The label stuck to Tyrell Terry like an old sticker, tearing away in strips as he struggled to remove it from the experts’ assessment of his game. “TOO SMALL,” it read in faded black Sharpie ink. NBA teams and draft experts alike told the Stanford sharpshooter he should go back to school rather than declare for the 2020 draft. But Terry knew—even in high school—that he had the skillset to become an NBA player. Just as he had when he chose Stanford over schools like Indiana, Iowa State, and his hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers, Terry bet on himself and then doubled down when he declared anyway and then began working to shuck the narrative that his size would limit his potential.
Terry was projected to go somewhere in the middle-to-back-end of the first round and was even deemed a borderline Lottery talent by some as the draft neared. Such territory is reserved for the upper half of the first round and typically occupied by teams who failed to reach the postseason the year prior, depending on whether or not the rights to those picks have already been traded. For these high-value picks, the league has a system designed to avoid tanking, though its success is somewhat debatable. Generally, the worse a team’s record, the higher its chances for landing the top overall pick, but any team who failed to reach the playoffs has a mathematical chance, no matter how small. For Terry to even be considered a lottery talent after the initial analysis from teams demonstrated a sizable reversal in the narrative against him. The sticker, it seemed, was beginning to peel away among draft experts. It wasn’t the first time he’d proven his critics wrong.
Terry came out of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, having won three state championships, and nearly pulled off the clean sweep were it not for the Islanders falling in the state semi-finals his junior year. Entering his senior year and being the unquestioned team leader, he was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, garnering offers from several prominent schools despite his 6-foot, 160 lbs stature. While by no means an explosive athlete, Terry excelled in many other fields as well, including football and baseball. For many, such athletic gifts would be more than enough, but Terry refused to be limited by his own athletic gifts, taking his academic career just as seriously as any basketball game he’d lace up his sneakers to play in, as he explained to Mavs.com writer, Isaac Harris.
“My parents were hard on me academically, telling me if I didn’t get a certain grade, I couldn’t play basketball.”
Terry says he fell in love with the idea of academics, and, appreciating that Stanford held them to the same standard as athletics, he committed to the Cardinal over his other suitors. While some may roll their eyes at the idea that a school would hold its athletes to the same standards as other students, Terry’s intellect spoke for itself during the pre-draft process when he broke the NBA’s IQ record—an achievement he more or less shrugged off.
“I didn’t really find it that particularly difficult. I just locked into the test and did what it asked.”
That IQ has clearly translated on the basketball court as Terry averaged 14.6 points and 3.2 assists as a freshman running point guard for the Cardinal last year. More than that, he shot a ridiculous 40.8% from beyond the arc on a whopping 152 attempts. So, while his assist numbers may appear pretty “ho-hum” for a point guard, he often makes the right play, creating “hockey assists” where his pass directly leads to the pass that creates the bucket. What’s more, he won’t be asked to fill the role of distributor for the Mavericks, slotting almost perfectly into the void left by Seth Curry as a hyper-efficient knock-down three-point shooter coming off the bench.
“He can really shoot the piss out of it,” Mavs GM Donnie Nelson said on draft night.
By simple virtue of playing with 21-year-old superstar Luka Dončić, Terry will see no shortage of quality looks as Dallas, with Dončić running the show the past two seasons, has created the most “wide open” in the league looks for its three-point shooters. Considering Terry ranked in the 99th percentile on catch-and-shoot opportunities last year, that should make him an incredibly dangerous weapon for Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.
“For me to come into Dallas and play with someone like Luka who is going to find me— I thrive off catch-and-shoot situations— if he finds me, I’m going to knock that shot down,” Terry said. “With my shooting ability to space the floor for Kristaps and open lanes, I think for me, I don’t’ know if there could be a better fit for me in the league.”
While nobody doubted Terry’s marksmanship, that old sticker seemed to deter potential suitors as the draft progressed, causing him to surprisingly slide out of the first round despite an impressive skill set and resume. At times, the league can be slow to adapt, and, historically speaking, there’s a reason you haven’t seen many undersized guards lacking special quickness or footwork translate at the next level. Anticipating this, Terry set about transforming his body in the lead-up to the draft, putting on a good 10 pounds and, as luck would have it, growing a couple of inches to stand 6-foot, 3-inches.
“I improved my body quite a bit,” Terry said. “I have a long way to go but I made some big changes in regards to strength and athleticism where that narrative is changing a bit.”
While Terry wasn’t selected in the first round, he didn’t have to wait much longer, being taken with the first pick of the second round and, in his former coach, Jerod Haase’s own words, making for a “great fit” with Dallas. In the process, Terry became the first “one-and-done” player in Stanford history and, by simple virtue of no longer playing for the Cardinal, will force the team to alter its style moving forward. That’s what happens when a special talent departs.
The Mavs have committed themselves to building around Dončić and Kristaps Porzingis with a plethora of “three and D” weapons. Terry, an offensively savvy scorer with top-tier marksmanship may not be known for his defense but he should have the talent around him to lean on when needed as he rounds into form on that end.
Almost immediately after being taken with the 31st pick, Terry says Dončić reached out to offer his congratulations and tell him to “enjoy the moment.” He went on to tell the rookie to “hit him up” if he needed anything.
“It meant a lot to me to have him reach out to me that early,” Terry said of the text from the Mavs’ star.
With Carlisle scheming him open and Dončić’s vision and passing ability finding him routinely for what I can only describe as in-game shoot-around, Terry has the potential to be a major impact player for the Mavericks. It also helps to be surrounded by other shooters like Porzingiz and Tim Hardaway Jr., among others. If he can step in and provide some three-pointing shooting off the bench while furthering his physical transformation, Terry can at last peel away the final remnants of that stubborn label, letting his dead-eye shooting do all the talking for him.
The ball is already in motion, swinging around the perimeter as the defense scrambles to recover. Terry stands open in the corner as Dončić drives to the basket and kicks it out to him. All that’s left is for Terry to square his shoulders and knock it down like another one of his three-pointers.