At the time, Boston’s backcourt depth was a gigantic question mark, and acquiring at least one consistent offensive contributor for the bench was a No. 1 priority. A good-sized offer had (supposedly) been placed at Ray Allen’s feet—he’d yet to sign with the Heat—but Boston’s decision to go hard after Terry all but murdered the possibility of the three-point king extending his tenure.
The Celtics may have had an offer out to Allen, but Terry was clearly their guy. Why? Boston’s offense has been awful going on three years in a row. Part of the problem was an obvious lack of individual playmakers who could create off the dribble with the shot clock winding down. They needed freelance specialists who could pack a punch off the bench.
With Avery Bradley yet to have the experience/confidence needed to fill this role (not to mention the question mark surrounding his surgically repaired shoulders) the Celtics knew that in order to get past the Miami Heat, they’d need to acquire another scorer in the backcourt.
If Allen and Terry were placed in a Venn diagram, more characteristics would overlap in the middle than fall on the periphery. Both are dead-eye three-point shooters, both are in their mid-30s and both play the same position.
Boston needed someone who could put the ball on the floor, create mid-range opportunities for both himself and others, and swallow his ego by thriving off the bench.
At this stage in his career, Allen wasn’t the answer. His ability to produce was mostly a byproduct of four floor mates working hard to get him open, and according to Basketball Prospectus, his usage rate dropped below league average last season for the first time in his career. In a nut shell, he was more a hindrance than a resolution.
Call it evolution or devolution, but in the latter stages of Allen’s tenure with Boston, he increasingly grew one-dimensional, defined by an ability to catch and shoot the ball, with 35.7 percent of his production coming off screens last season. Putting the ball on the floor was extremely rare. Instead, coming off screens was a huge part of his game, and a scoring solution that lingered a bit too long—given the alternative options supplied by an improving Rajon Rondo—for the Celtics.
On the other hand, on paper, Jason Terry was a perfect fit. But basketball isn’t a sport that’s played on paper. Let’s take a look at how Boston is using Terry so far, and how it’s compared to what they used to do with Allen.
So far this season, 23.6 percent of Terry’s production has been off screens, where he’s averaging 0.96 points per possession (second best in the league).
Last season with the Mavericks, only 7.7 percent of Terry’s production was off screens. There are two possible conclusions to take away from this increase: Either the Celtics are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, or the more likely reason, they’ve decided having the ball in Rondo’s hands as much as possible gives them the best chance to win.
Terry ran the pick-and-roll a ton in Dallas. He was really good at it, but that was more a product of contextual necessity than anything else. A 26-year-old Rajon Rondo is by far the best point guard he’s ever played with, and it might be better in this situation if Terry sacrifices some of his own strengths to best fit in with Boston’s current dynamic.
Here's Ray Allen running the play that made him so successful in Boston. He begins in a crowd, then forces his man to shoot the gap on Kevin Garnett's away screen. The result is a wide open three-pointer.
And here's the Celtics running basically the exact same thing with Terry on the other side of the court. The major difference here is that instead of a three from the wing, Terry's shot is a 16-footer from the baseline. Still, it's the same concept, right down to the defender helplessly trying to shoot the gap on a Garnett screen.
Those two plays are great examples of how the Celtics are using Jason Terry in similar situations with how they used Ray Allen. However, while Allen owns the better shot, Terry has the ability to make the most out of spilt milk.
What I mean by that is Doc Rivers probably feels a little more comfortable designing sets for Terry knowing that, if all hell breaks loose and the play’s shape falls apart, the Celtics can still get a decent look at the hoop.
Here's a play designed to have Terry curl off a pick and find a good look at the basket. The only problem is that after running through a gauntlet of well-placed screens, he finds himself face to face with Joakim Noah, one of the league's most active, intimidating defenders.
If this were Allen, Noah's size would take away the shot, and the ball would be reversed back to Rondo with six seconds left on the shot clock. The set would be thwarted, and the possession would be chalked up as an ugly waste.
Because Terry is a superior ball-handler, he doesn't panic, instead creating space with a step back jumper that fakes Noah out of his shoes. This play exemplifies why Terry is both a better fit in Boston and a more lethal offensive weapon.
What everybody's still waiting for, though, is an unstoppable pick-and-roll, a play Terry should be able to run flawlessly with either Garnett or Brandon Bass.
In the clip above, Terry actually uses a stagger screen to get all the way to the hoop. Would it surprise you if I said this was the only time all season he's finished at the hoop in a pick-and-roll situation? Getting all the way to the rim on a regular basis would be asking too much, and at his age it isn’t really what Terry does anymore. But there should still be more action created off this set with the ball in his hands.
It's the biggest difference between him and Ray Allen. Isn’t that why the Celtics signed Terry in the first place?
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