Confidence counts. Jason Terry knows this well, and not only because he has read the children's book bearing that title by the noted belletrist Gary Payton more times than he can remember. Touted as the Hawks' point guard of the future after being picked 10th in the 1999 draft, Terry failed to crack the starting lineup until two thirds of the way through his rookie season. He began this year averaging just 8.1 points and 5.3 assists as Atlanta lost its first seven games, and was replaced at the point by journeyman Matt Maloney. "My confidence drifted up and down, game by game," says Terry. "This season it hurt a little more. The first time I could say I'm a rookie. Now it's my second year, and my people at home are going, 'What's going on? Are they gonna trade you or what?' It was tough."
After five games coming off the bench, he was given a chance to redeem himself when shooting guard Jim Jackson suffered a knee injury. Strapped for an offensive threat, rookie coach Lon Kruger called on Terry, who had averaged 21.9 points as a senior at Arizona. Freed from running the offense, Terry was averaging 22.1 points and 5-6 assists as a starting two guard through Tuesday and had scored a career-high 38 points in a Dec. 12 win over the Kings. What's more, the Hawks were 9-10 in that stretch.
At only 6'2" and 176 pounds, Terry has acquitted himself well defensively against much larger opponents, using his quickness to front players who try to post him up. Kruger hasn't abandoned plans to make a point guard out of Terry—even after the trade of Jackson to the Cavaliers on Tuesday for playmaker Brevin Knight—but now he can ease him into the position. "He's too conscientious," says Kruger of Terry's shortcomings at the point. "He wants everything to be right, he wants everything to work, he wants to do everything to help the team, and I think he worries about all that stuff instead of playing."
In Terry's new role his primary concern is looking out for No. 1. "When I go in as a point guard, I'm like, How can I get my four man a shot this time down?" says Terry. "As the two man my mind-set is to score, and score first."
To do so takes explosiveness to the hole, a deft touch from the outside and plenty of confidence. Terry has always had the first trait, he hones the second by shooting 500 jumpers after every practice, and he has exuded the third of late, thanks in part to the lessons he has absorbed from pick-me-up perusals of Payton's 40-page opus, which he bought a couple of years ago and keeps in his locker. Seeking wisdom from a kids' book might seem quirky, but quirkiness is the norm for Terry. As a youngster in Seattle he began wearing knee-high socks, a fashion sin he commits to this day. At Arizona he slept in his uniform during the 1997 Final Four. Of late he has taken to wearing wool stocking caps. "I said I wasn't going to get a haircut until we won two in a row," says Terry. "I couldn't brush my hair or comb it, so I just put on a hat to cover it up."
Despite a recent four-game Atlanta winning streak, Terry has disdained a haircut and continued to sport the caps out of superstition. Still, he has learned a valuable lesson. Good-luck charms are nice, but they don't count nearly as much as confidence.