If Charlotte Hornets’ Terry Rozier keeps playing like this, it’s going to be scary

·4 min read

It was just after another one of his specialties — the four-point play — Friday night that Terry Rozier channeled his inner Michael Jordan.

Spread-eagled on the floor after being knocked to the ground on a foul, Rozier watched his three-point attempt spin through the net. Then he pulled a Jordan, sticking out his tongue, before getting up and making the free throw.

Rozier had 24 points and nine assists in Friday’s 121-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it’s no coincidence that his latest tear through the NBA has paralleled the Hornets going 7-1 in their past eight games.

Said Hornets coach James Borrego of Rozier: “He’s playing at a very high level…. He just looks so mature out there.”

Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) splits two Oklahoma City Thunder defenders on a drive during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Charlotte.
Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) splits two Oklahoma City Thunder defenders on a drive during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Charlotte.

While LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges garner most of the highlights and headlines for the Hornets, they have to have Rozier playing well to be an elite team. When “Scary Terry” is at his scariest, the Hornets have another closer who remains their most reliable fourth-quarter scoring option in tight games.

Lately, though, Rozier’s playmaking has come to the fore. He’s had his two highest assist totals of the season in back-to-back games — 10 against the New York Knicks Wednesday, followed by nine vs. the Thunder Friday. He also had his best plus-minus of the season vs. the Thunder at plus-24, taking over point guard for several significant stretches.

At 26-20, the Hornets remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference but are now only a game out of fifth entering Sunday’s home game vs. Atlanta.

“We like where we’re at, but we’re not satisfied,” Rozier said. “People always want to talk about playoffs and stuff, but the NBA can change so fast. But if we just worry about the next one, I feel like we’ll be in great position when the season ends.”

Rozier has 50 games of NBA playoff experience, all with Boston, so he knows what the postseason is like. Rozier joined the Hornets in 2019 in a controversial sign-and-trade deal with the Celtics, while Boston acquired beloved Hornets point guard Kemba Walker that summer when Charlotte didn’t break the bank to try to keep their all-star point guard.

The decision by Charlotte owner Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak was an unpopular one at the time, but in the long run it has turned out well for the Hornets. Rozier, 27, has entered the prime of his career, while Walker, 31, has moved on again, to the New York Knicks, where he’s been in and out of the lineup while being hampered by injury.

Still, Rozier had to go through the “But He’s Not Kemba!” phase of his Charlotte career for quite a while.

“I just tried to tune it out,” Rozier said. “I felt like it was only a matter of time before I proved myself here. But I couldn’t be mad at fans for loving Kemba. He gave this organization everything.”

Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) makes a layup past Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann (23) during an NBA basketball game on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. Rozier scored 24 points as the Hornets won, 121-98.
Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) makes a layup past Oklahoma City Thunder guard Tre Mann (23) during an NBA basketball game on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. Rozier scored 24 points as the Hornets won, 121-98.

For all of his success in Charlotte, Walker could never get the Hornets to win a playoff series. It’s been 19 years since the Hornets won one of those, in fact.

But Rozier is surrounded right now by more talent than Walker ever had in Charlotte. Now a shooting guard to allow room for Ball’s dazzling point guard skills, he’s averaging 24 points over his last seven games. His three-point shot, which was off-and-on early in the season, has returned. And the 6-foot-1 guard got to the rim constantly against Oklahoma City, finding daylight in between the trees. His recent contract extension, which keeps him in Charlotte through the 2025-26 season and made him one of the NBA’s highest-paid shooting guards, certainly seems to make sense.

“You saw it in the New York game,” Borrego said of Rozier. “Melo was out and he put on a very mature performance. He followed that up with a big game in Boston (28 points, 10 assists) and then he came back tonight with the right mindset and a very mature performance… He’s handling the success. And he’s really got the team at the forefront of his mind. This is not an individual deal for him. He really wants his team to perform well.”

“I’m playing at just an OK level,” Rozier said. “There are a lot of things I can do better.”

By the end of the season, the Hornets are going to need all of them.