Toronto Raptors: How Terrence Ross Can Become the Boss

May 13, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross (31) shoots the ball in front of Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) during the first quarter in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross (31) shoots the ball in front of Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) during the first quarter in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

If the Toronto Raptors plan on resigning both Bismack Biyombo and DeMar DeRozan this summer, Terrence Boss will most likely get traded to make that happen. So before any trade decisions are made, it’s prudent to review the player in question to see what he needs to do to improve and take the next step in his NBA career.

Potential is a fickle beast – for every Giannis Antetokounmpo there are 10 Anthony Randolph‘s. Tools can only get a player so far in the NBA. Eventually the player’s game has to mature to the point where they use those tools to build a final product.

Betting on Terrence Ross to combine the use of those tools, the Toronto Raptors signed him to a three-year, $31.5 million extension in November last year. Now, within the span of six months – low key – he is on the trading block, but can he do anything to save his career in Toronto?

Drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, Ross was a prospect predicated on nuclear athleticism and potential – he relied on his silky jumpshot for the majority of his offense and his ball handling had left much to be desired. He also has a great wingspan and lateral quickness, which are paramount to building a great defender.

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At age 25, he is a puzzle with all the pieces to be an excellent role player or even a star, but has yet to put it all together. One of the issues with putting the pieces together, is Dwane Casey not knowing which position he should primarily play.

A major key to success on the floor is determining  which position you actually are. If you can’t, you struggle mightily like a Derrick Williams, but if you do, there is a chance for prosperity .i.e. Draymond Green.

Typically in the NBA defense determines your position. If you’re capable of guarding a power forward on the other team on a consistent basis then you’re a power forward, even if you might be 6-foot-8.

In that case, T-Ross is a shooting guard through and through, he just happens to be a very tall one. He should be guarding 1’s and 2’s, not 2’s and 3’s.

His wiry and über athleticism would allow him to dominate small guards and withstand the bigger ones. Blessed with that large wingspan, it would allow him to cage point guards in front of him and give him a sizable advantage on drives to deter and contest shots.

At 6-foot-7 it’s hard not to fall in love with slotting the Portland, Oregon native in the small forward position, but he only weighs 200 pounds soaking wet. The Melo’s and LeBron’s of the world scoff at the idea of him guarding them, and with good reason – even Joe Johnson can be seen punishing Ross on the low block.

However, against shooting guards, “The Boss” can leverage his superior athleticism and quickness to chase around the court. Shooting guards are usually catch and shoot players with limited ball-handling ability, which can mitigate his shortcomings.

Being a slender player, Ross can slither around screens and tail his man like a shadow and restrict his air space on the catch. One or two dribbles is usually what follows, which is more than he can handle.

Ross has also made a marked improvement in his pick and roll coverage. He no longer gets lost when he’s guarding the screener, and can fight through the screen when he’s guarding the ball handler.

This action absolutely befuddled the former eighth overall draft pick in years past. He would either stay committed to the ball handler, causing an accidental double team, or be caught in no-man’s land when retreating to his man.

But here, Ross ‘shows’ quickly, allowing Cory Joseph to recover and retreat to contest in the post. Ross has been able to become a good team defender – he rarely breaks the system on defense, but he obeys it almost to a fault.

Offensively is where most of the general public’s frustration is rooted. He has flashed scoring ability that defied description, but that’s the problem – it’s only flashes.

T-Ross’ main weapon is his jumpshot. If he isn’t catching the ball in open space, he uses pin downs or back screens to get himself open in the half court, where he typically needs a fair amount of space to get his shot off.

You’re not always going to get picture perfect passes unless CP3 is passing to you, so having good hands and a quick release are vital to being an effective shooter in the NBA. Having such a slow release can cause an open shot to devolve into a semi-contested shot and turn a semi-contested shot into a pump fake.

Here is one place the 2013 Slam Dunk Champion is really capable of leveraging his athleticism. Much like J.J. Redick, he is so fast he can blur around his teammates and leave defenders multiple steps behind him.

This not only provides open looks for Ross, but the amazing speed also causes defenses to communicate for switches. While not difficult, getting the big man to switch out on pin down screens is an ordeal they aren’t going to be ready for.

The big man will more than likely be glued to his defender. This means it takes a lot of trust defensively to just leave your man to pick up another.

Ringing in 38.6 percent last year, those three-point shots will eventually cause defenders to cling to Ross’ hip when he makes his way around those screens. If the defender does somehow stick to his hip, it gives him a free run to the rim off the curl route for explosive and elegant finishes.

Ross has a limited handle, but on these curls it only takes one or two dribbles for him to make it to the rim. That limited handle does come in to play when those pin downs don’t work and the defender stays completely attached.

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Although T-Ross has such impressive athleticism, it’s limited by his inability to move with the ball effectively. This is the reason he looks amazing in transition – he only has to dribble in non-complex sweeping lines.

A high schooler can do the same moves on the break in transition. However, a limited handle is extraordinarily evident in the half court.

Running a pick and roll effectively in the NBA requires advanced ball handling, something the 2012 First-Team All-Pac-12 selection simply doesn’t possess. If the defense knows you aren’t a good ball handler they can trap you, or simply lose possession of the ball momentarily, neutralizing any advantage gained by the screen.

Turning just 25 this February, Ross is still a young malleable player who could make the leap from role player to starter, but he needs to do it soon. Luckily, his ways to improve are easily identifiable.

Ball Handling Ability

Ball handling doesn’t only involve the movement of the ball, it involves body movement, figuring out how to move your body to get through small cracks in the defense. At this point, Ross doesn’t need to become an elite ball handler like Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul or Stephen Curry, but he needs to be able to expose mistakes positioning and stance to make them larger opportunities for scoring.

If the former four-star recruit spent just a weekend with Allen Iverson, it would lead to exponential growth in his game. Without serviceable ball handling, his game gets shaved down in every category.

Ross can’t take pull ups as often in the half court, because he’s either too slow to get to the open spot for the shot, or he’s too careless and loses control of the ball, causing him to lose the opportunity to begin with. This also means he can’t create his own drives to the rim effectively, someone always has to give him the ball on the run and the run can’t be complex or else it will lead to an awkward shot.

If the former Husky gets crowded, he’ll pick up the ball and have to dish it to someone else, allowing the defense to get reset again and kill ball movement. He also can’t use his speed to get past people, because his first step can only lead to a straight line drive instead of snake dribbles around screens and traffic.

Off-ball movement

If Ross doesn’t improve his ball handling ability, there is another way for him to put the defense on tilt – off-ball movement is paramount to a humming offense and has already shown he can be the guy who does this, although the Raptors need more. The best shooters in the league are in perpetual motion, always trying to work around their team to get open.

By constantly being in motion, it gives the defense something to focus on while the ball handler is still doing things to create openings for their teammate. Ross is such a good shooter and is so quick, the defense would always need to have a person glued to him, chasing him around the court. He moves well without the ball now, but he needs to get much more creative about it.

Jumpshot Speed

Basketball is a fast game, with people sprinting from end to end, darting across the court on fastbreaks and sprinting to close out shooters. You can’t afford to be the slow guy on the court, it could seriously cost your team.

Ross’ jumpshot is the antithesis to basketball and his play-style. Look how long it takes for him to gather, dip and release here.

That may not seem slow at first glance, but here is how fast two of the elite shooters in the NBA shoot the ball.

Elite shooting entails more than just accuracy – speed at which the shot goes off also makes an elite shooter. With jumpshots so fast, Redick and Thompson only need a sliver of daylight for them to get their shot up and still be accurate.

Ross needs half a second more to get the shot off, but that could mean the difference between a shot being a good look and it being contested. Luckily, he already shoots off the hop instead of two steps, so he only needs to work on his release instead of completely revamping the footwork of his shot.

Utilization of Athleticism on Defense

On the defensive end, Ross is too focused on not screwing up in the team defensive scheme, that he forgets to be active on defense. He has quickness that rivals John Wall, but he only averages 0.7 steals per game.

TRoss needs to pressure the defense by making his presence known on the floor. He needs to stalk the lanes more, look for lazy passes and shoot the gap more frequently when he sees a pass that he can get to.

Remaining within the team concept is great on defense, if you don’t have physical advantages that allow for an impact. However, Ross does have those advantages – substantial advantages – and he needs to harness them.

Realistically, Ross would need to make improvements in at least two of these areas for him to make a leap as an NBA player and he needs to do it this offseason. Lack of consistency and stagnated improvement has been the story of his career so far, and that can’t continue for much longer.

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Goodwill is really starting to sour with the fans and his extension is very tradeable. If TRoss doesn’t show some sort of substantive improvement soon, he could find himself on a team south of the border.