Last season, Dalen Terry averaged 8 points and posted a relatively low-usage rate on a stacked Arizona team. Terry also enters the NBA with questions about his shooting ability.
All to which Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd basically said: So what?
“Sometimes usage is overvalued,” Lloyd said Friday via Zoom. “Dalen helps teams win basketball games. And obviously, his best days are ahead of him.”
The Chicago Bulls certainly are banking on that, selecting Terry with the 18th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Terry’s energy and enthusiasm jump off the screen in interviews. But talk to those who have coached him, and they’ll make sure to remind that those infectious qualities shouldn’t mask what fuels Terry’s rise and success — an insatiable love for the game and desire to improve.
“Incredible spirit,” Lloyd said. “I love Dalen. And I loved coaching him. And obviously this is one of those cool things that if you had asked me a year ago at this time if we’d be having this Zoom and Dalen would be the 18th pick, I’d probably say don’t bet on it. But this kid came so far in a year. And it’s a credit to his work.
“I know you guys see the enthusiasm and all that stuff and it kind of grabs your attention. To me, the way I experienced it was very authentic. He practiced his butt off every day. He comes to work with a smile on his face. You can bring him in your office and have tough, honest conversations. And he participates in those.
“I love his energy and his spirit. I think that’s an important part. But what I love more is just at the core of his person is a high-character dude.”
Hillcrest Prep coach Nick Weaver, who watched Terry attending the same high school as Deandre Ayton’s to his own first-round selection, spoke to the same theme. Calling Terry “one of the best locker room guys I’ve ever seen,” he said it would be impossible to find anyone associated with the school — a teammate, teacher, coach or staff member — to say a negative word about him.
“He just made everybody around him better,” Weaver said. “He has such an infectious personality and so much energy. And he’s like that all the time, whether it’s 5 in the morning or 10 at night.”
Weaver recalled a trip his program took to China in Terry’s junior season. At the time, the tall, lanky Terry was touted but not yet highly-touted — just starting his ascent up the national rankings that led to him staying at home and signing a letter of intent with Arizona.
Hillcrest Prep fell behind by a large deficit. Terry began diving on the floor for every loose ball, defending each possession as if it were his last.
“His energy was so insane, so infectious that I realized that game that this kid is going to be special,” Weaver said by phone. “He wasn’t looking to score much, either. He was getting his teammates involved. He turned the whole game around with his defense and passing.
“I just looked at his Dad who was on the trip and said, ‘He has a real shot at being a pro.’ The kid is just different. He’s got a different swagger.”
In fact, Lloyd might argue that Terry’s ability to impact winning without needing to dominate the ball is a strength, not a weakness. Particularly if you factor in that Terry is arriving to a veteran-laden team with three primary scorers in Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević (as long as LaVine re-signs).
“He really grew as a player in understanding how to play with fundamentals, to manipulate defense, understand different spacing and coverage scenarios, to start reading the game and being able to steal free baskets, whether that’s mixing a backcut here, outrunning someone in transition, sticking his nose in there to steal an offensive rebound,” Lloyd said. “That type of stuff is a coach’s dream.
“I told him, ‘What put you in this position, double down on that.’ Don’t go out and try to prove to everybody that you turned into a great 3-point shooter the last two months or now you’re suddenly a point guard. Just go out and hoop. Play with great passion and spirit and make winning plays. There’s value in that and your coaches will appreciate it.”
Weaver said he had contact with the Bulls throughout the draft process, including multiple conversations with longtime West Coast-based scout Dave Bollwinkel. Terry’s passion for the game made it easy to answer any question thrown Weaver’s way.
“In my 13 years of doing this, he’s the fiercest competitor I’ve ever seen or had. He’s also one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve seen. He has such versatility and plays extremely hard all the time,” Weaver said. “I think he’s going to bring a level of energy every day in practice to the Bulls. Every team he goes to, he increases the energy level.
“People always criticize his ability to shoot. He didn’t shoot that bad a percentage. He shot 36.5 from 3. He wasn’t in the 20s. And the thing about him is he’s going to get better because he wants to get better. He works tirelessly. He’s going to work on his body and his game.”
Bulls general manager Marc Eversley said Terry joked that he’d run to Chicago late Thursday night if he could. Instead, Terry celebrated the night with family and friends at his draft watch party.
Lloyd attended the gathering, held at Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“My only sad thing is that I don’t get to coach him again,” Lloyd said. “But I’ll always be here for him and I’m expecting great things.”
So are the Bulls.