A lot is being made about the Toronto Raptors sophomore Terrence Ross and his contributions at the offensive end of the court. A star performer in the NBA Slam Dunk contest for the second year in a row and a franchise high tying 51 point game against the Clippers is hard to overlook. However, in the defense-first world of Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey, the way a young player earns and keeps his minutes is at the other end of the court. Ross has gone from running into screens and getting lost on coverages in November to blossoming into one of his team’s better perimeter defenders.
Where Casey was praising Ross’ defensive effort earlier in the season when the team was losing, now Ross gets noticed for his effectiveness on defense against some of the league’s best offensive players in wins.
“(Ross’) experience has helped him (know) this is about to happen to me – this happened to me in the Clipper game – so they are doing the same (thing),” Casey explained. “Now he has experience to draw from (when) reading situations and that has helped him. Then his athletic instincts, his hands, his speed and quickness kicks in after that. Game experience has helped (Ross) and Jonas (Valanciunas) both in a lot of situations especially Terrence guarding some of the top scorers in the league.”
While it is easy to see just how much more confident Ross has become on offense, nailing three-pointers, attempting athletic drives to the basket and an increasing number of impressive above the rim finishes, that confidence has flowed to the other end of the court as well.
“I have always been a defensive-minded player and I think the more I got to play the more it showed,” Ross said. “Once you get confidence, you play at a different level, so I try to maintain my confidence, go out a play with the opportunity (Casey) is providing me.”
The best rational the Raptors had when drafting Ross ahead of other smooth shooting wing players like Jeremy Lamb was his potential on defense. The quick hands and feet that made him an effective defender as a college sophomore should transfer to the NBA. All Ross wanted was the chance to prove himself.
“I try to play at both ends of the (court), offense and defense,” Ross said. “Once you get the opportunity, you have a chance to prove to people what you can do. I just needed the chance to play, that’s it.”
Perhaps the most telling indication of Ross’ improvement this season is when Ross went down with a turned ankle early in the triple-overtime loss to Washington. Casey made a point of mentioning that they missed his defense and they did.
“Losing Terrence, and you don’t miss something until you don’t have it,” said Casey after the loss to the Wizards. “He gives us one more defender, shot maker, and that was a huge blow for us. Especially defensively, he was doing a good job and also gave us another defender to switch on (John) Wall.”
Ross is just 135 games into his NBA career and its only been in the last 43 games since he’s been starting that there has been any reason to get excited about his play, but as can happen in the NBA, when the light comes on for a young player, sometimes it stays on and grows brighter. Ross has been doing all the right things to make that happen so far.
There has been plenty to be excited about with Ross’ progress on offense, but blossoming on defense this early in his career is should be the bigger story. It is certainly a lot less common and potentially a lot more valuable.
Can Ross and DeRozan Become The Raptors McGrady and Carter?
The Toronto Raptors had a dream in the early days of this franchise. A dream that two young up and coming star wing players, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, would elevate this expansion franchise into relevance and dominance as a legitimate NBA contender for many years to come. Then the dream became a myth that the team has been looking to recreate ever since and maybe, just maybe they have in DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross.