Terry Rozier: his progression as a leader for the Charlotte Hornets

Terry Rozier did not want to fill the shoes of Kemba Walker. He quickly became frustrated by the constant chatter of him arriving into Charlotte to be the team’s saving grace after the departure of the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

“It’s annoying because I’m not him and I’m not looking to be him,” Rozier explained on Hornets media day back on September 30th. “I get it. He is Kemba. He did a lot for this organization. Leading scorer. That’s hard to replace. But I’m coming in, being me, and looking to push this organization in a different way.”

Rozier was looking forward to the opportunity. A fresh start where he could be himself and show the world the levels to which he could elevate his game and lead a team. We saw glimpses of this in the 2018 playoffs. The Hornets now gave him the opportunity to have a full-time role as a starter and leader of a team.

Embracing the Opportunity

Jumping from 18 minutes per game in Boston to north of 30 with Charlotte this year, it’s been quite the adjustment for Rozier, an adjustment he was craving. He was ready for it. Ready to ball.

Terry frequently responds to questions with the statement, “I’m just a ballplayer.” He’s not looking for the “extra stuff,” i.e. he doesn’t want to show out and be the guy who draws a lot of attention to himself. “I’m just different… I’m competitive as hell… I just wanna play ball.” 

So far this year for the Charlotte Hornets, Rozier has been playing at a high level, surpassing preseason expectations. Rozier signed a three-year/$58 million deal – one that many saw as an overpay – and has lived up to the contract so far. Rozier couldn’t care less about the outside noise regarding his contract. “I only care about the guys in this locker room and my loved ones at home,” Rozier said Monday.

He wants his game to speak for itself, and it has. In 34.2 minutes per game this season, Terry Rozier is averaging 18.3 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.2 steals. Rozier is also first in the NBA as a catch-and-shoot three-pointer shooter. He’s shooting 49 percent on 3.9 attempts per game, putting him atop of the NBA in that category.

Rozier has obviously progressed on the court as a player, but additionally as a leader – a role he had not stepped into during his first four NBA seasons. His Hornets’ teammates and coaches have been immensely impressed his development as a leader for this young Charlotte Hornets squad. It was not an overnight process, one he had to do through earning the trust of his team. 

Finding and adapting into his role

Just six weeks ago, James Borrego was explaining how he was “still trying to figure out” Terry Rozier’s role on the team. Devonte’ Graham came into the mix and was lighting the world on fire from three. It took a while for the two guards to mesh and coexist. But now it seems the two have figured it out. 

Rozier has settled into an off-ball role, letting Graham quarterback the offense while Rozier runs through screens, finding his spots on the floor to get his shots off. Terry is still getting his fair share of isolation possessions, but his primary role is off the ball at shooting guard – one he played in high school, college, and even with Boston, as Marcus Smart was often the second group’s main facilitator.

This season was not the first time Rozier has had to adapt to a new situation. Terry Rozier has previously talked several times about how through his entire life he’s been comfortable with adapting to numerously different situations, as opposed to those situations adapting to him. From his time at Louisville to Boston to where he is with the Hornets now, this has been true. With the Celtics, he went from Kyrie Irving’s backup to leading Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals, coining the nickname “Scary Terry.”

This season was just another test.

A test he’s passed with flying colors, and it’s illustrated his team-first mentality.

“I think it’s getting better (with me adapting to this team and my role),” Rozier said last Monday. “It’s not like I came in here to a crazy, crazy situation. I didn’t know what to expect, and I don’t have all the answers. But I’m willing to learn and make sure the guys at the top of this organization know that. And I’m not over here acting like I’m that guy acting all big and bad because I came from Boston. I’m still young, I’m still learning, and I think that helped and what’s put me in a great position because I keep learning. I’m not trying to put myself ahead of anybody. You know, I’m just trying to adapt, and I think it’s working.”

As you can tell, Terry is mature beyond his years. He has previously credited a share of that to his mentor in Boston, Isaiah Thomas. He possesses a team-first mentality and desires everyone in the Hornets’ organization to know that. His coach has caught on and acknowledges that Rozier is not just talking the talk. 

“(He’s handled it) very maturally,” James Borrego said last Monday. “He’s handled himself in a very mature way. Terry knows that he wants what’s best for this team. Sometimes you have to pivot and adjust on the fly, and he’s done that. He’s done it with grace and humility.”

Leadership comes with comfort

A new team, new teammates, new coaches, and a new city are all things new players have to adapt to. Rozier is comfortable now, almost at the midpoint of his first season, and it’s showing. But leading a team is not easy by any means. You have to get the trust of your teammates and coaches and put in the work.

Finding your role on a team comes with a sense of comfort. You can settle in and know what’s expected of you on a night-to-night basis.

Rozier has found that role, and it has allowed for him to focus more on being a leader for this team, knowing his role is concrete – playing off the ball – as an unbelievable spot-up shooter and secondary ballhandler/creator. 

“He would say he’s working to become a leader, and we need him to be,” James Borrego told The Painted Lines. “To do that, you have to vocalize out there on the floor. You have to speak to your teammates. That’s a part of leadership and I’m starting to see more and more of that. 

“I think now that he’s starting to feel more and more comfortable, settled, and understands his teammates, he has to take more of a leadership role out there. Part of that is just being more vocal in the game, calling out guys and making sure everybody’s in their spots.”

Cody Martin also echoed similar sentiments as his head coach. This Hornets team had so many new pieces this year from Terry to P.J. Washington to Cody himself, along with not having Kemba Walker. It was going to take some time to get in tune with each other.

“The biggest thing is us figuring out how to play with each other. Everyone has a different style of games, and we’re young. It feels like a whole different game sometimes,” Cody Martin told The Painted Lines. “I’m new, he’s [Terry] new, we’ve got different pieces trying to come together. It’s just Terry figuring out where he fits in because the offense is new too, so it’s just him figuring out where he fits in. A lot of it had to do with time with us playing more and more games together, and we have continued to get better as a team. It’s obvious how comfortable he is now.”

Terry: embracing a lead role

When you watch the Hornets play, especially in-person, you can see his interactions with teammates before the game, in timeouts, and in between possessions. It’s obvious that we are seeing the fruits of Terry’s labors in how he’s diligently worked to become one of the leaders for this team. He knows his team needs it, and he’s embracing it.

“I think we need it (my leadership), and I do it for myself and I do it for this organization. And I feel like me being more vocal and me being more of a leader and not getting caught up in myself helps everybody,” Rozier explained Monday. “Because I know when I’m playing good or bad, people are looking at me. I got to be that example. It’s been noticeable since I got here. I got to keep my head on straight and make sure I’m constantly setting that example for these guys.”

Authentic Leadership

His interactions with his teammates are very genuine, and it comes across that way. It has not been an easy process but one Terry has passed with shining colors. 

“Every time you come into a new situation, you don’t want to come out guns-a-blazing,” James Borrego said. “Some of it you have to understand the landscape, understand your teammates, understand your role, and I think he’s just in a much more comfortable place right now. As he’s become more comfortable, now he’s opened up more as a leader. He can hold guys accountable more. Also, holding himself accountable too, that’s a part of leadership. I think he’s been very patient.”

James Borrego has explained how comfortable Rozier is right now in his role and with his teammates. His teammates believe in him. He’s very genuine on the floor, and it comes across that way to his teammates, which allows him to expand as a leader for the Hornets. He even feeds off that leading energy.

“Personally, I get myself going when I’m talking to guys, and I get more dialed into the game, so I can get more into my game,” Rozier said. “I always have a clear mind. I’m not looking back, I’m always looking forward.”

A teammate’s perspective 

I’ve spoken to over a handful of Rozier’s teammates this week about this very same progression he’s made as a leader. They have all echoed similar views. It’s obvious to his teammates that he’s genuine, and like Nic Batum told TPL, that has allowed him to expand as a leader and he has become more and more comfortable doing so. 

“He’s a great person off the court and a great person on the court. He’s just continuing to grow as a leader,” Dwayne Bacon told The Painted Lines on Wednesday. “It’s his first time actually having his own team, and he’s embracing it… T-Ro (Terry Rozier) has been in a winning program in Boston, so he’s been in certain situations that we haven’t been in to help us all out when we get in spots like that. He’s been through a lot, and we just try to learn everything we can on the go from him.”

Rozier is not the loudest one in the room. His leadership style is a perfectly balanced act. 

“At first, I wouldn’t say he was quiet, but he’s not a leader that’s going to be yelling 24/7. That’s not him,” Cody Martin told The Painted Lines. “He says stuff when it needs to be said. He leads by example. Terry works hard and is making us better each time we go out on the floor. He just loves to compete and help us win games.”

There’s not any “fakeness” with Terry. This is who he is. He’s not scared. It has caught the eyes of his teammates including a vet, Nic Batum, who noticed it early.

“We saw a preview with him in the playoffs with Boston,” Nic Batum told The Painted Lines. “That next step from him was being more vocal… I’m not surprised by how far he’s come. He’s leading us. Terry’s not scared to get the ball at the end of the game and take big shots. He’s not scared to take those shots. He’s not scared of the moment. He wants it. That’s good. That’s what we need.”

Leading the young Hornets: a shared role with Devonte’ Graham

Terry Rozier is not the sole leader of the Charlotte Hornets. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the outbreak of second-year guard Devonte’ Graham. Averaging north of 19 points and 7 assists per game, Graham is one of the leaders for the NBA’s most improved player. The tag-team is averaging a combined 37.2 points per game. This team is Devonte’s and Terry’s. They share the responsibility as leaders. Terry can’t do it alone, and neither can Devonte’. 

“It’s a tag team between him and Devonte’ [Graham]. They both have to lead our group in different ways at different times. I think we’re in good hands with those two guys,” Borrego told The Painted Lines. “They care, they’re leaders, and they’re growing in their leadership, and I keep seeing examples of that throughout each of these games.”

As Dwayne Bacon explained, the Hornets are one of the three or four youngest teams in the NBA. Bake explained how they were so used to being led by so many vets (Kemba, amongst others) and how now the team is dominated with young talent. “We constantly have to learn on the go and stick to it. We just keep learning constantly.”

It’s much more difficult leading a young team as there is such a vast room for improvement, growing pains, and streaks of losses inevitably come with it. But as Dwayne Bacon told The Painted Lines, young teams are also a ton of fun.

“It’s definitely fun because we’re so young. We can relate to each other more, hang with each other more (off the court),” Bake told TPL. “I mean, you want a few vets come game-time just because they’ve been in certain situations.”

Batum has played with talented guards (Damian Lillard and Tony Parker) and is fully confident Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham can continue to lead this team past this year.

“With [Terry Rozier] and Devonte’ [Graham] being the lead guys, they have to be the ones to gather everyone together. I’ve been helping them out and telling them that throughout the year. I tell them to go play and lead them throughout the game. And they’ve been doing that, which is great to see.”