Acquiring any player, whether it’s via trade, free agency, or the draft, comes with an air of uncertainty. The NBA has no guaranteed covenant and all sales are final, no matter how talented, proven, or productive the player may have been in year’s past.
But these memories—especially recent ones—often clouds the judgment of a fan who thinks of players as actual puzzle pieces as opposed to emotional human beings. We might have a good idea how a player will respond to his new surroundings, but we’re never 100% sure. No matter who we’re talking about.
When Jason Terry signed with the Boston Celtics, most (including myself) thought they were getting the second best offensive player from the 2011 NBA champions. Someone who knew what it took to defeat the Miami Heat, and a player who could knock down a PUJIT (pull up jumper in transition) with the consistency of a functioning automatic car window.
The narrative behind the signing immediately made Terry “Ray Allen’s replacement,” which was half true. The similarities were on par with the differences, but while Terry wasn’t as prolific as Allen from behind the arc, his addition projected to add a brand new dimension to Boston’s offense.
Terry could set up a pick-and-roll. He could pull up off the dribble. He could catch and shoot from almost anywhere on the floor with a legitimate chance of seeing the ball go in. He could attack in the mid-range and be (somewhat of) a threat below the foul line.
Unfortunately, the previous paragraph is written entirely in past tense because over the course of 79 regular season games then six in the playoffs, none of its sentences could be used to accurately describe what Jason Terry brought to Boston this season.
Let’s paint the picture by comparing how Terry scored the ball in his last season with Dallas with his first season in Boston. For starters, his independent action was drastically altered. On the Mavericks, 49.9% of Terry’s made shots were unassisted. Last season that number dropped to 23.1% (for those wondering if having a ball-dominant point guard like Rajon Rondo was the culprit for this drop, 28.2% of Terry’s shots were unassisted after the All-Star break, long after Rondo hurt his knee). Terry was a player who needed the ball in his hands to succeed, yet having the ball in his hands for any purpose other than to shoot didn’t happen nearly enough this season.
Age and natural decline surely did their part in Terry’s overall declining numbers, but he wasn’t the same player in part because he wasn’t used the same way. Last year with Dallas, 25.8% of Terry’s offense was from pick-and-roll action, with 25% coming from spot-up shots and just 7.7% coming with him running off a screen, according to Synergy Sports. On paper the fit was there for Boston to replicate some of the pick-and-roll action that Terry had so much success with in Dallas. There, Dirk Nowitzki was a major factor, with defenses choosing to stay home on the big German for fear of giving up a wide open shot after a hook pass.
Once he signed with Boston the thinking was that Terry could just do the same thing with either Kevin Garnett or Brandon Bass, two forwards who hardly ever miss wide open shots from the mid-range.
But for whatever reason that never happened. For the season, only 14.8% of Terry’s offense came as the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports. Spot-up shots were the bulk of how he found himself engaged in Boston’s offense, as they took up nearly a third of his production (30.8%); Terry found 18.4% of his offense resulting from running off screens, which wasn’t ever something he specialized in.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is this: not all the blame should be placed on Terry and Terry alone for his disappointing season. Boston’s coaching staff didn’t place him often enough in places that emphasize his strengths. Which begs to ask why did they sign him in the first place? Was the plan all along to simply pretend Terry could just plug right in where Allen left and the offense wouldn’t look any different? (Doubtful, since Boston’s offense was grotesque for the past three years.)
Is it that Terry (now 35 years old and a 14-year NBA veteran) is simply incapable of doing things he once was able to do? Does Doc Rivers believe he’s too slow to turn the corner on a screen-and-roll? Too predictable in his old age to do anything but pull up immediately upon seeing a sliver of space to shoot?
Overall, Terry’s work in the pick-and-roll was horrible in the limited opportunities he had. He turned it over nearly 20% of the time and shot less than 38%. Most of his attempts were forced early in the shot clock, rarely the result of a secondary action or design.
Did Terry fail this season because he never had a chance to show off what’s left in the tank? Or is the tank just empty? The Celtics will try their hardest to move him this offseason, but it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which they pull it off. Anyone looking to acquire him already has a fair idea on what it is they’d be getting. And it isn’t pretty.
Final Grade: C-