It would be polite to suggest the Toronto Raptors third year wing Terrence Ross had regressed this season. Expectations were high that Ross would take the next step in becoming an effective ‘three-and-D’ player, but a lack of focus and aggression on the court has left just about everyone frustrated with his game. Head coach Dwane Casey even took the unexpected, but more than reasonable, step of removing Ross from the starting lineup for a while – it didn’t help.
However, the message from the team this year and last has been consistent. The Raptors are willing to invest a lot of time and effort into Ross’ development. They know it may (will) cost them a few wins along the way, but there is a long term focus in Toronto, so it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when Casey put Ross back into the starting lineup nine games ago despite not having a compelling reason to do so.
Toronto has four wins and five losses since Ross was reinserted and those wins have come at the expense of the struggling HEAT, Pacers, Timberwolves and Knicks. Objectively Ross has played better, but it was somewhat surprising to hear the level of praise coming from his head coach.
“I love Terrence’s focus,” Casey said. “Terrence has really been focused the last couple of weeks since he has gotten back in the starting lineup. He has been very mature in his approach, following the game plan, understanding what he needs to do defensively and offensively. His overall engagement and approach has been great.”
Ross is still getting abused defensively. He still loses his man off screens, back cuts or any manner of veteran offensive move, but he is shooting better and the numbers say he is more effective than he has been all season.
“It is just how it goes,” Ross said. “You get a little fatigued, your shot is a little off, but once you get your legs back, you’re good as new.
“(The All-Star break) gave you a little bit of time to take off and rest your body.”
Pre-All-Star break Ross was shooting a disappointing 36.8 percent from three-point range, but after the break that has ballooned to 41.5 percent. For a player who has been reluctant to drive and rarely gets to the free throw line, a nearly 5 percent bump in his three-point shooting is huge.
Casey’s generous assessment of Ross’ play isn’t without some merit. Prior to being reinserted into the starting lineup, Ross was a +0.3 points per game while he was on the court and that can only been described as terrible on a team winning 60 percent of their games. Since rejoining the starters nine games ago, Ross is +2.6 points while on the court – not great, but at least respectable. On a relative basis, maybe Casey’s high praise isn’t so far off base even if there remains massive room for improvement.
Toronto has had the Atlantic Division crown in the bag for a couple of months already and should easily set a new franchise record for wins in a season, so in reality, this team has been practicing for the playoffs and the future for some time now. They can afford to invest in player development.
If Casey is right and Ross has found his focus, the last dozen games of the season provide an opportunity for his young wing to get his act together in time for the playoffs.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com
“I don’t feel like a rookie,” Ross said. “I feel like one of the young guys. I’ve been in too many situations. I’ve had enough playing time that I can’t use that excuse anymore. Everything going forward is just manning up and if I messed up, I messed up. Right now I feel like I am a different player and I can do a lot more than I did last year.”
“It is a lot less stressful,” Ross said. “It is harder, but in some ways you can play a little more freely. Just knowing that I am going to get the chance to keep playing, I am always going to get the opportunity, you don’t have to rush it and try to prove yourself as much, so now you just play your game and they keep me on the court. Now I just have to sharpen it up and make sure I don’t make many mistakes.”