When a sophomore three-point shooter doubles his threes taken from his rookie season (196 to 408), and increases his percentage by 6.3% (.332 to .395), it can only be classified as a successful season. In our hopes of solidifying a position for the long-term, we tend to expect too much too fast of certain players and Terrence Ross is one of them. The shooting struggles in his rookie season were, at the time, worrying because that was sold as his strength coming out of college, so when he consistently airballed and hit backboard on wide-open threes, there was a sense that the Raptors had picked a dud.

At the same time, it’s very rare that excellent college shooting doesn’t translate into the NBA, especially for a 6’7” player. So when Ross was struggling it was a good bet that the problems were more mental than mechanical, for when his shots did go in his form was flawless. In fact, even when he missed his form was flawless. Coming into his sophomore season he was sold as the “3 and D” player which stats-geeks, amatuer bloggers (redundancy here?), or front-office executives now crave as a necessity for a winning team. And so Ross started his sophomore campaign firmly behind Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan as a role player looking to fill the offensive gaps and supply the defense expected of a player of his ilk and athleticism.

Ross’s season didn’t start till Rudy Gay was traded. The starting role changed his approach to the game in two fundamental ways. First, it gave him the confidence that the coach and franchise had put their faith in him. Rather than try to make an impression in limited and unpredictably distributed minutes, he was installed as a starter and guaranteed a base set of playing time in a defined capacity. The introduction of this rhythm into Ross’s season helped him, somewhat understandably, since most shooters are creatures of pattern. Second, having his coach’s confidence, Ross took more chances on the offensive end than he had in his previous pigeonholed role, and he utilized his dribble more in half-court sets, reacted to the defense by moving around rather than standing on the perimeter like a scarecrow.

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The good play stemming from the combination of calculable playing time and increased confidence culminated in a 51-point outing against the Clippers at home, which was followed by a thunderous dunk on Kenneth Faried during a road trip that affirmed Toronto as a legitimate threat rather than a team in a good stretch of form. The Raptors’ success correlated with the introduction of Ross to the starting lineup (and the Rudy Gay trade, of course), and it lent merit to the idea that a future with Ross and DeRozan occupying the SF/SG spots in some combination may be fruitful.

His defense improved as the minutes got more consistent and Dwane Casey often used him in lineups where he was pressuring point-guards effectively. Lacking the strength to guard top-tier swingmen, this move by Casey gave Ross an opportunity to showcase his lateral quickness, recoverability, and ability to pressure in one-on-one situations. He has ways to go before he can defend in the post or fulfill a 48-minute defensive assignment on a wing threat, however, he showed that he tends to follow good defensive principles and can, with increased strength, coaching, and focus, become a defender that can swing the pendulum in a game.

His psyche appears to be a little fragile and his confidence is prone to be shaken, so the progress he made this year was critical in that it validated his status as an NBA player, which will give the him boost he needs to excel.

If you appreciated his three-point shooting (a glaring hole on the team from the season previous), you had to have also noticed that he tends to favor it to the point where he’s noticeably avoiding any venture into the paint. Perhaps it’s the fear of contact or lack of confidence that he can finish against contests. In either case, that has to be the next level of his offensive progression. It should not be a tall order for Ross to become more than a perimeter threat because he possesses the requisite quickness and dribbling skills to get by his defender, and his handle is tight enough that he can change direction quickly in the face of rotations.

Only 21% of Ross’s FGs were near the rim, which pales in comparison to his wing teammates: Vasquez at 31%, Lowry at 32%, and DeRozan at 27%. Improving this area of his game, which essentially boils down to using a head-fake and driving in more, is going to open up Ross’s offense. He’s overcome the first hurdle of establishing himself as an outside threat, the next logical step is to leverage that into more diverse offense. As I had stated in a recent podcast, Ross (along with Valanciunas) are progressing very naturally in their NBA careers and are, more or less, where they should be in their development cycle.

His projection can be anywhere from Tony Allen to Jamal Crawford. His footwork in defensive stances against wings who are drive threats needs to improve, as the playoffs showed when he was guarding Joe Johnson who he continually got on the wrong side of too easily. The matchup also exposed his lack of strength. Taking the Tony Allen example a little further, at 195 lbs, Ross needs to add about 20 lbs to get to Allen’s weight, at which he has a greater chance of making himself a greater obstacle to overcome in any one-on-one situation where strength is called into question. The increased strength may also make him more keen on picking up charges, of which he had only one all season which is very poor (by comparison, Kyle Lowry had 31).

It’s this off-the-ball defense where the Raptors are going to need him going forward, and where he can add significant value. Like many players of his build, he has the tools to become a player that can have a consistent influence on the game through defense, it’s whether he’s willing to commit to such attention to detail and rigour is where my doubts are. If the Raptors are to forge a defensive identity, they need at least two impactful defensive wings and it can be argued that Lowry is one and DeRozan will never be that, presenting Ross with an opportunity.

His offensive projection is wide-ranging, he could turn out to be what GMs hoped J.R Smith would end up as, or he could end up as J.R Smith. He does have DeRozan, who he presumably guards in practice, to look at as an example of a player who has added an offensive dimension in a relatively short amount of time. There is no reason why Ross cannot progress in the same manner as DeRozan and become a good pull-up shooter, utilize screens to free himself using the live dribble, invite contact near the rim to get to the line, and use elevation to create space. Taking a step further, you could contend that he’s more gifted as a shooter, ball-handler, and athlete than DeRozan, thus has a higher chance of success. That is a topic for another day.

To sum this up, Ross’s development is following a good trajectory and he did what is expected of a player in his situation: he found ways to make himself a valuable member of the team without having to be a focus of the offense, he improved defensively by a degree that gives you confidence that more is to come, and he corrected his rookie issues – jitters, effort, and court awareness.

Depending on how highly Ujiri rates Ross’s potential and the likelihood that he’ll realize it, he could return as a Day One starter, or be viewed as an asset that can be packaged in a larger deal. From my view, Ross is likely to be the fourth or fifth best starter next season, and that is probably where he’ll need to be for the Raptors to have a talented and deep enough team to contend for the Eastern Conference.

  • ItsAboutFun

    I’ve got high hopes for Ross, but all they are at this point is hopes. Unlike some who are ready to unload DD because “we have TRoss”, I say he has proven nothing more than he has the physical abilities to be elite something. It takes a lot more than that at this level though.

    After 2 years, we still have no idea if he has the heart and mind to excel. “he corrected his rookie issues – jitters, effort, and court awareness.”. Huh? I agree with none of this. Jitters is difficult to define, but he’s still jittery. Effort has been very inconsistent. Most days, his court awareness is sadly lacking, at both ends. We’ve seen moments of him getting it, but let’s not get carried away that he has “corrected” anything.

    Why do people feel the need to put DD down when discussing Ross’s future prospects? The last few paragraphs, including “they need at least two impactful defensive wings and it can be argued that Lowry is one and DeRozan will never be that,”. So what valid argument is there that DD “will never be that”? Never be? Seriously, what does this kid have to do to prove he works hard, year after year, on improving his game, and what excludes his defense from that?

    Sorry if I’m being unfair, but I guess I’m reacting in part to the obsessive, and slanted, babbling of a few people over in the forums. *cough* DanH *cough* mcHappy/Matt52 *cough*……………

  • Tinmann

    I think Ross will be remember as a great choice at 8.
    The steps he took this year were about as much as we’d of hoped for at season’s start.
    When he is on, the Raptors are a much tougher team to beat.
    He’s still young, and I think he got a taste this year of what it will take to succeed. I hope he’s a gym rat like his teammates and I hope he’s lifting weights. He needs to get stronger.
    If Masai sticks with what he’s stated and wants to see what the same core can bring next year, the continued development of both sophomores, Ross and JV, would have to be the biggest factor in our teams growth. I think both have potential to be great players in this league, here’s hoping both can reach that potential.

  • jjdynomite

    Terrence tied for 19th in the league in 3-pointers made with 161, which isn’t too bad for the 4th (and sometimes 5th when GV’s on a roll) option on offense. Being an accurate 3-point shooter (.395%) is a real skill for a sophomore — and something that can’t be undervalued in today’s 3-happy NBA. I’m excited to see what he can do with some added weight (that won’t slow down his athleticism) and aggressiveness.

  • jakdripr

    I think being on the same team as Demar will help ross going forward. Say what you want about Demar, dude is a work horse, every season he adds a new element to his game and if Ross learns from that we could have a very potent back court going forward.

    One interesting note this article brought up was the Tony Allen comparison. I always thought Ross was too small to be a dominant wing defender, but Tony Allen is actually shorter than Ross, I don’t know why he seems like he’s so much bigger tbh.

  • Microaggressive

    “he could end up as J.R Smith”
    Except for the fact that Ross isn’t trying to be all ghetto in his personal life.

  • mountio

    Unashamed T Ross supporter here – I still think he has the highest ceiling on the team. I think he made some great strides this year … despite not getting much PT. I can remember countless games where he would go off for 10-12 points in the first quarter and we would barely hear from him again as he would get a long stint on the bench and even when he came back in, we would go away from him.
    Having said that, he took a major set back in the playoffs. Sure, hes a young guy, but you have to show up more than he did. It was really disappointing. Maybe Casey was right and hes just not ready for prime time? Maybe his confidence just isnt quite there yet … I dont know. I still have very high hopes for him. If he can add a little bit of a slashing game (shouldnt be that hard given his skill set) – he will be able to bring a full arsenal on offense. Also, if he mixes things up on the break where he cuts hard to the hoop (when he doesnt have the ball) sometimes instead of fading for the open corner … he will get more easy hoops as well.
    But – confidence is a fragile thing … and right now, hes lost it. I hope he can pick it up next year, but to be honest, I wouldnt be surprised if hes never able to regain it again. I sure hope he will though …

    • ItsAboutFun

      Some people have amazing memories.

      “I can remember countless games where he would go off for 10-12 points in
      the first quarter and we would barely hear from him again as he would
      get a long stint on the bench and even when he came back in, we would go
      away from him”

      Countless? I suggest a remedial math class. He had 8 games where he went off for 10-12 pts in the 1st qtr.
      – 1, against LAC, where he scored 51 pts,,,,,, hardly went away from him
      – 1, against Sixers, where he went 5/6 in the 1st, 5/12 for another 12 pts the rest of the way. Hardly ignored him there
      – 1, against DET, where he went 4/7 in 1st, then 2/6 rest of the way, winding up with 2nd highest FGAs on the team, 2nd only to DD with 2 more FGAs, in 6 more minutes. Hardly going away from him.
      – 1, against T-Wolves, where he fouled out after 25 minutes. Can’t go to him when he’s either in foul trouble, or out of the game
      – 1, against BRK, where he went 5/9 in 1st, then 0/3 rest of the way, total 12 FGAs. He ended game with 3 more FGAs than DD, in 3 less minutes, and only Raps with more FGAs was Lowry (16) and Amir (14). Forgot about him?
      – 1, PHX, where he went 4/5 for 11 pts in the 1st, then 3/8 rest of the way, for a total of 13 FGAs, 3rd only to Lowry (19 FGAs in 9 more minutes) and DD (16 FGAs in 8 more minutes). Hardly going away from him
      – 1, against IND, where he went 4/4 for 10 pts in 1st, then 4/13 rest of the way, ending 2nd only to DD in FGAs, with 17 vs 19 FGAs, in 6 less minutes. Hardly went away from him.

      It seems both your memory and math need work, including the “despite not getting much PT”. The only players with significant more PT were Lowry and DD. Ross got more than he earned, considering how BAD he was, far too often, on defensive rotations and help D.

      • mountio

        First … its not a matter of math, its a matter of memory. If you want to fault me for a less than photographic memory .. than have at ‘er .. ill accept that criticism. Next, considering he only started 62 games (ie post Gay trade) and hes (at best) our third scoring option in terms of plays run for him.. more like 4th or 5th on most nights, the fact he had 10-12 points in even 8 of 62 games is actually fairly impressive to me. Id wonder (you can probably tell me) how many games DD had similar !st Q performances? Id be willing to guess its not many more, despite him being our first option. (btw – Ill take your stats as given, I cant seem to find quarter by quarter stats (where do you get them?) .. but glancing at the game logs, they seem reasonable).
        2nd, the fact that by your logic, “not going away from him” includes games such as brooklyn where he got 3 fgs in the last 3 quarters vs 9 in the 1st quarter??? On what planet is that not going away from him? Same with Det getting 7 shots in the first and only 6 the rest of the game.
        If a guy is hot and your leading scorer (likely if he has 10-12 in the first Q), he should roughly continue his shot pace until the other team stops him (adjusting for mins or course as a starter likely plays more mins in the 1st Q than the others)
        By my glance, the Indy game is the only one (other than 51 of course) that looks like he remotely kept up his pace from the first Q. And of course your commentary suggests he (or we as fans) should be happy with him shooting 8 of 17 for 24 pts vs DD shooting 8 of 19 for 20 (but of course, hes demar derozan .. so thats ok, Ross should be happy because we didnt go away from him).
        Anyways – I could go on forever here. I think you have essentially proved my point by claiming that games where his looks go WAY down, we were somehow still looking for him.
        Not sure why you are so angry (either against Ross or pro Casey) – but your take is way off here ….

        • ItsAboutFun

          Thanks for the amusing straw man arguments, but not “angry”. Just have a thing about criticism based on hyperbolic misrepresentation of facts and zero consideration for in-game circumstances. “Countless games…………”, sheeesh. When he plays better, at both ends of the court, within team schemes, I’m sure he’ll see more PT and more touches. For now, he got more than he earned, and worked for, so perhaps chill on the anti-Casey/DD rhetoric when discussing Ross’s performance. I sure hope he isn’t blaming others for his incredibly inconsistent performance, like some RR members.

          • mountio

            For one who doesnt like hyperbole, you should be able to realize that “countless games” by definition cant be true (since as I stated and you well know, he only started 62 games, and so even if he scored 10-12 points in every first quarter, if you want to take the statement at its total literal sense … then, yes, we both could technically count up to 62.)
            Its an expression .. it appears you would have preferred an expression like “a good number of” or “many”. Slightly less dramatic i guess and more accurate .. but Im generally giving the reader some credit here for not having to take every expression at its extreme literal sense.
            To further clarify some others.
            When I say T Ross jumps out of the gym, I dont actually mean when he jumps, he leaves the gym, just that he jumps very high.
            When I say Lowry is a flame thrower, I mean hes hot (no, not temperature hot, just hiiting a greater %age of his shots than usual), not exuding flames from his hands
            When I say Aaron Gray has hands of stone .. not actual grey stone, but bad co-ordination. I can go on, but I hope you get the point …