Approximately a year ago Terrence Ross found himself on people’s radar when his name began to appear as a possible dunk contestant. Flash forward to the Saturday night festivities in Houston: Ross won the feature event adding his name to the lexicon of rookies to keep an eye on. What many outside Toronto were unaware of was exactly how athletic Ross is and that his game features much more than transition game dunks. Even the Toronto fanbase may not have known exactly how many tools Terrence had in his repertoire were it not for the timing of the trade or how quickly the new squad transitioned into a cohesive unit.

Examining the Raptors since the trade showcases plenty of measurable improvements on both ends of the court.  Notably their net rating, which has seen close to a ten point shift (as of Jan. 14) via the Raps improved scoring and defense, scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions while allowing just 97.2. This +8.5 differential ranks second to the Thunder and since December 7th and is the best in the East. Another key factor is all five starters are now averaging double digit scoring off the improved ball movement and they’ve made a quantum leap from 49.2% to 60.5% in assist percentage. In fact, every single statistical category has improved due to added bench depth, a stronger commitment to defense and a system better suited to the Raptor personnel.

And, while Lowry and DeRozan are rightfully in the All Star conversation it’s sophomore Terrence Ross who has become the player I’ve noticed making the greatest strides in growth, and thus becoming a key contributor in critical wins. To that end, I decided to take a closer look at his numbers to see if my gut instinct was in fact apparent in his stats.

Second Game of Back to Backs:

What stood out to me from the onset was Ross has often been his most energetic and productive on the second night of back-to-back games. Perhaps this is simply a factor of young legs, but looking at his stats it becomes obvious he actually performs much better in these scenarios.

FG

M/A

FG

%

3PT

M/A

3P%

Rebounds

O/D/T

Ast

Stl

Blk

Pts

+/-

0 Day Rest

5.3/11.1

47.2%

2.6/5.8

45.7%

0.5/2.9/3.4

1.4

0.8

0.1

14

+3.6

1 Day Rest

2.8/7.5

37.1%

1.5/3.7

40.0%

0.4/2.4/2.9

0.6

0.8

1.4

7.9

+3.3

2 Days Rest

3.9/8.4

45.8%

1.9/4.9

38.2%

0.9/3.6/4.4

0.7

0.6

0.3

10.6

+1.9

3 Days Rest

3.0/8.0

37.5%

1.7/5.7

29.4%

0.7/1.7/2.3

0.3

0.3

0.0

7.7

-4.3

Incredibly, Ross’ shooting is decidedly better on back-to-back games; his field goal percentage improves by over 10%, his three point percent increases by 5.7% and he scores almost twice as much. His activity level doesn’t dip on the defensive end either as his rebounds increase as does his efficiency. Note, too, that Ross is often assigned the most difficult cover facing the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony or Paul George. In fact, Ross’ defense has steadily improved with playing time; perhaps best evidenced in his halting defense on Paul George in the two January games vs. Indy when he virtually rendered him a non factor: Jan 1st: 5 of 14 for 12 points and Jan 7th: 4 of 12 for 11 points.

Wins vs. Losses:

FG

M/A

FG

%

3PT

M/A

3PT

%

Rebs

Ast

Stl

Blks

Pts

+/-

Win

4.6/9.9

43.7%

2.3/5.2

43.7%

3.9

1.1

1.1

0.3

12.5

*18.35 in 14 wins

+6.3

Loss

2.3/6.7

35.4%

1.3/3.6

35.4%

2.5

0.4

04

0.3

6.4

*12.3 in 6 losses

-1.9

*Factors in all 20 games since trade highlighting a 6 point variance in wins vs. losses

His shooting is better as is his activity on defense but possibly the most startling stat is his point differential: In wins Ross boasts a +6.3 but in losses he registers a negative (-1.9).

Pre-Trade vs Post-Trade:

FG%

3FG%

Rebs

Assists

Steals

Blocks

Points

+/-

Pre Trade

41.0%

34.0%

2.4

0.6

0.4

0.2

6.2

+1.8

Post

Trade

42.1%

44.9%

3.9

09

1.1

0.3

12.7

+2.2

*Represent totals through January 14, 2014

Signs Ross is growing are evident even in the past 4 games where he is learning to contribute in losses, a factor likely attributable to lessons learned by facing players repeatedly, and an increase in his confidence. More emphatic is the evidence of his growth in the past month in point differential; in December Ross’ differential was -2.1 but his January totals are up to +8.9.

Becoming a Pivotal Piece:

Certain players become indisposable to their teams to the extent their absence could spell the difference between success and failure over the long term. Looking around the league you can pick out a handful of these character players who generally aren’t the star or even second option on their team but regardless are just as vital to their teams’ success. Three teams with this pivotal type player are Portland, Memphis and Indiana. In Portland’s case there are two players of this ilk; Nic Batum and Wes Matthews, Lance Stephenson is the X-factor in Indiana and Tony Allen fills the role in Memphis.  Each of these cast members are two-way players who may not always end up as the leading scorer or rebounder but whose defense or timely shot often is the difference in their team’s wins.

Stephenson leads the league in triple-doubles this season, and his improved offensive skills have been critical for a Pacer squad who relies predominantly on their defense. During Paul George’s recent shooting slump it was Stephenson who stepped up to replace the missing offense. Batum who boasts his own triple-double has been the player outside Lillard and Aldridge to hit pivotal three pointers on more than one occasion to send a game to overtime or win it outright. As the Trail Blazers rocketed to the Wests best record the better defensive teams began game planning for late game scenarios to lock down their two stars, the capacity of Batum and Matthews to take the final shot made Portland even more lethal. In Memphis’ case the loss of Gasol was critical but perhaps losing Allen for several games became more of an issue given he is their defensive specialist.

Terrence may not be the calibre of these players yet, but he’s definitely on the right track to becoming as important a piece as the players listed due to his defensive assignments, three point shooting prowess and athleticism.

Moving Forward:

As the Raptors continue their ascent it’s fair to say Lowry has been the most consistent player on court this season. Kyle spearheads ball movement, frequently is the guy who hits a shot to either stop a run or spur a comeback or he makes a key defensive play like taking one of his league leading 29 charges. DeRozan continues to adjust to double teams and since the trade has demonstrated steady improvement in his passing, rebounding and most importantly in his decision making.

Up front, Valanciunas continues to inch closer to becoming an automatic double-double man, and with exposure to specific players improves the next time he faces them. Amir Johnson remains the Captain of Toronto’s Defense while simultaneously assuming the role of on-court tutor for Jonas. It will be interesting to see what aspects of Johnson’s game unfold as Valanciunas matures and Amir gains more freedom on both ends of the floor.  

The improved depth on the bench is directly attributable to the win column especially with Patterson’s vocal presence on both ends of the court and veterans Salmons and Hayes who have each brought a stabilizing factor to the team on and off the court.

Vasquez remains the one player who has yet to either find his timing or confidence, so the upcoming easier schedule will hopefully allow for him to find a solution. Tyler Hansbrough has missed a number of games since the trade, initially due to a shoulder injury followed by a high ankle sprain, so his insertion back into the rotation will offer Casey more options and toughness in match-ups.  

For his part, Ross has shown signs he is willing to be a sponge; absorbing defensive game plans predominantly focusing on the opposition’s star while also expanding his offensive range. In just the past five games we’ve witnessed Ross begin to mix up his offense with more drives to the paint and mid range shots. Once Terrence masters variety in his offense he’ll become even more dangerous which will result in opposing teams having a harder time defending the Raptors as a unit.   

As highlighted in the numbers above Ross is turning into a key cog in the wheel for this ever improving Raptor squad. He has the potential to become a lock-down defender and three point specialist similar to Nic Batum or Raptor Alum Mo Pete.

Ultimately for Ross his future ascent will likely directly parallel the team’s growth and success as long as he remains committed to his current work ethic . And while we’ll all eagerly anticipate a transition highlight dunk from time to time it’s becoming equally thrilling to see him shut down a franchise player and lead the break up the court.

Tipping off to another exciting week of Raptor games, follow me on twitter @TTOTambz