Swingmen are one of the oddest breeds in the NBA. The position demands that players have a wide array of skills, perhaps the widest of any position in the NBA, yet having too wide a skill set, without one or two elite core skills, can have a guy out of the league before he finishes off his rookie contract.
Terrence Ross is learning this the hard way. Head over to his DraftExpress profile from last year and you’ll see a multitude of skills pinned on him: three-point shooter, man-on defender, slasher, dunker, pull-up shooter, yada yada yada – all that should make for a pretty impressive prospect, no? Well, that depends, because despite possessing parts of a lot of skills, Ross hasn’t developed anything close to the elite NBA skill that will help him earn minutes or stick in the league for the longterm.
This year’s Las Vegas Summer League made that abundantly clear. Ross shot an unimpressive .423 from the field through five games with the Toronto’s squad and a putrid .231 on threes. His 0.8 assists per game were a testament to his inability to make plays for others (as were his 3.4 turnovers per game) and his defense left something to be desired as Ben McLemore, Jordan Hamilton and Archie Goodwin all took turns dropping 20+ points on Ross last week.
Ross’s performance was made to look all the worse by his NBA teammates, Jonas Valanciunas, Quincy Acy and even newcomer Dwight Buycks, all of whom had specific things to work on and made a point of working on those areas of their games all tournament long. Valanciunas had to learn to operate as a primary offensive force, especially when it came to dealing with double teams, and on the whole he got better and better in that area as the games went on. Acy brought his typical activity but was tasked with also adding range to his jump shot. While his percentages from distance weren’t great, he got to his spots repeatedly and had good form on his jumper. It’s all about repetition and Acy got some good reps, which showed in the club’s last game against Phoenix when he went off for 28 points (Acy gets a pass for shooting percentage while Ross does not because he was consistent in where and when he shot the ball, suggesting a much more repeatable pattern than Ross trying the ‘shoot from everywhere, hit from nowhere’ approach). Buycks showed an ability to get into the lane and create shots for himself and others. He wasn’t as in sync with his team, which is understandable considering he showed up midway through their five-game slate, but there was a focus to his style of play and it has already begun to win over Raptors fans.
With Ross, though, his performance was totally scattershot. Some games he looked like he was trying to be an isolating offensive force with the ball in his hands, sometimes it looked like he was trying to be a floor-spacer, sometimes a Ray Allen-esque off-ball catch-and-shoot player. In all of those roles, though, Ross looked ineffective save for short bursts of productivity, and it should be noted that even fringe NBA players are expected to have short bursts of productivity in Summer League, so those short bursts don’t count for much in the long run.
It’s somewhat surprising to see such chaotic output for Ross, too, because of all of the players that played for the Raptors this summer his role seemed the easiest to pin-down: three-and-d. The Raptors do not need another slasher if they have DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields, they need a guy who can hit corner threes and play committed defense against opposing wing players. Ross, however, spent almost no time in the corners in Toronto’s offensive sets this summer, and as we’ve seen, defense wasn’t exactly Ross’s calling card in Vegas. If he can become a consistent three-and-d type of player for the Raptors, though, then the club can experiment with broadening his offensive arsenal with dribble moves, mid-range shooting and slashing moves to the basket. Right now they need to simplify the game for him, give him a shorter list of things to focus on, and watch him try to turn those skills into elite ones before building on them as needed.
Don’t think that narrowing Ross’s workload is going to diminish his value, either. Three-and-d guys are one of the hottest commodities in the NBA, and three-point shooting alone has never been as valuable as it is in today’s advanced-stats obsessed NBA. There is a reason why teams worked to lock-up guys like Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Martell Webster and Wayne Ellington right away in free agency – three-pointers matter. Three-point shooters that can also play defense? Gold. Steering Ross in Danny Green’s direction would not only benefit the Raptors on the court, because they need that kind of player, but would also benefit Ross by giving some structure to a career arc that, right now, doesn’t exactly have much holding it up besides a meaningless Slam Dunk title.
Right now Ross projects to be a backup wing behind Gay and DeRozan, battling Fields for reserve minutes. Ross had better hope that Fields doesn’t rediscover his three-point touch from his rookie year because that would put Fields miles ahead of Ross in terms of on-court usefulness. Remember, Gay and DeRozan eat up a ton of minutes on the wing (71.4 minutes per game last year of a possible 96 minutes combined at the two wing positions), so there isn’t a ton of backup minutes to spread around. Ross is going to have to make a quick impact this fall or he’s liable to left riding the pine as a fourth wing for the Raptors, a scenario that Dwane Casey proved comfortable with for long stretches last season. Hopefully Summer League was a wakeup call both for Ross and the Raptors. The club needs to specify how Ross is supposed to earn minutes next season and Ross needs to show a willingness to work tirelessly in those areas so that he can earn them. You can tell a lot by a player based on how the evolve from year one to year two, so Ross had better hope he brings more to the table than his brief Summer League outing suggested he would.