This is Terrence Ross, owner of two NBA slam dunk trophies.

This is Kenneth Faried, a power forward who has at least 30 pounds on Ross. Colloquially known as “the Manimal”, Faried is as much — if not more — of an athletic marvel as Ross. On a fateful night in January, the two players collided on a fast-break. This was the ensuing result:

Which brings me to my premise — why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket?

Let’s add some context. Last season, Ross averaged just 1.7 drive field-goal attempts per game, which ranked well outside the top-100. On those drives, he scored just 2.1 points per 48 minutes placing him among fine company in Andrea Bargnani and Kirk Hinrich.

The simple rebuttal is that Ross doesn’t drive because his role in the offense is to spot-up. That certainly explains half the story, as his average of 1.7 drives per game did rank similar to spot-up shooters like Courtney Lee and DeMarre Carroll. But Ross isn’t a run-of-the-mill shooter. Go ahead, watch that Faried dunk again.

Rather, the answer might be even simpler — Ross just isn’t good at attacking the basket.

First off, Ross really can’t attack the basket going left because he heavily favors his right hand. He’s actually not a bad ball-handler (with either hand) for a wing, as he can reasonably navigate around defenders using his quickness to offset his slightly high dribble. But, when he does drive left, he tends to pull-up instead of dribbling all the way to the hoop because he’s not a good finisher with his left hand.

This is the typical outcome when Ross goes left:

He also tends to get tunnel vision when he does drive. Ross doesn’t receive very many touches (less than 30 per game), but he averaged less than two assists per 100 possessions last season, an impossibly low figure for a wing player.

Take this play, for instance. The Magic’s defense plays it well, and stays with him to the point where he’s trapped in the paint. But instead of kicking it out to Amir Johnson for an open jumper, or just resetting by using Amir as the release valve, he takes an ill-advised fadeaway. To his credit, he nailed the shot, but process trumps results. Ross rarely creates for anyone when he does attack.

And lastly, Ross is sometimes timid when he attacks, which is strange because his athleticism should allow him to finish over-top opponents. He loves settling for the elbow jumper even when he has a driving lane. Again, this isn’t a Kyle Korver-type — Ross has the tools to finish overtop rim-defenders, or at least draw contact in his attempts.

The reliance on elbow jumpers is a problem for two reasons. One, it’s not a good shot to take. To his credit, Ross doesn’t attempt too many, but that circles back to the central thesis about his driving. He’s also just not great at sinking them, albeit the sample size to draw conclusions from is rather small. The problem does seem to trace back to his rookie season too, however, as he shot a combined 19-for-61 (31 percent) from the elbows in 2012-13.

Shotchart_1407303909929Ross’ 2013-14 shot chart

Two, Ross almost never draws fouls on mid-range pull-up attempts. Unlike his teammate DeMar DeRozan, who catches plenty of attention from referees, Ross’ jumpshot simply doesn’t yield foul shots. As a whole, Ross averaged the second-fewest number of free-throw attempts on a per-36 minute basis among all guards last season. That’s a problem for the Raptors’ offense, and it’s inflexibility puts pressure on the Raptors’ offensive schemes.

Take the play below, which unfolds much like the first GIF. The Thunder overload on DeMar’s drive, as he draws the bulk of defensive attention. When his screen play with Hansbrough produces nothing fruitful, he’s forced to reset by swinging it over to Ross. It’s an extremely basic action that almost every organized basketball team employs.

The action creates a rare one-on-one opportunity for Ross to breakdown the smaller Reggie Jackson, who to his credit, is in perfect position to help. Had Jackson reacted a second slower, Ross would have likely took the open three. But Jackson is alert, and is positioned smartly at the nail, allowing him to closeout on Ross without needing to leave his feet. But the reality is still that a defender was on the move, and Ross should had him dead in the rights, provided he could get past him.

And yet he didn’t, which speaks to a larger problem. Once the defense was able to snuff out DeMar or Lowry’s initial action, the ball would have to swing to Ross — who can’t really drive, nor distribute — which is a huge win for the defense. The Raptors then face a choice between reseting with half a shot-clock, or have Ross try to create. This is an easy choke point, something the Nets fully exploited to their advantage in the playoffs. It even helps explain why John Salmons played so much. He could at least get into the paint and create movement in the defense, albeit to a limited degree.

Improving his dribble-drive attack should be Ross’ next step in his development. There are plenty of wings that can spot-up, but they’re also limited in what they can do. Opposing defenses, especially in playoff series, exploit every weakness they can. Ross already got a taste courtesy of the Nets. Not only will it help Ross stay effective in the face of close-outs, it would also give the Raptors’ attack another dimension.

Ultimately, the onus falls on Ross to improve. The physical tools are there: he’s quick, he’s explosive, and his ball-handling skills are promising. It’s up to him to develop the next part of his game — driving, drawing fouls, hitting the open big when defenders collapse — just like his idol Kyle Lowry did. When Lowry first started, he could barely shoot threes. All he did was drive hard to the basket hoping for contact. He evolved to the point where last season, he was the second-best standstill three-point shooter in the league. If Ross were to take a similar step, the Raptors stand take a huge leap forward. Here’s hoping he does so we can see more of this next season:

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  • Biggest reason Ross doesn’t drive is he isn’t supposed to – Casey is using him as a spot up shooter. It’s not a lack of ability, its a lack of experience & confidence – much like his poor shooting as a rookie, his ability to drive & finish will just take time to develop

    • truth be told

      No, I would say quite a bit of it is lack of ability. He is not a good ball handler and it shows when he goes to the rim. He’s not a shot creator.

    • afrocarter

      Hopefully this season, now that the league will be forced to respect his shot, Casey will challenge him to attack the feet of defenders running out to contest.

    • SR

      “Ross doesn’t drive…he isn’t supposed to” almost makes it sound like you didn’t read William’s lede and premise for the entire article: “The simple rebuttal is that Ross doesn’t drive because his role in the offense is to spot-up. That certainly explains half the story, as his average of 1.7 drives per game did rank similar to spot-up shooters like Courtney Lee and DeMarre Carroll. But Ross isn’t a run-of-the-mill shooter. Go ahead, watch that Faried dunk again. Rather, the answer might be even simpler — Ross just isn’t good at attacking the basket.”

      And then you argue with yourself: “It’s not a lack of ability” “His ability to drive & finish will just take time to develop.” Thank you for clarifying that Ross doesn’t lack the ability to drive, he just needs to develop the ability to drive. Then he’ll drive.

      I have to apologize for the sarcasm, but it’s a bit of a pet peeve when someone is trying so hard to make counterpoints to a sensible article that you really agree with, you just didn’t appear to read it very carefully.

      • ZSS

        I don’t think he read it at all. This happens way too much online–people are so desperate to comment, that reading the actual article becomes a secondary consideration.

    • DDayLewis

      I agree with SR’s comments below. His role certainly explains half the story, but as I detailed in points when defenses blow up DeMar/Lowry’s pick and rolls, the onus is on Ross to create something, which he can’t yet do because of the limitations in his drive game.

    • otiswolf1

      i agree. The offence is not design for Ross the drive.. right now. If he comes into this season with a stronger handle maybe coach casey will attempt to run some pick & roll with him. but for now, i see Ross as a spot up shooter, fast break scorer. Which is exactly what the Raptors need him to do right now.

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    And that’s why the raptors should have traded him during the off season and get maximum value instead of just sitting on their hands. Ross is good, but he is not going to get any better–not as long as he stays with the Raptors. He has plenty of potential to be a potent scorer in the NBA, but as long as he is behind DeRozan, Lowry and Greivis, he will never develop into the player that he can be.

    • Val Jasme

      really? really? really?

      • Slap Dog Hoops

        yup, really.

      • Trini

        Just to put it into context, I remember this slap dog guy praising Bargnani and saying it’s a mistake to trade him. I wouldn’t put much stock into anything he has to say.

    • afrocarter

      That’s your prognosis? So sure of yourself after watching Ross for two seasons? TWO seasons in and you’re sure that he’s not going to get any better? Exit stage left, please.

    • air.chesk

      The kid was getting starting minutes in his sophomore year; he has the ability and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to develop. The key: patience…

    • DDayLewis

      So he has lots of potential, and therefore the Raptors should have traded him? What?


    Good work I think this is on point…Also I think his role must be based on his abilities to some extent if he was a wiz on the drive and could create and pass why would the coach not let him? I think he has to take the first step and make an improvement in his game and his role will evolve as well.

    • DDayLewis

      Thanks. That’s my hope too.

    • Wesmantooth

      Because the the coach has a very limited creative mind on offense guys like Ross an val get confused. They’re both gonna get better. Not worried about either of these guys.
      Raps gonna be fo real this season

  • RobertArchibald

    I’m of the belief that he doesn’t know how to use his body properly when attacking defenders at the rim. He needs to initiate contact and look for fouls, not finishes. I don’t think it’s poor ball-handling and I definitely don’t think it’s “system holding him back”. If anything, the system should make it easier to get to the basket as guys run at him at the three-point line, knowing he’s going to shoot. He needs to perfect his footwork when getting deep in the paint and learn how to jump INTO defenders, not OVER them. Obviously, strength is a major issue here as he needs to be able to absorb the contact in order to get the foul calls. Weak players end up looking out of control even when they are fouled, and don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

  • Wes mantooth

    I think it’s a combo of his role and confidence. What these highlights don’t show is that TR does sometimes attack and pulls up from five feet with a floater. Whenever he shows the will he’s able to do it
    Most of his dunks now come off I broken plays where the D isn’t set. I think as he grows he’ll start to attack more. His potential is through the roof. If he flips that switch in his head I think he can be Eddie jones. Let’s hope.

  • Gary Slippoy

    Raptors seem to have a penchant for putting string bean guys in the corner a la Jamarion Moon. Maybe if these guys attacked the basket it might open up space for cleaner shots by others!

  • Alex Vostrikov

    the longer he is used as a spot up shooter, the less he will develop as a player in a game situations.
    don’t get me wrong, spot up shooters are valuable as any other skill set in nba…. but to me, when you are asked to do same thing over and over again, you will became just that. again, not a bad thing.
    for now, he is not great or even good at what he does…. why not mix it up a little. let him attack as much as shoot.
    ross has “good looking release”, but he is being locked more and more by the opposition.
    to me, its not strictly coaches call, for him mostly shooting. he might be soft, and that’s the main reason. you cant teach aggressiveness and grid….

  • Eunys

    Ross does not attack because he is just not capable of doing so!

  • Paul

    Ross has one slam dunk trophy…

    • DDayLewis

      He shares the second one with John Wall and Paul George

  • Steve Fisher

    Steve Fisher IF TR does not start driving to the jar on a more regular basis it really hurts the TEAM`S overall offense!! If DD and other team mates encouraged him to drive to the basket it would probably really help. IF he has not improved much by the trade deadline package him with others and TRADE him. The following year would be his forth and without steady improvement he becomes a diminishing asset. Steve Fisher

  • Truth Teller

    Its a good article. Valid points.

    I guess the real question is whether or not he can improve and if Casey can get him in some curling screen action (similar to what Demar got). Lets be honest, hes a young player. Demar wasn’t really that great at drawing fouls in his first 2 seasons either. Ross will have the opportunity to grow.

    As for the playmaking ability, thats a bit harder to develop (though Demar APG rose — but so did most his stats every year).

  • The Courthawk

    Some basketball players love the game and are really talented.
    Some basketball players hate to lose the game and are really talented.
    Some basketball players are just really talented.

    I’t might be that Terence Ross could be slated into the last of these 3 columns. Unfortunately if this is the case, it will probably be that his potential level of excellence will remain just that, potential. Those who make it to the next level usually love to win (The best examples are: Dwayne Wade Magic Johnson) or hate to lose ( The best examples are: Kevin Garnet, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant). Loving to win and or hating to lose, makes players do what is necessary with their gifts to get the job done.

    I hope at the end of next season I can that Ross fits into one of the first two columns.

    Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote him this year after the playoffs. I wish I had read WL’s article before sending it, it would have helped put concrete numbers to support my feeling.

    Terence ‘T’ Ross, in all honesty, I was really disappointed in your playoff performance. I just hope you were really disappointed too. Some of your sideline smirks and facial reactions during the games against Brooklyn suggested that you were just run-of-the-mill-
    disappointed and not devastated. If I had to add a voice over to your demeanor in games 1-7 of the playoffs, it would have been more, “Awe shit, this sucks… who wants to get a slice of pizza after the game and what bar are we going to tonight?” and less, “I can’t believe that happened! Coach I am sorry. Team I am sorry. Fans, I promise on all that I hold sacred, that I will sacrifice whatever it takes in order to get to that next step. Oh, and first person to compare me to Jamario Moon gets a throat punch.”

    This summer, study the game. Study the players. And during left handed dribbling drills, dead lifts, and dunks, a throat punch attitude needs to be running through your head. Reach out to Paul Pierce, he’s in the LA area, ask him how he mentally prepares for the games grind. You are the closest thing we have seen in athletic ability to millennium Vince. You have at least one more 51 point game in you, you have Paul George potential. The big but here is this; it has more to do with your ATTITUDE than your game. Fuck the finger roll, dunk it!

    You truly are the x factor. If you show up and play smart, access your potential, and assert your will, we will win. We will win a lot. We will win a lot by a lot.

    Be Gritty.

    Thanks and good luck in the off season.

    A Raptors Fan

    • Alex Vostrikov

      I hope you did not send no love letter to mr ross.

  • Tuneyain

    With a player like Terrence Ross, confidence is everything. He plays passively on the court and speaks passively off the court. DeMar quickly developed an attitude after his first two seasons, and it came with confidence in his jumper. I think this is a the year for Terrence, and he knows he has to ball out. DeMar mentioned how motivated TR was in a recent interview, so I’m hopeful.

  • Casey Sherman

    Will I agree the elbow jumpers are not falling, but the short midrange game is. 43/96, that’s above average for this distance I think. I’d like to see him work more in this range. In fact, I disagree with your conclusion on that sunk jumper against Orlando. Yes he had Amir open but that’s a really awkward pass to make given his position. Ross uses his height and shooting touch to score the tough bucket. And lo and behold, Ross hit 16 of 31 shots from that location. I think he needs to do more of this, it’ll open up drives

  • rooney

    Learn from demar… simple as that

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