Player to Watch: Jason Terry
Over the past two seasons, Jason Terry has taken on a new role with the Dallas Mavericks, coming off the bench for the first time since his first two NBA seasons in Atlanta. But despite the drastic difference between starting and performing as a sixth man, Terry has continued to perform at a high level, doing the same thing he's done his entire Mavericks tenure: shoot the lights out, and put up points.
Terry turned 32 last month, but he's still well above average in his role as a contributing scorer. In Terry's first three seasons as a Mav, he started all but 24 of his games 241 games. His role effectively in replacement of Steve Nash was that of a secondary scorer alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard ... and Terry did it well, punching in roughly 17 points per 36 minutes on excellent efficiency.
In 2006-07, that third season as a Mav, Terry moved to starting shooting guard as Devin Harris became a regular starter at the point. Terry performed well, but the Mavericks needed a bigger two and more bench firepower. So in 2007-08, Terry came off the bench for the majority of the season. He still did awesome, and gave the Mavs a powerful weapon to spring on opponents. But something else happened when Terry moved to the bench: he got a bit more room to operate. In a starting lineup with Nowitzki and Howard, you might defer more than you'd like. While Terry still played a lot of minutes with Dirk off the bench, he had plenty of stretches as the offensive focal point. His usage rate got a small boost in 2007-08 (his first as a reserve) and a huge bump in 2008-09.
But through all that -- the changed role, the boosted shot frequency -- Terry kept his efficiency well above league average.
Terry's efficiency -- denoted above by True Shooting percentage, which is points per shooting possessions halved -- has drifted only slightly, a big deal considering the substantial increase in shots Terry took last season. Although he's 32, Terry doesn't look like a guy who will become a sinkhole on offense any time soon ... which is important, given his non-optimal size and athleticism.
How Terry produces so efficiently provides an interesting twist. Unlike most guards who push the True Shooting meter to its greatest heights -- like Nash, Chauncey Billups and Kevin Martin -- Terry hasn't been an elite three-point shooter over the past two seasons, nor does he draw fouls at any notable level. Terry is just a murderous shooter on long two-pointers. Terry led the league in two-point jumper shooting last year, hitting 49.2 percent of his myriad attempts from that depth. The so-called "mid-range" shot is death to many offenses, but that's because the wrong players usually take them. That's not the case in Dallas, where Terry and Nowitzki take most of the team's long twos ... and hit them more regularly than most of the league. (Nowitzki finished sixth in two-point jumper shooting last season.)
So long as Terry can get his shot off, he figures to be a plus for the Dallas offense. Certainly, that shouldn't be a problem this year, which means the Mavericks can count on having one of the top bench scorers in the league once again.