Toronto Raptors: Terrence Ross the Super Sub?


Toronto Raptors: Terrence Ross the Super Sub?

Let’s face it – the Toronto Raptors are in a slump. Yes, they’ve been overworked, because of Demar Derozan‘s injury. Yes, their hot start has kind of blown expectations out of proportion. And yes, the Atlanta Hawks have been killing teams and taking names like Liam Neeson in Taken.

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However, since that hard fought overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers a couple weeks back, the Raps have been turning the ball over at an unusually high rate and have looked flat in their contests since then. This team is in serious need of a spark, and one suggestion gaining steam among the Raptors faithful is to start Greivis Vasquez or James Johnson in favor of the inconsistent Terrence Ross.

Jack Armstrong and Leo Rautins have discussed this possibility on air numerous times. Both have noted that the Raps need T-Ross on the court, so he can space the floor for Derozan and Kyle Lowry‘s drives with his shooting ability.

That’s a very valid reason to keep Ross as a starter, but how can someone be a three-point threat if they aren’t making their shots in the first place? In his last 10 games (Raptors record: 3 – 7) T-Ross has averaged 7.2 ppg on 35% shooting. Not exactly the type of numbers you want to see from a guy who’s supposed to keep defenses honest with his shooting. 

We all know the Raptors can score as well as anyone, but one of the main reasons why they were successful the past two seasons was their renewed focus on defense. It was also one of the main reasons why they were sitting first in the East for as long as they did. Add some much needed help and toughness on the boards, and you got yourself a situation tailor-made for someone with Johnson’s skill set.

Jan 16, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward James Johnson (3) drives to the net against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Already the team’s primary perimeter defender, Johnson has recently been playing as well as anyone in Toronto. Despite the team’s recent struggles, he continues to be one of the biggest bench contributors, as well as a solid (if not the team’s best) two-way player.

In his seven starts this season, he’s averaged 11.1 points and six boards, while guarding the likes of Carmelo Anthony. More importantly, the Raptors were noticeably more energized to start those games, despite their 4-3 record.

By inserting Vasquez into the starting five, the Raptors have another shooter and ball handler to run the point. Remember how much trouble the Lowry – Vasquez combo gave the Eastern Conference last year?

That guard duo, along with Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas and a healthy DeRozan, gives Toronto one of their best possible offensive lineups. However, as good as this lineup is at getting buckets, they are as weak on the defensive side of the ball.

Jan 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Raptors center center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee (22) at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Raptors 125-109. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With Ross coming off the bench, he has a chance to regain some of the confidence that he clearly has lost. He can play against less talented players on the opponent’s second unit, pad his stats a bit and not have to worry about guarding the other team’s top wing man.

At the very least, this lineup change can help reveal what kind of a player T-Ross really is. A little internal competition within the team is always helpful.

The early results of this lineup change has been indicative of Ross’ career thus far – flashes of the top flight athlete and slasher one night, totally invisible the next. T-Ross dropped 16 points and five boards in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, but importantly, he looked as relaxed as he has been in a while, with confident drives to the rim.

Coach Dwane Casey rewarded his young swingman with crunch time minutes, and he delivered with two clutch buckets in the final minute. The next game, Ross put up a predictable dud, going scoreless in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Now the big question is how will the former Slam Dunk Champ respond to this new found adversity? Will he finally find some consistency and continue to play with the same attacking style like in the Milwaukee game?

Or will he regress back into the poor shooting, inconsistent form he’s shown in the past month? We’ll find out soon enough.