The annual tradition of "role cards" is one of the more interesting wrinkles of the Dwane Casey-led Toronto Raptors. Every fall before the season starts, Casey gives each player an actual laminated role card, complete with the expectations from coaching staff and where their piece fits in the team’s puzzle.
While I'm not privy to the role card of Terrence Ross, we can assume it’s quite short. After letting Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez walk in the off-season, the 2015-16 edition of Ross is expected to score effectively coming off the bench.
Coming up on a quarter of the way through the season though, this isn’t going well for Ross. He’s down in every offensive category, his confidence hasn’t improved, and the team has floundered with him on the floor. With Ross on the bench, the team’s offensive rating is 107.1. With him playing, it drops to 102.6.
He’s still getting his chances, though. Even though we’re almost two years removed from his 51-point game, Ross has been the beneficiary of countless opportunities from Casey and a 3-year, $33-million extension from Masai Ujiri. Even though we’re seeing fewer "flashes" from Terrence Ross, the team continues to lean on him in baffling ways.
Starting at base camp, Ross’ per-36 numbers are down in almost every meaningful category.
Overall, the most troublesome numbers that stand out are his cratering shooting percentage, down to 33.8% from 41% a year ago. He’s shooting a very bad 29% from three. His true shooting percentage is 35.5%, the worst among rotation players.
If you put those numbers in with other players around the league who play at least 16 minutes per game, Ross is in a struggle league with guys like Nik Stauskas, Corey Brewer, and yes, Kobe Bryant.
While struggling to shoot is part of the story, it’s where those shots are coming from that continues to be a point of frustration. Even in a new role, Ross’ unwillingness to drive to the basket has continued this year, even getting worse. Ross has just seven free throw attempts this season, which is less than Anthony Bennett, who has played 42 minutes total.
A look at a shot chart broken down by zone tells the gun-slingin’ story.
That’s a whole lot of red, but I want to focus on the mid-range. Beyond just jacking up threes, Ross has developed a pet move where he gets the ball outside the line, takes one dribble in, and takes a contested two. It looks something like this.
Despite there being lanes to drive on each of these examples, Ross pulls up and takes a bad shot, one he is a ghastly 18.8% on this season. Overall, Ross continues to love the jump shot, as 60 of his 65 field goal attempts this season have been defined as jump shots by NBA.com.
To put it simply, Ross’ offensive game has been one-dimensional and a thorough bust. Of players in the regular rotation (playing at least a James Johnson amount of minutes), Ross has the lowest offensive rating -- yes, lower than Bismack "Butter Hands" Biyombo.
Now, even though his game is more inefficient than it’s ever been, I’m probably not telling you anything new about Terrence Ross. For a while now, we’ve been harping on the fact that he doesn’t drive the ball and create opportunities. It’s all worth reiterating, though, when you consider what Ross not filling his role card does for the rest of this roster.
This year, there are less players on the team with a natural ability to score. Without Ross as a viable scoring option, Dwane Casey has to lean more on DeRozan, Lowry, and Carroll – all of whom are playing over 35 minutes a game (Carroll has lingering plantar fasciitis and is playing 35.7 minutes). After a season where fatigue knocked off our best player, this is a very concerning trend.
It also means there’s more on the plate of Cory Joseph. While Joseph has been a great two-way player off the bench, Ross’ disappearance (along with the struggling Patrick Patterson) means Casey needs Joseph both as a bench spark and a guy who finishes games with Lowry and DeRozan in a three-guard set. Burning the candle from both ends is okay with someone as young as Joseph, but at some point the Raptors need another option.
There’s an argument to be made that more of Ross’ minutes should be going to James Johnson. Though Johnson freelances on defense and doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well, he’s still a net positive for the team when he’s on the court. But, whether it’s the influence of a new contract or simply a belief in "system" players, Casey hasn’t budged on moving Johnson ahead of Ross in the rotation. At 12-7, the team has been fine so far, but an injury or general player fatigue could change things.
Looking on the bright side, one can hope that Ross’ poor play comes from the residual effects of a thumb injury that sidelined him for two weeks and took away his rhythm. He’s also adjusting to a new role and it’s early in the season.
The numbers, though, seem very clear. Ross is not changing his bad habits, his apathy and decision-making is hurting the Raptors more than it’s helping, and it’s all coming under the shadow of a $33-million contract that kicks in next year. Whether other teams are interested in his play is a legitimate question mark, because on a team with a bench that already struggles to score, Ross isn’t providing many benefits here.
Whether this continues unheeded or results in a new Dwane Casey role card, something will have to be done about Terrence Ross if the Raptors are going to find long-term success this season.
Stats via NBA.com, Vorped.com and basketball-reference.