My parents always taught me when I was a child that "honesty is the best policy." They warned me that my pants would burst into flames if I were ever to tell a lie, which I truly believed at one point. Don't judge me. I was a gullible boy.
With that being said, I'd prefer to tell it like it is about third-year swingman Terrence Ross and avoid having my khaki shorts scorched in the process:
T-Ross was T-errible in 2014-15.
Where was the progression? Where did all the upside go?
I've had many a battle on social media over Ross and his "potential" to be an above-average NBA talent somewhere down the road. The regular season was a never-ending struggle of me biting my tongue—or attempting too, anyway— as I'd stare at my flatscreen and watch the 24-year-old find new ways to make me doubt his ability and basketball IQ.
There's no getting around the fact that Ross is one of the most athletically-gifted 2's or 3's in the league. He's not a brute of a man with muscles on top of muscles, but he can jump out of any building and run the floor with the best of them.
That's what makes the downward spiral he's on all the more maddening, though.
He doesn't get it. And I don't mean the "it" that Paul Pierce was referring to prior to the massacre that was the Washington Wizards series. I mean the "it" that clicks in your head, opens your eyes and makes you see things for what they are and what they need to be.
Ross is complacent. Setting up camp on the perimeter and being a three-point marksman—if you can even call him that—is his bread and butter. Unfortunately, that's all he's really bringing to the table. He's a one-trick pony.
Keeping the defense honest and opening up driving lanes for his teammates is one of the reasons why head coach Dwane Casey couldn't keep him from being the starting small forward for very long. That, and James Johnson's flaws as a defender which Casey couldn't seem to ignore.
Nearly 54 percent of Ross' points came from three-point range, with just 5.5 percent coming from the charity stripe—the lowest on the team. He went the last nine games of the season without attempting a free throw, and that's including the four-game series sweep against Washington where his three-point percentage dropped to 33.3.
Even if his shot isn't falling, Ross will throw his hands in the air (and wave them like he just don't care) and keep hoisting up prayers until he gets himself out of whatever funk he's in—which could be a result of being around Lou Williams too long, but who knows.
To hell with adjustments and mixing things up offensively. At least DeRozan—a perimeter player in his own right—is willing to attack defenders and draw contact, having averaged 7.2 free throw attempts (5th in NBA).
Ross isn't that guy. He hasn't mustered up the confidence to be that guy. Being around the basket is like jumping in the deepest part of the pool for him. It's scary, uncharted waters that he'd rather not explore. He enjoys chilling on the deck of the three-point line where the drinks are free and the beautiful scenery is plentiful.
So he's got the "3" in "3-and-D" down. Somewhat. Kind of.
The defense is still a work in progress. Ross wasn't that bad in that department last year (103.5 defensive rating), although Joe Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets ripped him to shreds in the postseason.
In 2014-15, all of those good vibes he had on defense were tossed out the window in favour of groans and moans.
It's hard enough being an undersized small forward—Ross weighs under 200 pounds—and having to guard bulkier 3s, but that task becomes more difficult when rookie mistake after rookie mistake is being made.
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"He’s [Ross] got to find his niche and figure out how to be part of a winning team, whether it’s going to be as a defender, as a cheerleader, or whatever it is," said former Raptors scout Alvin Williams back in February, per Dave Zarum of Sportsnet.ca.
Ross developing into a useful defender and maintaining that from game-to-game would be the best-case scenario for a Raptors squad that fell into the bottom-third of the NBA in defensive efficiency (104.8, 23rd). Can he reach that level and stay there, though?
GM Masai Ujiri was asked during his end-of-season media conference about the year Ross had. He decided to put more of a positive spin on things, failing to recognize the truth that everyone else has come to terms with: Ross was ordinary at best:
I think sometimes … we (don’t) look at what they do and what they do well I think sometimes we tend to criticize what they don’t do. And sometimes when you’re internal, and you look at these players, we have to concentrate on what they can do well, and can we get any better? … We love their upside. Everybody says ‘When is Terrence going to get to the line, when is Terrence [going to expand his game]?’ Well, you know what, Terrence is a great shooter. He fell back on defence a little bit, but we felt that he started getting it back together. (per Eric Koreen of the National Post)
"We love their upside."
Upside is a scary thing. It's like watching The Conjuring on acid. In the case of Ross, it's fairly obvious that no one has seen his best yet. Sure, he scored 51 points against the Los Angeles Clippers once, but in the grand scheme of things, that performance proved nothing to anyone.
I attended a basketball conference (Hoop Talks Live) in Toronto a few weeks after the Christmas break. A select group of media personalities got together and discussed the team in front of a group of around 70 or so. When I asked them about Ross and their views on his play, the answers across the board were fairly in sync: Until Ross finds the drive within himself to be great, he'll never come around.
His work ethic was questioned, as too was his desire to be special. Ross could stand out from the pack and establish his name as an elite 3-and-D wing, but he's shown nothing to indicate that he's striving for excellence.
Yet management is so infatuated with what Ross can one day be that they're oblivious to his shortcomings and lack of conviction. The wool is over their eyes and they haven't figured it out yet.
The Raptors have had endless patience with Terrence Ross. He has not repaid them in the slightest. They still believe. No clue why.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 27, 2015
We know who Ross is now. Three years is a solid time frame to figure someone out. Forget a contract extension. Don't worry about committing to him just yet, Raptors.
Potential. Upside. They're dirty words.
Ross is who we thought he was. Let's not let him off the hook.