The 2016-2017 NBA season is only a few weeks away. I seems like it’s been an extremely long offseason but the new season is finally here. The Raptors are coming off the greatest playoff run in their history, and for the most part, they’re bringing back the same roster in hopes that continued player development and better health this year can push them over the final edge.

One player who got talked about a lot this offseason was Raptor wing Terrence Ross, and not for the right reasons. Ross’ name had been floated in a lot of trade talk, however substantiated, especially for Philadelphia 76ers centre Nerlens Noel. Nothing came of those talks, and Ross still remains a part of the roster. In late October of last year, the Raptors re-signed Ross to a 3yr/$31M deal, a very fair contract for his role on the team in the new NBA economy, and the extension also makes him a tradeable asset. This is year five for the 25-year-old Ross, and it might be his make or break season.

After the signing of DeMarre Carroll in last year’s offseason, Ross saw a move to the bench, only starting seven games despite Carroll being injured for the majority of the season. Over the course of the season, second-round pick Norman Powell stepped up, showed he was more polished offensively than some originally thought, and proved he could be a legitimate defender against multiple positions, diminishing Ross’ minutes even further.

In the two seasons where Ross was a primary starter, he averaged 26.1 minutes, which dropped by 2.2 minutes last year. He continued to produce the same numbers, especially once a bad slump to start the year subsisded. And that reason alone is what really frustrates fans: Ross’ problems since he was drafted haven’t changed in four years. His struggles on offense primarily lie within his poor ball handling ability, which inhibits him from driving to the basket (despite his athleticism), ultimately leading to an insanely low rate free throws attempted. It also makes his game fairly predictable as a bench shooter, though that doesn’t mean the shooting doesn’t have substantial value.

Ross’ game has become pretty one dimensional. The Raptors had a lack of 3-point shooting last season, and Ross was important to have for just that reason. On catch-and-shoot attempts over 10 feet, Ross shot an amazing 40.5%, and 41.1% on threes. Looking at the shot chart below, you can see a majority of his shots are coming from the wing. It’s a pretty predictable play for Ross, albeit efficient. He shoots a lot from that wing area by curling through screens or even occasionally running an iso play from that side.

Source: NBASavant.com

Although his shooting is a valuable asset on the team, there’s just so much more to him athletically that is being boxed up by his lack of ball handling skills. And while having efficient catch-and-shoot players who can roll off screens for easy shots are important, they can only be used in a limited capacity when their defense is a liability and the rest of their offensive game is limited. Ross has shown flashes of greater skill both offensively and defensively, but the consistency has never been there, leading to his potentially diminished role on the depth chart. The games in which he does drive to the basket, he shows an impressive ability to finish at the rim (although he still shies away from contact), as he shot 67.1 percent on 70 attempts at the rim. Again, it’s the lack of consistency in that facet of his game that’s frustrating.

I truly believe a player isn’t who they are at 25, or when they’re still just entering their fifth year in the league, but with Ross there’s this weird feeling as though this might be it. His numbers don’t seem to move too far off of his previous year’s average. Last season, Ross averaged a little under 10ppg, on 8.6 shots, shooting 43% from the field and, far more notably, 38% from three, where more than half of all of his shots came from. He’s now shot 37.7% on 1,333 career triples, establishing himself as a top-20 shooter in the league. And those rates are almost identical to the previous two seasons, which causes a lot of Raptors to wonder, “Is Terrence Ross ever going to take the next step?”

It wouldn’t be surprising if this is peak Ross, and his numbers and role are as good as it gets. It also wouldn’t be surprising if over the next few years Ross was to figure out some of his flaws and seriously take the next step in his game, which would entail more reliable defense and more aggression attacking closeouts from the perimeter. It’s hard to predict, all we can do is hope a few things click for Ross and the full potential of his athleticism and shooting come together.

Until then, Powell may be on his heels, and Ross will be a favorite of Trade Machine users.

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  • R.D. Vaughan

    Every team needs an enigma and TRoss sure fits that position. With the insane rise in player salaries I wonder if TRoss regrets signing for what he did and for how long? Is he motivated by big money? Would having traded him for a higher pick such as Jamal Murray been better in the long run?
    Only some of the many questions I will be watch and wait to see play out this season.

    • Mike$

      Just judging by some of the other trades that happened (or didn’t happen because of asking price), I really doubt tross could have been traded for Maury. Even including our 9th pick most likely wouldn’t have cut it. The first 8 guys in the draft were on a different tier than the other guys so moving up into it would have been tough.

      I bet he does regret signing, i think he would have fetched more as a free agent. Its hard to put a price on the security that signing early gives you though

      With Carroll already having health concerns and possibly needing rest or minute restrictions to start the season, im pretty happy we kept ross. We really need his shooting, especially if Carroll was to go down again

  • diggs

    Despite being inconsistent overall, having one of the most consistent 3 point shots in this 3-point-focussed league helps make up for it.

    The other sign that makes me happy the team kept Ross is that Casey and his teammates comment regularly on how hard he works. He wants to become better, and works for it. If a player’s going to continue to improve, a hard-work attitude is a necessity.

    Overall, though, Ross is the kind of versatile player any team needs: can play the 2, or 3; is on an affordable contract; good teammate/hard worker; great 3 point shooter; every so often will make the crowd go wild with a crazy dunk.

    If only most fans would wake up and see him as a valuable player worth keeping, as opposed to useless trade-bait to feed into some fantasy trade machine.

    • Wild-ling #1

      He’s a talent, and still young. Can be spectacular. Not a jerk. What’s not to like? 🙂

  • dishqust

    I think there’s some reason to be optimistic about Ross this season. The playoff run and general maturing with age seems to have improved his confidence which IMO is the main thing that held him back in the past.. This will manifest in a few more games where he explodes and catches fire and greater consistency overall.

    He’s also the type of player where the offensive end effects his defensive performance, so should be more consistent on that end as well. He’s a guy that guards 1-3 when engaged. Going to be interesting to see how he and Norm split those backup 2/3 minutes.

  • raps-fan

    Overall, I think Ross is pretty expendable as long as Powell keeps improving as a shooter and Carroll gets back to full health, but neither of those things are guaranteed so it’s kind of nice to have him on a reasonable deal as insurance on the wing.

    • R.D. Vaughan

      In this case I’ll disagree with you. He is not expendable even if Powell continues to improve his 3pt percentage. Last year the Raptors did not have enough 3pt shooters so unless DC, NP, 2Pat and then someone like VanVleet or Jared Uthoff show a reliable percentage, right away TRoss skills are still a necessity. It’sthe way of the league and showed up as a weakness in last years playoffs.

      • Mike$

        Its funny to say but if cory gets his 3pt shot to be respectable it will make ross more expendable. Same with dd (if powell also is a consistent threat) It opens the bench unit up a bit more so having a sharp shooter from the wing isnt completly necessary. Of course with carrolls health in question its a moot point because we need ross

        • webfeat

          Disagree. If other players on the team get better from three, then TRoss gets even more space to shoot and drive and his numbers will go higher.

          • Mike$

            You are right, he will get more space to shoot and drive so his numbers should go up.

            But it would also means whoever is on the court for Ross has more space to shoot and drive. More space to shoot and numbers going higher applies to everyone

    • Henry Swagson

      We need more shooting to challenge the cavs. We saw how Ross along with other shooters like Kyle, Patrick, Scola, Demarre, and even Norman struggled shooting in the playoffs. We need to shoot more 3s consistently. We were third in percentage from three but like mid teens in attempts. Ross is our best shooter when consider the fact that he can rise up and shoot with a hand in face. We need him unless a better player is available I wouldn’t trade for the sake of trading him.

  • Rjak27

    I kind of like that shot chart.

    Keep bombing, T Ross!

  • leftovercrack

    How much of Ross’ defensive weakness is because he is a natural shooting guard playing at small forward because we have DeMar – and at times Joseph in 2-pg formations – playing the 2? I think we all remember Ross being physically dominated by Joe Johnson in the playoffs two years ago. If he could get his minutes at SG would he be better?

    • Noelle

      Actually played almost 2/3rds of his PT at SG last season, according to Nylon Calculus tracking. 63% vs 37% at SF. Curiously, DDs numbers are almost exactly the opposite, putting Ross at slightly more minutes at SG than DD

      • mountio

        agree .. plus narrative of large small forwards is largely a myth today. TR is probably right around the average size of a SF in today’s NBA lineup with all the small ball lineups. Traditional larger SFs are now playing 4 and 5 (Draymond, Lebron, etc.)

        • LowRozan

          I think Height wise he is a good size but his listed weight is only around 200 lbs which is pretty small for a sf. I do wonder if he would go into the paint more if he had more size because he fears getting banged around

    • Mike$

      Its funny how the league has evolved. It wasn’t to long ago that Iso Joe was considered mostly a SG.

      But to answer your question (with my opinion) I don’t think it would make Ross better. He has been getting pushed around by bigger guys when he plays the 3 but he also got blown by smaller guys when he plays SG. Whether he gets pushed under the basket by big 3’s like Rudy Gay or blown by in straight line drives by little SG guards like ellis, he’s just been a poor defender regardless of who he covers.

      Basketball is becoming more and more positionless. Like a comment below states DD has been spending a ton of time at SF aswell. Players have to adapt and learn how defend out of position.

      • Wild-ling #1

        Some good analysis above, M$ 🙂

        But the “position-less” thing, while meaningful, can be over-used, no? height and mass still matter, no?

        Someone once suggested (forget who )that Ross may just be the kind of easy-going guy that’s be great to have around … but may not be as intense (focused and aggressive) as one might like on the court.

        Which I thought was a pretty cool observation. (Whether it’s true or not in Ross’s case) 🙂

        • Mike$

          Yeah of course height and weight matter, and i do think its overused. That said though Ross was a pretty good defender a few years ago (13/14 i believe) and he started along side DD then and had to guard some SF. imo he’s regressed a lot since then

          But yeah from what we hear it sounds like Ross is a pretty hard worker. He naturally looks kind of laid back and unfocused which probably leads to a lot of unfair assessments of things like his work ethic.

  • artreddin

    You write “His struggles on offense primarily lie within his poor ball handling ability…”. Ross actually has the lowest TOV on the team, rating an excellent 0.6 in his 23 min avg. per game. In that he’s handling the ball roughly 1/5 of the time while on the floor (18.6% USG), the stats just don’t support this claim.

    Perhaps you mean that he’s reluctant to risk driving when he has the ball, but there’s nothing here to indicate that ball handling is the reason (equally it could be fear of hard contact or a clouding of court vision while moving with the ball or who knows what).

    • Noelle

      I don’t agree that his ball handling issues are his primary issue (that’s between his ears), but since he’s primarily a catch and shoot wing, TOV and USG are in no way any measure of his ball handling ability. Watching him play is a good measure though. I gather the coaches view is that it’s a significant weakness too, as apparently that’s what they targeted for him to work on this summer.

    • Mike$

      USG% is not really how much someone is handling the ball at all. For example Ross had a higher USG% than Cory even though the ball spent a much longer time in Cory’s hands. USG% is the % of possessions that the player finished. If Cory spent 23 seconds dribbling the ball running a play and Ross takes the shot, the possession was used by Ross not Cory. Ross isn’t handling the ball 1/5 of the time he’s on the floor, he’s shooting it 1/5 of the time while he’s on the floor which is much different.

      Time with the ball would be worth taking a look at for raw turnover numbers. Ross has the ball in his hands around 3% of the game (Cory has it around 19% of the time for comparison). Ross also only has an assist rate of around 5% which shows he’s not passing very often. So well he does have a high usage rate, all he really does is shoot the ball. If he dribbled he would have the ball in his hands for longer than 3% of the game and more 70 attempts at the rim all season long. It makes sense Ross has a low turnover rate because he basically never dribbles and never passes the ball (the things that result in turnovers).

      Ross also has plenty of opportunities to attack the rim because people close out on him so hard. There could be many reasons he doesn’t get into the paint even though he has plenty of chances. Usually people point to weak ball handling skills when an athletic player doesn’t get to the rim often. Its hard to dunk if you can’t dribble past your closing out defender. There could be other reasons too like you said. imo the reason he doesn’t is because he has a lose handle (just what i think from watching him play) and he doesn’t always see the lane. Well i disagree with you about the stats not supporting the writer’s claim, I agree that there could be more to it than just ball handling.

      Him getting less than 1 attempt at the rim a game (thats including fast break points without a defender) is just so little for such a gifted athlete that there probably is a lot of things involved, not just ball handling (but definitely including ball handing).

      • Hawksfan

        Damn busting out the nylon calc stats for a comment lol. well done

      • artreddin

        Ok, here I’ll ask for a clarification. Where do you get this very low 3% figure? Corey’s handling the ball 19% also seems low; considering he’s a point guard, you’d think it would be more like 33%.

        The NBA definition for USG% in itself is not at all clear (“The percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court”.) T Ross, JV, and CoJo have similar lines for minutes, FGA%, and USG%… but these numbers must surely be calculated as “per minute on the floor” not per game, otherwise when we add DD and Lowry we’re already at 110+% for FGA%, without considering Carroll ‘s, and Patterson’s, and misc. others’ contributions.

        So I’ll take your word that in the USG% definition “uses” really means “ending” possessions [a total of shots attempted plus turnovers, per minute] but I do wonder about time handling the ball, either in total minutes or %. If you have some knowledge that would clarify this, I’d love to hear it.

        I do agree, of course, about Ross’ assist rate but with the caveat that the Raptors will always have low total assists because of how assists are officially counted. As I understand it, if the player dribbles at least three times with the ball after receiving it (which is almost always the case with DD, while he assesses the possibility for driving and picking up an +1) the initial pass to him is no longer considered an assist.

        • Mike$

          The numbers i gave were from nylon calculus. It’s low because its for the entire game (as in Cory had the ball 19% out of a 48min game).

          The USG% that the NBA uses “The percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court” isn’t based on a per minute or 48 minute basis. Its how many of the teams possessions the player finished well on the floor (finished is turnover, shot or free throw). It can go well over 100%. For example. If the starters all take an equal number of shots they each have a usage rate of 20% (no turnovers or freethrows). Then a bench player subs in for 1 starter and the team continues to split shots equally the new bench player also has a usage rate of 20% (and the starter that subbed out still has a usage rate of 20%).

          Im not sure of the FGA%, i’ve never really looked at it but i’d guess that its the number of field goals the player took divided by the total number of shots the team took while the player was on the court. This would also allow for a teams total FGA% to be over 100%

          • artreddin

            Mike, thanks for clarifying this. Just so we’re 100% sure, what you’re saying is that “the USG%…isn’t based on a per minute basis” but at the same time it does show the player’s % of the possessions finished while he’s in the game, meaning among the five playing at that particular time, and it would appear FGA% works the same.

            For Ross’s 24 mpg he handles the ball less than a twentieth of the time while he’s on the floor for a total of 50 seconds (0.8 /24= 3.4%). CoJo on the other hand handles the ball roughly a fifth of the time for 5 min. of the 25.5 min. while he’s on the floor (4.8/25.5 = 19%). Obviously, half of the time the players will be in the defensive end.

            Since we’re talking about Ross’ handle it’s worthwhile to consider his TO per 36 (1.0 – lowest on the team) and play-making TO % (second lowest after CoJo). While the second of these stats of necessity refers to ball control (passing, dribbling, etc.), it’s not clear if Ross’ TO/36 refers to time while handling the ball or total time on the floor. It would make more sense if the stat referred to time when the player could potentially lose the ball and not to when that’s an impossibility.

            …Any further insight most welcome!

            • Mike$

              I’m sure about usg% but im unsure about fga%. I’ve never actually seen that stat before.

              And yeah your right with the number of minutes each player spends with the ball. I got the percentages from nylon calculus but if you go to NBA.coms player tracking they actually have the numbers in minutes which agreed with yours (Ross at 0.8 minutes and cory at 4.9 minutes).

              The NBA.com player tracking even goes as in depth as dribbles per touch which is interesting to look at. Ross averages 1.36 dribbles per touch while Cory and lowry average over 4 and DD is a 3.75.

              I don’t think turnover per 36 is a good stat to look at it because its actually just how many turnovers he averages in 36 minutes of court time (regardless of if he has the ball). Turnover rate is the amount of times the player turns the ball over per 100 of the players possessions. This is a good stat to see how turnover prone a player is. Ross ranks really good here only 6.6 times per 100 possessions. But this leads back to the original discussion of if Ross rarely dribbles, doesn’t drive and averages 15 passes a game (and yes defensive rebounds where he hands the ball off to a pg counts).

              This is a quote from nylon calculus site that knows a lot more than I do about stats “result of the TOV% formula which is just turnovers / (turnovers + shots + trips to the free throw line). In other words, one of the best ways to “improve” your TOV% is just to shoot more.”

              A similar problem happens when you look at his play making. Because he’s never dribbling the ball most of the stats come from passes he makes while standing still, or swing passes to the next guy along the ark, or even just passing the ball in after a defensive rebound to a point guard. Is his ball handling skills really displayed in this sort of stat? I don’t think so.

              So basically you can look at an endless number of turnover, passing and time of possessions stats but there really isn’t a stat that relates specifically for ball handling. Him dribbling the ball only 1.36 times per touch, and only driving 1.2 times per game (less than scola and PP for comparison) show that at the very least he is reluctant to put the ball on the floor. Thats about all you can get from the stats in this case.

              From there its up to you to form an opinion based on just watching him play. I really think he has a loose handle. It reminds me of DD a few years ago, he never used to get to the rim so much. But he talked about working on his dribbling and using his left hand all summer and now he leads the NBA in drives to the rim. But there are other things that could stop Ross from getting to the rim like poor vision preventing him from seeing the lane (which i believe is another part) or him being scared of the paint (which i don’t believe because he’s dunked hard on people before). Stats won’t even come close to giving conclusive evidence on whether or not he’s a decent ball handler, its just such a specific thing with no way to track at this time.

              • BlakeMurphy

                Just wanna say, this is a great comments thread. Exactly the kind of discussion we hope for here. Respect to everyone talking/asking Qs/answering/debating respectfully and informatively.

              • artreddin

                Thank you, Mike$…