Putting Ross’ struggles into context.

Growing pains are called pains for a reason. It’s almost never smooth and easy. It’s awkward boners and unsightly acne invading your face, wherein every pore marks ground seceded by your zit-cream to the unsightly form of adolescence. It’s never pretty.

We are witnessing Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross’ struggles with basketball adolescence.

True to form, it’s been an awkward experience, and like zits on a face, Ross’ failures thus far have been equal parts visible and unsightly. Through the first six games of the Raptors’ round one playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Ross is averaging 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds per game on 27% shooting from the field, a far cry from his regular season averages. It’s hard to believe that this is the same player who exploded for 51 points in a game earlier this season. Somewhere in his basketball grave, Tony Delk is rolling onto his side in order to make room.

What’s worse for Ross, is that his problems are not merely skin-deep. This isn’t a case of shots not falling, or better offense overwhelming his abhorrent defense. If anything, the numbers portray Ross in a fairer light than his performance merits – Ross has been terrible on both ends of the floor. He’s not finding ways to get himself open for threes, he’s not leaking in transition, and his defensive positioning is random, at best. The most obvious sign? His smooth butterfly shooting stroke, the one that launched his career in pro basketball, looks warped and altered, as if it were designed to thread a basketball through the eye of a needle. His shot looks as ugly as that last analogy.

Ross is popping random boners – figuratively speaking – on national television.

Unfortunately, it’s a process that can’t be helped. Like the attentive and caring parents that they are, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the de facto leaders on this team, have tried their best to coax better performances out of Ross, but to no avail. They’ve tried giving him the ball, they’ve tried sparing him of offensive responsibilities, they’ve tried comforting him – nothing has worked. Ross looks frightened and miserable when he’s on the court. He’s alone in this fight, and he’s getting his head handed to him.

The spectra of emotions clashing in Ross’ mind must be sickening. Anger, depression, frustration, embarrassment and helplessness are showing on an endless loop like Rambo movies on Spike. It’s a nauseating cycle that only ends when you shut off the television – sleep is probably Ross’ favorite pastime right now.

My hope as a Raptors fan is that Ross manages to snap out of his funk in time for Sunday, but I’m not holding my breath. There were brief flashes in Game 6, when Ross successfully drove into the heart of the Nets’ defense, and used his athleticism to get open looks. I would like to focus on those, rather than the defensive missteps and shanked jumpshots. I would like less John Salmons in my life.

However, my fear is that our current frustrations as a fanbase will ultimately result in a permanent black mark against Ross. The stakes are higher in the playoffs not only because elimination looms, but more eyeballs are glued to television sets. With every game, we’re bombarded with panoramic crowd shots of the Raptors’ faithful, at least 1,000 strong gathering in Jurassic Park, but what about “Bob the Leafs fan”, who is only watching basketball because his TV is permanently set to TSN? When he sees Ross brick open threes, what impressions are formed in his mind?

And although the Raptors’ accomplishments thus far this season have earned each and every player (save for Salmons) plenty of deserved leeway, the backlash will always be around the corner, sharking for sought-after page-views. If a respectable news publication like The Oklahoman is willing to slander the good name of likely MVP Kevin Durant, what can we expect from The Toronto Sun? Someone will pick on Ross because he’s low-hanging fruit. For once, I’m thankful that Toronto is a hockey-town.

But remember, what we are witnessing isn’t Terrence Ross, the final cylon. Rather, we’re seeing him struggle with growing pains, and with basketball adolescence. This is as awkward as it’s going to get.

Regardless of the outcome of Game 7, this haunting playoff series will likely fester in Ross’ mind for a very long time. He knows he has let down DeRozan and Lowry, and squandered one of their few forays into the post-season. He has disappointed his teammates, which is something that hurts more than just self-flagellation.

He will be seeking redemption, but his chance won’t come until next season, at the earliest. In the meantime, we’ll debate Ross’ potential in forums and comment sections, bearing his playoff failures in mind. Some of us will take his failures as a slight against him. Others will see his performance in the proper context — Ross won’t be pimply forever.

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