Essay: Shining A Light On Jason Terry’s Greatness
One of the best feelings that coincides with watching the NBA on a regular basis happens when you consciously recognize something great as it occurs in real time, right before your eyes. Watching game after game on a nightly basis, the most intense observer can grow numb to well-executed pick and roll defense or the spin-induced bounce pass that needles its way through the lane, like a fly avoiding a swatter. These are incredibly difficult acts regularly performed to near-perfection, yet similar to most other things in life, oftentimes they’re overlooked until the day they stop working.
Recently, I was lucky to grab one of these moments by its neck, and the memory has yet to leave my mind. It was a Wednesday night, shortly before the All-Star break, in a rematch of last year’s most shocking playoff series: Dallas against L.A. Midway through the third quarter, as the game began its rapid transformation into a back and forth heavyweight bout, the Mavericks began to throw their barrage of haymakers. With the crowd’s volume beginning to crescendo, Andrew Bynum lost the ball as he tried spinning towards the basket. As soon as Shawn Marion grabbed it in his hands, it was flipped in the air with a tad too much gusto to a streaking Jason Terry. Standing at half court, Kobe Bryant made a halfhearted play on the ball, tipping it back to Marion, of all people. Through it all Terry didn’t stop running. Marion sees him and fires an overhead pass 60 feet down the court. He’s backpedaling like a wide receiver who’s well aware that nobody’s around him; all he has to do is catch it and the reward is six points. Except in basketball, catching it is just the beginning.
The littlest Maverick grips the ball with his right hand, squares up his body to the hoop in one smooth rotation, and releases a 15-foot jump shot. There’s no thought, no hesitation, and certainly no dribble. For 99.9% of all basketball players this is an extremely difficult shot attempt in a low reward, high risk situation—a mid-range jumper with no teammate available to grab the rebound. Should it miss (the league average among shooting guards for 15-foot jump shots is about 40%), a convenient counterattack is placed in L.A.’s lap.
Maybe it was the hype of the moment, the realization that a brilliant yet underrated career is winding down, or the fact that I’d just finished a cup of coffee around 10 PM, but this was the first Jason Terry jumper that made my eyes grow a bit wider and my back arch to attention. It was in this moment that a quick realization washed over me: Jason Terry may be one of the five best shooters I’ve ever seen.
Now, an argument can easily made that he isn’t even the best shooter on his own team, but this article is less about arguing an obvious point than accentuating one that’s suppressed. In his 12 year career, Terry has never shot lower than 80% from the free-throw line or 41% from the floor. Excluding his rookie season, he’s never shot below 34% from deep. When the conversation of “who’s an all-time great shooter still playing in the league” pops up, almost all of them have resorted to weaving their way through screens, firing a shot as soon as the pass is delivered. There’s little dribbling involved in their plan of attack. At 34-years-old, Terry remains an initiator of offense. With 24% of his offense coming as the handler on pick and rolls—his teaming up with Dirk Nowitzki remains one of the most effective offensive weapons in basketball—he’s more than comfortable with the ball in his hands and is still capable of keeping defenses on their heels.
Terry’s legacy is an interesting one to analyze. The body of his career puts him in the top 100 for almost every major statistical category, including points, assists, and steals. Dirk’s legend grew to “Top 20 of All Time” heights after winning last year’s title (and deservedly so), but Terry was responsible for some pretty huge moments. I hate using words like swagger primarily because I don’t know what it means, but he embodied it for Dallas. He symbolized the Mavericks’ manhood. It was Terry who inked his body with the Larry O’Brien tattoo. Terry who proclaimed the Mavs as favorites after a nationally televised mid-season victory against the Lakers. And Terry who verbally rallied Dallas back from the grave in Game 2 of last year’s finals as Dwyane Wade’s dangling hand was busy throwing dirt on their bodies. He was the second best player on one championship team and came close to winning another in the same role, yet he’s never made an All-Star team. He’s never made an All-NBA team either, and his name never comes up when people talk about free agents to be in the upcoming offseason.
Right now, the talk around Dallas surrounds acquiring Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. Resigning Terry is an awkward afterthought. and unless he’s willing to take a major pay cut there’s a solid chance he won’t be a Maverick next year. If you’re the Bulls do you buyout Rip Hamilton or amnesty Carlos Boozer to sign Jason Terry? Does he instantly make them title favorites? As drastic a statement that may be, I say yes. He will never be the burger that keeps a franchise’s fan base full, but next season Terry could prove to be a damn good side of fries.