Clippers 126, Raptors 118 – Box

The sidebar here is the Raptors losing to the Clippers on account of some defense that is best forgotten, especially when it concerns J.J Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Blake Griffin. The story is Terrence Ross who tied Vince Carter’s 51-point mark on 16-29 FG, 10-17 3FG, and 9-10 FT. I’m sure the web isn’t short of articles chronicling Ross’ efforts, so I’d like to step back and try to examine what we have here as a player.

Here’s a guy who I was comparing to Chris Jefferies not too long ago dropping 51 points against a Western conference contender. The variety on offer at the ACC last night ranged from long-range bombs, put-back dunks, side-stepping screens, drives to the lane and even some hang-time layups. So it’s not like he just got hot from outside – there was a little bit of everything to Ross’s game. The Clippers tried putting everyone from Jamal Crawford to Matt Barnes on him, only to find out that once a player gets hot hot, there’s little one can do.

[Watch a Video of Terrence Ross's 51 points – Here are his 16 FGs]
[Watch a GIF of the DeMar DeRozan Injury (Did Hedo Turkoglu Kick His Leg Out?)]
[Read: Reaction: Clippers 126, Raptors 118]

So what do we know about Ross?

He’s a very good shooter
After shaking off the rookie-jitters and awarded some consistently playing time where he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder after each miss, he has delivered. Ross is now shooting 41% from three this season, after shooting just 33% from downtown last year. When he’s open, and he has been of late, he’s killing teams. The question now becomes that since he’s on the radar and defenses will adjust to his knack for the three, how will he respond? That’s a question for another day but for now he’s living up to his draft day billing of being a great shooter.

His mid-range game is improving
Last night we saw to some degree how he might respond. Granted that the Clipper defense wasn’t exactly air-tight so it may not be the ideal test, however, that doesn’t preclude us from drawing some inferences regarding Ross’s ability. Of late, he’s much more confident evading a defender trying to close-out and stepping into the 17-21 foot range and launching a jumper or leaner that has a good chance of going in. Like any great scorer, if Ross hopes to become one, this is the shot that he has to master. Much like Joe Johnson, Rip Hamilton, and going as far back as Mitch Richmond, or to a greater extent, Kobe Bryant. This is the shot that will ultimately determine whether Ross is a 3-and-D man or a dependable scorer that can lead the scoring on a team.

Comparing his shot distribution from last year to this, he’s essentially taking the same shots he did before, this time he happens to have the confidence that is vital to shooting.

He’s above-average on defense
As Blake spoke with him about, he’s much more serious about defense than his play indicated last year.  If he is to be talked about in terms of the franchise’s “core” or “nucleus”, this has to be a prerequisite (goes for DeRozan as well).  Dwane Casey’s shown some surprising confidence in Ross by going to him as a stopper in game-changing situations and he’s responded positively.  There’s no denying that he has significant work to do here, as even seen against the Clippers, but it’s encouraging to see that this is part of his game is being tuned rather than ignored.  In this sense, he reminds me of an early Tracy McGrady.  Tracy McGrady at the same age was a more accomplished player given that he came into the league early, but McGrady in year two is a striking comparison.

It feels odd to compare Ross to McGrady given the latter’s accomplishments.  One has to try hard to remember what the feelings and opinions on McGrady were at the time rather than be clouded by his later career.  If you make that mental leap, you’ll find that Ross isn’t a far-off comparison.

He’s capable of having a 50-point game
Other than Dana Barros (who some might say was a decent player in his own right), players who score 50+ in a game (last 20 years), end up being quite capable NBA players.  It’s almost as if scoring 50 in a game is a verification of talent, or a litmus test of a certain level of quality.  If you’re able to do it, you’re somebody.  With this game Ross has well and truly announced himself in the NBA, and this game will bring him into far greater focus than winning the slam-dunk competition.  Coincidentally enough, I think it’ll have the same impact as it did for Jamal Crawford back in the 2006-07 season when he dropped 52 against Miami at Madison Square Garden.

When Ross steps on the court against Brooklyn on Monday night he’ll be the talk of the stadium.  The defense isn’t going to treat him as third fiddle behind DeRozan and Lowry, but as someone to plan for because the signal that he sent out against the Clippers is that he’s somebody.  How he’s going to respond to that sort of focus will be telling.

Primary scorer? Not yet
Some moments against the Clippers would have you believe otherwise, but Ross isn’t someone you can give the ball to at a tail end of a shot clock and expect a reasonable look to follow. Maybe that will change – especially if this shot against the Clippers (GIF) is a predictor of anything – but as of right now he can’t be considered a primary scorer. Of course, at this point in his career he doesn’t need to be that, and a fair target for him is somewhere along where Morris Peterson was in his second year. In terms of points, rebounds and steals, Peterson/Ross stand at 15.5/13.6, 4.6/4.4 and 1.3/1.2. Pretty close, and keep in mind that Ross is two years younger than Peterson was in his second year.

The hopes for Ross are higher than Peterson, but at this juncture of their careers being level with Peterson has to be considered on course, with the jump in the curve hopefully later in Ross’ career.

His athleticism is secondary
Despite winning the slam-dunk and billed as a high-flyer, Ross’s athleticism can’t be classified as the Vince Carter dunk-in-your-face-no-matter-where-and-who-you-are, but more opportunistic like this play (GIF) .  I’ll propose that the rumour he’s a great dunker is a myth, he has far more valuable subtleties in his game than just jumping ability and that’s where his value lies. Anyone can dunk, not everyone can fake a three, step in, put a guy on his hip, lean in for a jumper.

His dribble is tight
This is something we don’t talk about nearly enough.  He has superior handles than DeRozan and can get to where he needs to go with far less risk of bobbling the ball, having it nicked, or dribbling it off his feet.  This can be huge for Ross because it allows coaches to design a wider variety of plays rather than just catch-and-shoots.  We’re already seeing some of it when Ross comes off the baseline, uses a screen at the elbow and curls inside instead of peeling to the three-point line.  That ability to catch the ball off a screen and put it on the floor against the trailer, the big, plus any potential “swipers” is what can open up one’s game to the point where you can be trusted as a clutch-time player.

So yeah, Raptors lose to the Clippers despite a massive game from Ross including a ridiculous third quarter where he pulled the Raptors back when everything pointed to a blowout after DeRozan was ruled out.  The quarter-by-quarter scoring was 15, 8, 13 and 15.  A win would’ve capped off a nice evening but against a Clipper offense that was ticking in transition, and Raptors defense hampered by another poor outing from Amir Johnson (against Griffin).  The Clippers shot 55% which more than made up for their -10 on the boards.

DeMar DeRozan’s ankle sprain looked bad at the time (did Turkoglu do it on purpose [GIF]).  X-Rays are negative and there’s no timetable for return, we’ll know more on Sunday.

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