Bruce Bowen kicked down the door; the NBA is now awash with 3-and-D wings. The Spurs have one in Danny Green. The Thunder have one in Thabo Sefolosha. The Bulls have one in Jimmy Butler. The Heat have one in Shane Battier. They’re seemingly ubiquitous, especially amongst winning franchises.
General managers are scrounging for three-and-defense wings because they are very useful. On offense, the ability to accurately knock down three-pointers stretches out the defense and creates more room for slashers and post-players. On defense, having a 3/D wing (a Bowen, from now on) is very useful, especially if he’s paired with a high usage wing player. The Bowen can cover the main wing-threat and allow the offensive wing to conserve his energy on defense.
Currently, the Raptors don’t have a capable Bowen (Fields could be one if his surgery has fixed his shot). Their starting line-up desperately needs one; the combination of Demar Derozan and Rudy Gay are a spacing nightmare, especially when paired with Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. Ideally, either DD or Gay could be replaced by a Bowen.
This begs the question; can Terrance Ross become Toronto’s Bowen?
Let’s start with macro; Ross shot 33% from three-point range last season (65/196 per B-R), which is 3% below league average for guard/forwards. That’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not very good. Guys like Sefolosha, Green and Battier all shot better than 40% on threes last season . Certainly, Ross has some work to do here.
A look at Ross’s shot chart reveals that he was far more successful from the left side of the floor, than from the right when it came to three’s (small sample size alert; per NBA stats):
Despite this discrepancy, Ross took more shots from the right side. Perhaps NBA defenses realized this and just forced him to certain spots, but it’s difficult to direct the location of spot-ups; that’s mostly dictated by the perogative of the offensive player. Nevertheless, if these percentages are significant (ie: that these are indicative of Ross’s skills), his three-point shooting can simply be improved by better shot-selection.
With the help of synergy sports, we can see a play-by-play breakdown of his 196 three pointers last season. First off, his proportion of attempts were results of the following play types:
This corroborates much of what we already know; the vast majority of Ross’s shots came from spot-ups. Unfortunately, he didn’t shoot very well on spot-ups (nor in any other situation, really):
Overall, he failed to crack 40% shooting on any play (he was 2/5 on off-screens). That’s pretty pathetic. He needs to bump up these percentages, especially on spot-ups. Certainly, he’s young, and he can improve his shooting with more practice. However, I suspect that his poor shooting might be a result of poor shooting form.
This is where I’m out of my element; I’m not expert on the technicalities of basketball. I have an approximate idea of ideal basketball shooting forms (mostly honed from watching Nash and Allen), but I can’t fully tell good form apart from bad (unless it’s a Shawn Marion bad).
However, it looks to me that Ross is too unbalanced when he’s shooting, and his form looks a bit wonky. He seems to be moving a lot (and too much in my opinion), and he rarely goes straight-up, and straight-down as he’s supposed to. Watch the video below and tell me what you think in the comments.
Anyway, Ross doesn’t quite have the “3” in “3-and-D” down quite yet. However, he did shoot considerably better from the left side of the floor than the right, so better shot selection could greatly improve his effectiveness. Also, corrections to his shooting form could also improve his shot.
Once again, let’s toss out the macro first; his defensive rating of 109 was below average and he rebounded/stole/blocked at a league average rate for his position.
However, the synergy data disagrees with the boxscore; according to synergy stats, Ross allowed 0.80 points per play (ppp) on defense, which ranked 61st overall in the NBA (85th percentile). This discrepancy piqued my interests, and prompted me to dive into the video to explain the discrepancy.
First off, the distribution of his defensive possessions looked like the following:
Ross actually excelled at his three most commonly faced defensive possessions (isolation/PR ball handler/spot-ups), ranking 158th, 26th and 53rd in the NBA respectively. However, the video suggests that much of this was a result of luck and circumstance (noise), rather than an accurate reflection of skill (signal).
The video shows that Ross relied very heavily on his athleticism on defense, rather than good positioning and movement. This isn’t necessarily an indictment against Ross; coach Dwane Casey recently dubbed him the most athletic player in the league. It certainly allows him to make up for mistakes. Consider the following plays:
If you watched closely, you definitely would have noticed that his positioning and technical play wasn’t exactly sound. Ross often committed a litany of poor mistakes; not getting a hand up, not closing out, sagging off too much, and ball-watching.
In particular, his close-outs on spot-ups were particularly awful. Yes, he only allowed 0.84 PPP on spot ups (good for 53rd in the NBA), but his opposition mainly consisted of bench players chucking during blowouts. Even after factoring in his elite athleticism, his positioning on close-outs is so bad that it’ll definitely catch up to him over time.
His wonky techniques won’t play against stiffer competition. Ross sets his feet, and leaps towards the shooter. Given that he’s often so far away from his man, he is simultaneously unable to block the shot, while also not deterring the shot (ie: Shane Battier hand in the face). He needs to focus more on defense and work harder to stick closer to his man.
As of right now, Terrence Ross is as much Bruce Bowen as…well, as much as I am Zach Lowe. Reality is pretty sad.
Ross is a below-average three-point shooter, as he shoots below 40% across all play types. My thinking is that if he corrects his form and puts in the work, he could raise the 3FG% over 38% (then again, Demar…nevermind).
Ross excelled on defense. His boxscore numbers were average, but his synergy stats numbers were excellent. However, the video evidence reveals that his success was in large part due to his tremendous athleticism, and that his technical skills were actually very poor. If he is able to shore up his positioning and show more focus, he has the potential to be a consistently excellent defensive stopper.
And hey, he’s only 21. He’s still got a long way ahead of him. With his tremendous athleticism, I think we should give him a chance to develop into the Raptors’ Bowen.
 It should be noted that Green, Sefolosha and Battier play in offensive schemes that produce a lot of wide-open threes, which may be inflating the accuracy of their three-point shooting. Nevertheless, ~10% is a big difference.
Thanks to basketball reference, NBA stats, the NBA geek and synergy stats for the data used in this post. The video was curtsey of synergy stats.