By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- After splitting much of his rookie season between the D-League and being buried on the Boston bench, Terry Rozier is ready to have a lot more on his plate in his second season with the Celtics.
The guard was already primed for a drastic bump in playing time and that responsibilities that come with it, sliding into the role previously held by Evan Turner who brought his Swiss Army Knife-game to the Portland Trail Blazers over the summer. Those were some big shoes to fill for a player in just his second NBA season, but Rozier looked ready to take the challenge head on with impressive showings in Summer League action followed by a solid preseason.
Now with Marcus Smart sidelined with an ankle injury, Rozier's role will grow even more in the early parts of the season. In addition to leading the second unit, Rozier will be Brad Stevens' first guard off the bench, counted on to provide some dynamic defense to go along with his offensive output.
With less than a week until the regular season gets underway, it's a role that Rozier is ready for.
"Like everybody tells you, it's always an honor playing with Marcus because he gives you 100 percent effort on the offensive and defensive end. He makes up for a lot of people's mistakes. With him injured, I just have to be even more aggressive for the second unit," Rozier noted after Boston's preseason finale on Wednesday night.
Rozier finished the preseason slate averaging 9.6 points per contest on 54 percent shooting from the floor (hitting 27 of his 50 shot attempts) and 60 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in just over 17 minutes per game. Those percentages are a vast improvement from what he displayed during his limited time on the floor as a rookie, and the product of an offseason spent putting up countless shots from all over the floor.
"This summer I spent so many hours in the gym just working on my shot," said Rozier. "Now it feels like it's a flow. It's my job to make it because I work on it every day."
Stevens is confident Rozier can handle the load this season, even though it's gotten a bit heavier with Smart's injury.
"He's really, really improved as a shooter and scorer, and that's been something that he's worked hard on. So he's a grinder," Stevens said of his backup guard. "He works hard at the game and it's no surprise that he's having success. But we need him to, to be quite candid. We're going to rely on him."
Rozier got a taste of the pressure he's about to feel during the playoffs last season, as he stepped in for an injured Avery Bradley against the Hawks. He averaged nearly 20 minutes over five games (he did not play in Game 1) in Boston's series loss, averaging 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds over 20 minutes per game. He's a gifted rebounder for a player who stands at just 6-foot-2, given the fact he can nearly jump out of the gym, and has focused on improving his passing. This preseason, he turned the ball over just four times, finishing with 16 helpers in Boston's seven games.
"As a point guard, you have to take control and take care of the ball. Pick your shots and get everybody the ball," he said. "If you're not turning it over you make it better for everybody else. That's something I wanted to improve on too, just taking care of the ball and being smarter out there."
A big part of Rozier's success will depend on the player's confidence. That short stint in the Boston rotation during the playoffs and his expanded role in the preseason have fueled his swagger, and he admits the game has slowed down for him entering the new season.
"It's been really big [for my confidence] and now with the regular season coming up I want to continue it. No matter if I'm playing against the best or the worst, they're still going to play and I'm still going to play," he said. "I feel like I belong, so that's big."
Rozier sounds like a player ready to tackle whatever challenge is thrown at him, which is great news for Stevens and the Celtics. He not only has to fill the void left by the departure of Turner, but now has an even bigger role waiting for him with Smart sidelined for the start of the season.
The Boston bench remains one of their biggest question marks heading into the 2016-17 season, but if Rozier's ability to handle his expanded role can match his confidence heading in, the second unit will be in good hands.
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