One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Raptors trading Rudy Gay has been Terrence Ross. Head Coach Dwane Casey quickly inserted Ross into the starting lineup and the second year wing has flourished as a result.
It was apparent last year that Ross was drafted in large measure because he had the support of Casey. Casey saw Ross as having an NBA ready skill as a shooter and his potential as a slashing wing and on defense because of his natural athleticism. Aside from winning the NBA Slam Dunk competition at All-Star Weekend, however, Ross didn’t overwhelm many people with his shooting, defense or overall in-game play as a rookie.
At NBA Summer League in July, Ross actually looked like he had regressed and his start to the regular season wasn’t overwhelming either. In November, Ross averaged 6.4 points in 19.9 minutes, shot 31.8 percent from the field and wasn’t doing anything on defense to keep him on the court. Occasionally, Casey would try to talk up his young wing’s play, but the results just weren’t there. Ross still looked like a rookie.
It’s been just over a month since Ross was given the starting assignment – without merit by the way – and Casey has been rewarded for his confidence. Ross is not just playing better, he has a level of focus and concentration that was previously unseen.
“Terrence – focus, concentration, understanding what he has to do on the defensive end, staying connected to his guys, not getting lost in traffic, he is doing a better job of that and he is doing a pretty good job of rebounding and that has helped him a lot,” Casey said.
“He can become an elite shooter. He has that ability. He has the athleticism to get up. His main challenge is to be able to recognize when do I drive, when do I shoot it, do I have a kick out, how is the defense playing me in the heat of battle cause you can drill it and drill him and watch film, but when you get in the heat of battle and from the lack of experience, how do I react when they are up into me. What’s plan B?”
While Ross is still learning his craft, he has done an excellent job of guarding elite small forwards like Kevin Durant and Paul George since drawing the starting assignment. His scoring is way up as well. Ross has been averaging 13.1 points per game in his 15 starts as Casey has been running plays to take advantage of the skills he saw in his young wing’s game – skills that weren’t always evident in games prior to now.
“We run plays for Terrence,” Casey said. “Terrence has some plays run for him. The one play that he has – that he aught to be thankful for – is spacing for DeMar (DeRozan). All he has to do is stand there and catch and shoot it. That is what pick-and-roll is designed for. There is a lot of method to the madness and a lot of it is to get him a corner three. He is doing a good job of maintaining his spot and our guys have done a good job of finding him.”
Ross has been averaging 5.9 three-point attempts per game as a starter and he has been hitting on 46.1 percent of them. Apparently, Casey knew what he was talking about. He just had to Ross to do what he was always able to.
However, as Casey is always quick to remind everyone about his team and his players, they are not a finished product. Ross still has a lot of room to grow and a lot to learn.
“He is growing,” Casey said. “Now we just got to keep the whole package together – offense and defense, but he is a growing young man and he is getting better. There are nights he does a good job defensively and his offense suffers, then his offense steps up and his defense suffers, we got to get those consistent.”
As Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri kept saying at the start of the season, sometimes you just have to throw the young guys out there and see what you got. It’s been a small sample size to-date, but Ross is proving that Casey knew what he had when the Raptors drafted him. Sometimes you really just don’t know what you have until you risk putting it out there.