The opportunity is there now.
On a randomly-constructed and weirdly-passable Knicks team, why not see what he can do?
The Curious Case Of Andrew Wiggins
The path to becoming a superstar took a wrong turn two years ago for top pick Andrew Wiggins. With stability and a new regime in Minnesota, it will be up to him to get the train back on the tracks this season. Chad Smith writes.
Being a number one overall draft pick in the NBA instantly puts a target on your back. Expectations come with that as well, fair or not. Andrew Wiggins has had a roller coaster ride since being taken with the top pick in the 2014 draft. After three years of promise, he has tapered off in each of the last two seasons. The make or break cliché is used too often, but this will definitely be a defining season for the Canadian.
Wiggins has played exactly 400 games in his NBA career. He has played all of them with the Timberwolves, who traded the face of their franchise to acquire the promising young talent. Wiggins has managed to stay healthy throughout his career. Through his first four seasons, he only missed one game. Last year he played 73 for Minnesota, who failed to reach the playoffs after a disastrous season that included trading Jimmy Butler.
Butler left a lot of money on the table to leave Minnesota – largely due to the lack of improvement from Wiggins.
For all of his physical tools and salivating upside, Wiggins has failed to significantly improve as a player. His scoring averages did improve in his first three seasons, going from 16.9 to 20.7 to 23.6 points per game. The following year it dipped to 17.7 and 18.1 per contest. His per-game averages in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks have all plateaued.
From the foul line, Wiggins shot 76 percent in each of his first three seasons, but dropped to 64.3 and 69.9 percent in the last two years. His shooting efficiency numbers across the board have been declining as well. The progression clearly has not been there, and you don’t even need the actual numbers to see it.
If you do need the numbers, they are not flattering. His 0.6 win shares last season ranked him 350th among 530 eligible players. Per 48 numbers were even worse as his 0.005 win shares were the third-worst in the league (minimum 2,000 minutes played). The Wolves finished 11th in the conference last season. Improving upon that will prove to be difficult given the stiff competition in the Western Conference.
The five-year, $147 million maximum extension that Wiggins signed two years ago was questionable at the time and appears even more detrimental now. Gersson Rosas is the new president of basketball operations in Minnesota, and it is not clear what his intentions with Wiggins are. Trading the former Rookie of the Year is one option, but it will not be an easy one. If he can show some true progression in his game, Wiggins could fit nicely alongside superstar Karl-Anthony Towns.
Under former coach Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves appeared to underutilize the services of Towns. He also tended to play his starters heavy minutes. Wiggins averaged nearly 37 minutes per game under his system. Those numbers came down dramatically towards the tail end of last season under new head coach Ryan Saunders. His career average still sits at 36 minutes per contest. The only other active players with a higher minute per game average are LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard.
During Media Day, Andrew said that he felt as though he was on the rise three years into his career, before “some changes were made” that seemed to derail his trajectory. Wiggins went on to talk about Thib’s coaching style, and how the yelling didn’t change anything for him. He stated that he prefers a player’s coach that is “real” with him, like Saunders, the youngest coach in the league.
With Saunders cemented in place, the Wolves could find new and better ways to get the most out of Towns and Wiggins. Using more screening action, it could allow smaller defenders to switch onto Karl, or get a bigger defender on Andrew, allowing him to drive to the basket. That could open up opportunities on the wing for their solid group of role players.
A healthy Robert Covington and Josh Okogie will provide Minnesota with hope from the outside, an area where they have struggled heavily. New additions such as Jake Layman, Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh should fit right in as well. All eyes will be on rookie Jarrett Culver, whom the Wolves gave up assets (Dario Saric and the 11th pick) to acquire with the sixth pick in the draft.
Saunders will likely want to push the pace and score in transition this season. Minnesota was 14th in pace last season and had the 13th-ranked scoring offense. They have the players needed for that style of play and will now be able to play both small-ball and match up against bigger lineups.
Versatility will be a strength for them this season, but they must improve on their biggest weakness – defense.
The Wolves ranked 23rd in scoring defense last year, and 24th in overall defensive rating. Having Covington back will help in that area, but it needs to start with Towns and Wiggins. As leaders, both must show improvement on that end of the floor in order for the other guys to buy-in.
With a year of continuity and a more stable environment, Minnesota should still be an improved team from last season. Whether or not they are able to challenge for a playoff spot will likely be determined by the play of Wiggins. Andrew has the skillset to become a very good player, even if his ceiling is not as high as Karl’s. That being said, Andrew will turn 25 in February. The time is now for him to show improvement.
Aside from Jeff Teague’s 10 years of experience, only Covington and Gorgui Dieng have more experience than Wiggins. They each have just one more year than he does. So where exactly does he need to improve his game?
Shot selection and defense should be at the top of the list. Despite the decent scoring average, the more minutes he plays, the more shots he misses. In theory that makes sense, but there are a number of players (even his own teammates) that played more minutes and missed fewer shots. In all five seasons, Wiggins has ranked inside the top 20 in the league in missed field goals.
The defense is fairly straight forward. He has the ability to defend on the perimeter and even inside, but his desire and effort are not always there. Playing passing lanes more aggressively and being able to anticipate what comes next on a given play are two key areas to focus on.
Rebounding is another area that would really benefit the team if he is able to improve. His size and athleticism afford him great opportunities to crash the boards, especially when Towns is not on the floor. Obviously, everyone can improve their shooting, and while his three-point shot isn’t horrid, there is no excuse for him to shoot below 70 percent from the foul line. These are things that should have progressed much better entering your sixth year in the league.
Rosas has stated publicly that continuity and playing style under Saunders should make Wiggins one of the biggest beneficiaries this season.
For their sake and his own, here is to hoping he is right.