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NBA Daily: Terry Rozier Continuing Growth In Charlotte

Terry Rozier wanted a starting job, and he got the contract to go along with it with the Charlotte Hornets. The Boston Celtics opted for an upgrade at the position, and the deal has worked out well for both sides. Chad Smith revisits the Kemba Walker trade from another angle.

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The writing was on the wall for Terry Rozier this past summer. His tenure with the Boston Celtics was coming to an end, as he was determined to find a new home where he could become a starting point guard. That destination worked out to be the Charlotte Hornets, who were finally ready to say goodbye to their franchise point guard Kemba Walker.

Rozier agreed to a three-year, $58 million sign-and-trade deal with the Hornets as free agency began. The headlines were understandably all about Kemba joining the Celtics’ core, but the Hornets have made out nicely in this deal so far.

After being drafted by the Celtics in 2015, Rozier quickly developed into a reliable rotation player, before taking on a larger role in his last two years there. The athletic guard guided the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018 as the starting point guard for all 19 playoff games. He averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals for the Celtics in the postseason.

The Hornets travel to Boston on Sunday, where Rozier played his first game since the deal and — despite an off night on the court — received a warm welcome.

Replacing the former face of the franchise was never about matching his production. Charlotte really wanted Rozier because his playing style was similar to that of Kemba’s and his valuable playoff experience. The Hornets have one of the youngest rosters in the league and “Scary Terry” has already appeared in 50 playoff games as he enters his fifth season.

That is not to say that Rozier’s production has been subpar by any means. Through 31 games this season, he is averaging 17 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Hornets. With the emergence of Devonte’ Graham and rookie PJ Washington, plus the continued development of guys like Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon, the pressure hasn’t been on him to produce at a high level.

Should Charlotte need Rozier to carry more of the load for this team, they certainly know that he is capable. Two years ago, he finished 12th in the league in scoring and earned third-team All-NBA honors. They have clearly transitioned to their young core, and having a 25-year old that already has so much experience is vital to the construction and development of this group.

While Graham has exploded onto the scene in Charlotte and Kemba is thriving in Boston, Rozier is quietly having a career year himself. His numbers are career-highs all across the board.

The scoring, rebounding, and assist numbers are great, but his efficiency is even better. His effective field goal percentage of 49.9 percent has helped the Hornets remain in the playoff hunt. His free-throw percentage is seven percent higher than his previous best, as he ranks inside the top 25 players in that category (minimum 50 attempts).

Oddly enough, the Hornets are one of the slowest paced teams (27th) in the NBA. Taking that into consideration, it makes their 24th-ranked defensive rating even tougher to swallow. With any young team though, these are areas where they will typically struggle. James Borrego is only in his second year as head coach, so things should improve over the course of the season.

Charlotte has won five of their last seven games, but three of those have come against Washington, Brooklyn, and Chicago. Their victory over the Kings was impressive, but they are coming off of a two-point loss in Cleveland, a nice bounceback against the Jazz at home and a lopsided defeat in Boston. Looking ahead, they have a tough slate heading into the New Year. They face Oklahoma City and a gritty Memphis team before they face the Celtics again on New Year’s Eve.

Within the first couple of weeks in January, they will face Dallas, Indiana, Toronto, Utah, Portland and Denver. Six of those first eight games in January will come on the road. These tough patches in the schedule can either make you or break you.

Rozier himself is coming out of a mini-slump in December. There was a six-game stretch where he shot just 23-for-85 (27 percent) from the floor. He hit rock bottom after shooting 1-for-12 in their loss at Indiana where he scored just three points. After those six games,though, Terry exploded for 35 points and 4 steals in Cleveland — where he hit seven three-pointers — and 29 points vs. the Jazz.

There were many people that believed Charlotte should have moved on from Kemba two years ago. Perhaps they would have landed a higher-caliber talent, or some highly-coveted draft picks. The return that they got this summer has not been disappointing at all. Forget about the contract, which isn’t a death sentence. Their new starting point guard ranks in the top 55 in scoring and the top 40 in assists.

Fans in Boston were chomping at the bit to shower Kyrie Irving with a wave of “boos” in his return to TD Garden. The welcome was much brighter for their other former point guard, who led them much further than the guy with all of the movies, commercials and shoe deals did.

File this trade away as one that worked out well for everyone involved.

Rozier got his starting role and the contract to go with it. Kemba is playing for a contender. Boston got a massive upgrade at point guard and Charlotte is trending in the right direction with a young and talented core.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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