The term “3-and-D” gets thrown around fairly often in NBA discussions. If you’re unaware, the term generally refers to a wing player who is capable of playing above-average defense and hitting threes. Obvious, right?

There’s a lot of value in guys like this. Shane Battier has made a career of modeling that definition, guys like Trevor Ariza, Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo are regularly in demand because of their ability to do both and, before he reached stardom, it looked like the role Paul George may one day excel in. A player need not be elite at either or both, but the ability to be a plus on the defensive end and space the floor is paramount for success on the wing.

It’s also a term that has been thrown around with respect to Terrence Ross’ NBA potential.

That evaluation certainly makes sense; Ross has already shown he can (and will) shoot the three, ranking 24th in the league with 71 triples and hitting them at a well-above-average 38.8 percent clip. And in fact, entering the 2012 draft, his shooting and defensive potential were the key highlights in his profile.

From ESPN: Toronto wanted a shooter to pair with DeMar DeRozan, and Ross is a good shooter and a terrific athlete and Where Ross’ potential really excites me is on defense. The Washington coaching staff described him to me as a playmaking defender who had a knack for blocks, steals and stops at key points in games. His physical attributes combined with a good defensive IQ give him some advantages over others at his position. He could guard the best NBA perimeter scorers in time, and that should endear him to his future team.

And from Draft Express: His combination of physical tools, defense, perimeter shooting, and ability to attack the rim off the ball give him good potential as a very high-end role player, and he still has room to grow. Continuing to improve his ball-handling and continuing to add strength to his frame would help his stock, which is something he could show in pre-draft workout matchups, where his makeup as a player and commitment to defense could allow him to shine.

As a rookie, Ross didn’t impress all that much defensively (or with his outside shot). There were extenuating circumstances, namely an ever-changing role on the team thanks to the instability of the roster and the regular rookie learning curve. While Ross was effective in the pick and roll and guarding off screens (basically, any situation in which he was chasing an opposing player), he struggled when isolated. The team was also appreciably better defensively (104 points per 100 possessions or PPC) with him on the bench than on the floor (106.1), a number skewed a bit by the starting unit’s overall impressive defense. This isn’t surprising, though, as he was going from trying to lock down Pac-12 players to NBA players, an easy jump for nobody.

It didn’t sour the franchise on his potential, however. In the preseason, head coach Dwane Casey compared Ross to Rashard Lewis, another player who succeeded in (and for a while, surpassed) the 3-and-D role. But his message was also clear – Ross didn’t bring it every night and every possession and relied too much on his athleticism to make up the difference.

Look at these two mega-grainy and cherry-picked examples from last season. The first shows Ross sagging way too far off the ball-handler and relying on his vertical to close the gap when the shooter pulls up. The second shows Ross completely fall asleep, helping weakly on the dive man and leaving his man wide open at the break.


This season, however, has been different. While I hesitate to say that Ross’ attitude has changed because I don’t want to suggest he gave less effort or focused less on defense as a rookie, he’s looked worlds better on the defensive end.

He no longer looks like his upside is just a wing who can shoot and guard capably, he appears to have genuine lock-down defender potential. That term has no more universal a definition than 3-and-D, though it’s a tier above, to be sure.

Consider what generally goes into defense: athleticism, defensive IQ and effort. Ross has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the first. The second is something he flashed at Washington but likely takes on-the-job experience to nurture at the NBA level. He’s getting that opportunity now and looking better by the week. And the third, focus, might be the driving force behind the improvement.

“He’s grown. His focus now is better,” Casey said last Wednesday. “Understanding what’s going to happen to him now is better. Translating what happens in practice to games is better.

“He’s so much more improved than he was earlier in the year.”

Part of that, as mentioned, is opportunity. With Rudy Gay traded, Ross lost a player to work on his defense against in practice but became the team’s starting small forward and the only wing on the team, short of perhaps John Salmons in spot duty, with the profile to stop the opposing team’s best player. It seems risky in the short-term to have a sophomore check All-Stars, but what option does Casey have, both in the present and with the goal of developing a stopper looking forward?

The experiment is encouraging so far. With Ross on the floor since the trade, the Raptors allow just 101.8 PPC – that’s worse than the team’s mark with him on the bench but would still be a top-10 defense in the league (that Ross plays 56 percent of his minutes with the struggling-defensively Jonas Valanciunas probably doesn’t help). Opposing small forwards have just an 11.4 player efficiency rating (PER) against Ross, per 82games.com, and of the 33 lineups the Raptors have employed for at least 12 minutes, three of the top four defensive units include Ross.

To Ross’ credit, it’s a role he’s really embraced and takes pride in. He shoots a lot of threes and throws down highlight reel dunks, but it’s talking about defense that gets Ross speaking faster and more excitedly.

“It’s something I embrace, something I like to take on,” Ross told Raptors Republic last Tuesday. “Coach is always telling me that they usually try to put me on, if we have to guard a wing like James Harden or Paul George or somebody like that, then I’m usually the guy that has to guard him.

“I look at it as an opportunity. I like playing defense. It’s fun to me, especially playing a guy that’s known for being a scorer. If you can slow him down in any type of way, it’s a good feeling for me.”

If a coach went into pre-draft interviews looking for a future defensive ace, that’s pretty much verbatim what the coach would hope to hear.

And Ross isn’t exaggerating in the assignments he’s been given. In this clip from November, Ross capably stays in front of Harden and doesn’t fall for his stutter-carry, a move he usually uses to confuse a defender before taking his aggressive first step into the paint.


And here, from New Year’s Day, watch Ross guarding George. Not only does Ross deny George positioning at the elbow and delay that step in the action until just 11 seconds remain on the clock, but he stays aggressive after George has the ball. The play appears to be designed for David West, anyway, but look at how George disengages after Ross takes a swipe at the ball.

In both cases, Ross clearly has a plan against a top player. Ross credits advanced study for some of his success against the bigger names, citing video work and a player’s tendencies (left or right, where they like the ball, etc) as pre-game points of emphasis for him. (He also noted he studies what the referees tend to allow players, which I found interesting considering Ross had a clear mission of keeping Harden from entering the paint in the clip above.)

“It’s reactive,” said Ross. “But at the same time you want to force him to do something he’s not comfortable with so he doesn’t get his groove going. If you get the player to stay out of his groove, it works.”

Clear one-on-one isolations like the examples above aren’t quite the norm yet. Per Synergy Sports, Ross has only been isolated 39 times this season. The number is small because Ross has only recently been given the assignments regularly (he was isolated 12 times in 18 games before the trade and has been 27 times in the 23 games since) , but it also shrinks because Ross and DeMar DeRozan don’t have set assignments on defense for every play.

With Ross listed at 6-foot-6 and 195lbs and DeRozan at 6-foot-7 and 216lbs, it’s difficult to tell who the shooting guard is and who the small forward is. In reality, Ross guards the higher-usage wing and the two-guard if that delineation isn’t clear, but their similarity in size allows the team’s defense to be far more flexible. They can switch without much cause for concern and, as Ross put it, “in transition, whoever you’re close to, take him.”

It’s important, then, that Ross’ defense is also making strides in non-isolation situations. Along with ranking 29th in the NBA in isolation defense (opponents have shot just 10-of-37 with two trips to the line against Ross), he also ranks 12th defending hand-offs and 41st defending players off screens (in both situations, opponents shoot under 40 percent). He’s above-average guarding a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll as well, largely by way of forcing turnovers more than 25 percent of the time.

In the example below, Ross does a good job following Mo Williams but gets lost off a cheap Thomas Robinson screen. He switches, however, and then manages to block Robinson’s shot on the drive.

Going back to the Pacers game, Ross is a step behind George after chasing him through three screens but keeps fighting and successfully closes out on the corner three.

Spot-up shooters are actually the one area Ross is still struggling on defense. Part of it could be him losing his man as he learns to deal with the intricacies of NBA offensive sets but part could also be due to struggles fighting through screens from bigger players. Ross is still quite thin and can be bumped off his path with a strong screen from a big, especially along the baseline.

There’s a tough trade-off in asking him to bulk up too much considering so much of his talent is derived from his quickness, though. And while he highlights weight gain as a goal moving forward, citing its necessity in the post for guarding players like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James (Ross hasn’t really been posted often enough to get a good feel for his talent in this regard, though the early returns are encouraging), he sees two keys to continued success on that end of the floor.

“I just gotta stay in shape,” Ross said when asked how one works to improve defensively outside of games, since you can’t exactly go to the gym and get a thousand reps in like you can with a jump-shot. “Defense is all about your motivation to stay in front of the person, the will. As long as you have that and the stamina to do it, you’ll be fine.”

And the motivation factor – focus, to hear Casey tell it – is the most encouraging part about Ross’ defensive development.

“I think, for me, if you’re slowing down an offensive player and you look at the scoreboard and he has only nine, 10 points and it’s the end of the third, then you know that you’re doing a good job and you got into his head and now you know you can go out there and shut him down,” Ross said.

That’s becoming a far more regular occurrence.

Dap to Eric Koreen/Ryan Wolstat for the second Casey quote. Thanks, fellas.

  • Andy

    great article

  • arsenalist

    This article is why Blake is signed to a $17 million/yr 14-year contract by RR.

    • robertparish00

      That salary was based on the Knickerblogger matching it, effectively taking them out of the Steve Nash sweepstakes.

      • Whatthe

        And poor Tim W. is the Landry Fields blocker? where is Tim ? oh yeah hand surgery can’t type, TANK hit a land mine. Get well soon Landry

    • ckh26

      Got him on the cheap did you ?

    • BlakeMurphy

      $0 paid so far. It’s heavily back-loaded, apparently.

  • GLF

    AMAZING article. I love what I’m hearing from Ross. He has so much potential on that end of the floor and him buying in will only make it easier for him to reach that potential. A lot of young players don’t enjoy playing defense but he does and that is a great sign. The sky’s the limit for him.

  • Ian Reynolds

    PPC!!

    Ross has more upside than Demar, so it’s good that he’s developing his D already. Not much else to add really, the article was spot on.

  • Jeffrey Yau

    Good read.

  • Marshall

    Best article I’ve read all week…

  • vino

    I like Ross. The eye exam sees a player who moves so fluid
    he remind me of MJ… glad stats support the notion he is developing into a
    valuable asset for our team. As for his defense, as this is the main topic of
    this article, having Ross guard James or Melo is setting him for a failure. It
    is simply isn’t fair. Even if he bulks up (and he will) he can’t guard a 6’-8’’
    (and up) power forwards, and James plays like one when he posts up down low.
    Going forward, the raps need two things: a big, who can play with his back to
    the basket (and distribute the ball from the post and rebound and hit FT, etc…
    ), call him type one, and a lock down wing D – type 2. Not necessarily a “3 and
    D”, which would be nice; at least someone at 6’8’’ who could guard opposing
    teams’ beast wind player. Maybe MU can find us a lock down wing D (type 2) in
    this year’s draft or on an open market. Young players with potential to play
    elite D without flashy offensive repertoire (or not developed yet) are
    relatively easy/cheap to find – relative to an all-star big (type one).

    • http://www.facebook.com/asifyouknow Al Asifyouknow

      Reminds you of MJ? you mean like Michael Jordan? …wow

      • vino

        no, Michael Jackson

  • Dr.Scooby

    Good stuff.

    I recently read Zach Lowe’s Grantland article on his All-Star selections and this is what he said about Aaron Afflalo’s defense:
    “Afflalo’s defense has been overrated most of his career, but he’s been super efficient carrying an Orlando offense bereft of long-range shooting and legit scoring options”

    More than a few on this site have touted Afflalo as a superior replacement to DeRozen. The argument being that he’s a far more efficient shooter and that he’s a good defender.

    Now, is he overrated defensively as Lowe says or is Lowe completely wrong?

    By pushing for a trade of DD (for argument’s sake a ‘B’ level player) for Afflalo (arguably a ‘B+” player) do we really improve the Raps?

    What if team chemistry is at stake. Afflalo makes a little less, but is older…is this really a no brainer trade for TO?

    • BlakeMurphy

      Well, Lowe is rarely wrong. Just because Afflalo is overrated defensively though doesn’t mean he’s not GOOD, just that perhaps he’s not great.

      I think DD-for-AA is a trade where both teams would balk, to be honest.

  • puffer

    Those are great (defensive) numbers. thanks for bringing them out and confirming what the eye has been suggesting. Wonderful improvement by Ross in just one year.

    • puffer

      great offensive numbers as well…just really impressed with his growth as a defender.

  • mountio

    Great article. The amazing thing to me is that is was so painfully obvious that TRoss could be good in these two areas – defense and shooting. He just needed playing time .. and casey refused to give it to him.
    As a result, hed get lost on a couple of defensive assignments (which he still does, btw) and he got yanked. How the hell do you learn this way?
    Anyways .. we got there, but we couldve got there a lot faster ..

    • GLF

      You have always been TRoss’s number one fan. I remember you always getting pissed when DC wouldn’t let him play more so he can develop. You were right all along. I see the potential you saw in him now.

    • What the

      Don’t forget T.ross is Caseys boy so i don’t know.

    • From the bench

      I think it is easy to harp on Casey for cutting playing time but maybe that is what he needed to get to this point. Casey has tried to preach D and hustle since the start and I think it just took some time for Ross to give him that more consistently. With Rudy leaving it opened up the door for Ross to play and now they seem to have a more focused approached of how they are going to use him on both sides of the ball. They have helped him regain his confidence by sticking him in the corners for set shots and than just like the article spoke to, based on the fact that there is really noone else he has been given the job of sf/sg stopper.

  • http://www.facebook.com/asifyouknow Al Asifyouknow

    Why did Ross only play 19 minutes last night???

    • FREEJV

      cuz monta schooled him

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  • raptorspoo

    Hence we should keep Ross and trade DD.

    You need superstars and role players on your team to win a championship. Ross can be a great role player but DD is not good enough at any particular skills to be a role player and I would definitely not put my team on DD’s back to carry them far. Plain & simple, he’s just not good enough and he never will be. I apologize if I have to subject some of you to harsh realities. DD is a very good 6th man type player but we’ve built him up to be our first option – hence he’s gotta go.

    Also, it’s pointless to keep both unless you’re convinced one of them can play SF on both sides of the ball against the best teams/players. Might as well trade one while he’s scoring 40 points and on a manageable contract.

    • From the bench

      I think we are finally starting to see the potential of Ross and DD together on the court. Ross compliments DD game by knocking down threes and stretching the floor and DD has made big improvements this year at passing the ball. As well, DD is only 24 and has superior work ethic. If you look at his noticeable improvements every year, it makes me excited to see what part of his game he works on this offseason to improve his game for next season. When you look around the league there are really only a handful of those “superstar gamechangers”. In DD we may not have that but we have an Allstar (as of next week I think officially) who understands work ethic and is still growing. While I do agree with you that DD may not be the type to carry the team on his back on a nightly basis, I think the Raptors are finally putting an offense together that has various weapons to reduce the pressure on him. If we can keep this young core together and add a few vets (maybe a starting power forward) I think we have some serious potential over the next few years.

  • From the bench

    Really enjoyed the article on a whole. Thanks for digging up the advanced stats to give a better picture of Ross’s strengths and weaknesses as a defender. The thing that is helping Ross as well is that now the whole Raptors team is buying in to playing D. The reality of any great “lock down” defender is that you are always going to need help to guard a Lebron, Durant, Melo, etc. You don’t stop guys like that without a strong defensive game plan surrounding you. The other thing that will aid him as he goes along is the referees whistle. At this point in his career he (or any other raptor) still does not get any respect from the refs and is prone to picking up silly fouls that take him out of his game and force him to adjust his defensive intensity. If the Raptors can continue to show their Defensive toughness they will slowly begin to get the benefit of the doubt from the refs….. hopefully. Again thanks for the thorough article. I”m looking forward to a good game from Ross tonight

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