Lewenberg: Ross has caught newest teammates by surprise

Josh Lewenberg, TSN 1050
3/8/2014 7:32:32 PM
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MINNEAPOLIS - Even with a 51-point game and a Slam Dunk Contest title on his resume - two dunk titles, depending on whether or not you took this year's contest seriously - Terrence Ross is still taking people by surprise, even his own teammates.

The Raptors' second-year forward has been one of the primary beneficiaries of the early-season trade, breaking out and becoming a vital part of his team's success on both ends of the floor.

Around the league, teams are starting to take notice and feature Ross more predominately in their pre-game scouting reports but it's not just the opposition that he's impressing.

After missing his first game of the season with an ankle sprain last week, Ross returned to action on Friday, knocking down six of eight attempts from three-point range while scoring 18 points in 26 minutes. Following the win over Sacramento, Patrick Patterson - acquired in that deal with the Kings in December - was asked who has surprised him the most since coming to Toronto.

"Terrence," he responded immediately. "Terrence by far. I had no idea he could shoot like that. I always knew about his athleticism, I watched him in college. I knew about his scoring ability, his ability to attack the rim. He's a solid defender as well. He's got some good hands on him as well, but for him to be able to knock down that three at such a consistent rate, come off screen and rolls and hit that midrange jump shot, I had no idea he was such a great shooter."

"Terrence is definitely the guy that has caught my eye since being here."

A year ago, Ross - a 22-year-old rookie out of Washington - showed flashes of what he could become. His athleticism stood out, more than anything else, but he lacked consistency and, at times, confidence and focus.

Selected with the eighth-overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Ross was an unknown commodity. If you ask other players, coaches, front office execs or people around the league what they knew about him at that time, most would admit they were aware of one, maybe two facets of his game. Maybe they knew he could shoot or how athletic he was. Few realized how diverse his game could become.

Now, with 132 NBA games under his belt and an opportunity to start and log consistent minutes in coach Dwane Casey's rotation, he's looking like a completely different player. He's looking like a two-way player.

Ross has connected on 17 of his last 27 three-point tries, scoring in double-figures in five straight games, matching a career-high he set back in January.

"At times it seems effortless to him," Patterson added. "When he's on the perimeter, just one or two dribbles and he just shoots it with great confidence, such great arc, perfect follow-through and it goes in, nothing but net."

Like Patterson, John Salmons has also been pleasantly surprised with Ross's arsenal since exchanging Kings' purple for Raptors' red.

"Man, we're sitting on the bench, when he shoots, we think it's good," said the veteran Salmons, 11 years Ross's senior. "He's automatic. Every time he shoots, we think it's good. You don't think that about too many people."

Those that have been around Ross long enough, working with him from day one - namely DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry - say they could see this coming, raving about what they've seen from the 23-year-old in practice. For everyone else, it's taken a bit longer.

Ross had his coming-out party at All-Star Weekend in Houston last year when he won the Slam Dunk Contest. He began to turn heads again after exploding for 51 points in a loss to the Clippers on Jan. 25.

"I think the whole league was surprised [after that game]," said former teammate Rudy Gay. "He's one of those guys that when he's making shots, there ain't no one in the whole league that can stop him. He has so much potential. Now that people are starting to see it, he's getting more attention. It's nothing we didn't know."

After Gay was traded Ross seized his spot in the Raptors' starting lineup. Since, he's playing just under 30 minutes a night - up from 18 - taking twice as many shots (10.6) and averaging double the points (12.7).

Since the trade, he ranks eighth in the NBA in three-pointers made - just above teammate Lowry - shooting the long-ball at a 43 per cent clip, up from 33 per cent in his rookie year. He's been especially proficient from the corners, where he's drained 39 of his treys since Dec. 8, tied for second-most in the league behind Atlanta's Kyle Korver.

However, it's been his defence that's kept him on the floor long enough to knock down all those threes. Ross has earned Casey's trust with his effort, focus and natural ability on the defensive end, routinely tasked with guarding the opposition's best perimeter player. 

"He's grown into that role," Casey said. "He's earned it, he enjoys it, he does a good job with it with his speed and quickness. He's not totally there yet. I don't want to anoint him as a defensive stopper but he's growing into that role, doing a good job with it, learning each and every [game]."

Ross has raised the bar for himself, now the expectations - even internally - have increased. At this point, on this team, Casey is happy with Ross harnessing his efforts on defence and spotting up for open looks but knows he's capable of growing into a more well rounded player. 

"We want him to be more of a pick-and-roll guy, that's his next step of growth," said Casey. "Making plays for other people will help him a lot. That's probably where he needs to grow most."

How good can he be? Salmons joked that even Ross, himself, is unaware of his full potential.

"He don't know," Salmons said with a laugh. "He don't realize how athletic he is."

“I hope he [knows how good he is]," Patterson said. "The sky is the limit for Terrence. He's getting better every single game. His confidence is getting higher and higher and he's believing in himself more. I hope he realizes how good he is right now and how great he can be."

Ross and Drake (Photo: Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images)


(Photo: Bruce Yeung/NBAE via Getty Images)
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