No one in the Toronto Raptors organization is pretending that this is anything but that. They wanted Dion Waiters. They wanted Harrison Barnes. Those guys were gone by eight and the Raptors couldn't do anything about it, so they went with the next name on their list in Thursday night's NBA draft: Terrence Ross.
The name came out of left field, at least as it relates to pre-draft predictions. While I had Ross as a name to watch for after the lottery, his name quickly fell behind Waiters, Barnes and even Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lamb when it came to players associated with Toronto's pick leading up to Thursday night.
In a way it's funny that he dropped out of the conversation, though. Considering that since the season ended the Raptors were presumed to be looking to trade this pick to grab an athletic swingman that could play defence and shoot threes, should it really be such a surprise they targeted a rookie that excelled in those areas? Ross was a better three-point shooter (.371) than both Rivers (.365) and Lamb (.368) last season, he's two inches bigger than both of them and he is tremendously more adept as a defender. He's the kind of player that can come into an NBA game today and put points on the board, but unlike most players of his ilk in recent years (MarShon Brooks, Nick Young) he'll put in the work at the other end of the court, as well, which is a must if you are going to earn minutes under Raptors' head coach Dwane Casey.
When it came time to evaluate Ross, though, once the pick had been made, the first thing that Casey brought up was his shot-making ability. While he's excited about his defence and intrigued by his tremendous athleticism, Casey was first and foremost thankful for his ability to put the ball in the basket after struggling along with a roster that ranked 28th in the NBA in points per game last season. Ross will help open up the floor for guys like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan and will most likely be charged with leading the second team's offensive attack J.R. Smith-style next season. Of course, he'll be a J.R. Smith that rebounds, can block shots and will actually know how to complete a defensive rotation. So, in that way, he's (thankfully) not like J.R. Smith at all.
All that said, though, it's hard to get ‘excited' about this pick. The Raptors really believed that they were going to be able to get a solid tier two prospect out of this draft, but the only one that fell to them was project center Andre Drummond, and they were not ready to wait the three-to-four years it could take from Drummond to learn how to be an NBA player. Once the club had to settle for a third tier guy, then Ross made as much sense as any player on the board for Toronto. But being the first team in the draft that has to accept a player from the next tier down will always dim the excitement level for a franchise and its fan base. As a team you always want to WANT the guy you're drafting, and even Casey and Bryan Colangelo couldn't hide their disappointment on Thursday night when Ross was the player that they had to select. They are happy to bring him aboard, he fits what they are doing and the needs of the roster, but there was no denying that he was not their first choice heading into the draft.
Plan B can work, though. If Ross continues to refine his offensive game, improve his ball handling and add some upper body strength, then it's hard to see how the Raptors outright miss on this pick. Several solid swingmen have gone between 7-and-10 in the draft in recent years (Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and Toronto's own DeMar DeRozan) and considering how well he fits the needs of this roster, you can expect Ross to begin earning minutes right away to prove himself worthy of a top-ten pick. He may not have been the club's first choice but he was very much on their list and they wouldn't have taken him if they didn't think he could improve the team by joining it.
No, Terrence Ross wasn't Plan A for Toronto, but he's a Raptor now and it's up to him and the organization to make it work so well that the club forgets there was ever another option in the 2012 draft.