Clifford Looking at Ways to Get Ross More Open Looks

by John Denton

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A microcosm of the season for Terrence Ross came back on Nov. 29 when, seconds after the Orlando Magic guard had drilled a 3-pointer, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse semi-jokingly, semi-seriously addressed him along the sideline as he was about to inbound the ball.

``Nick Nurse told me, `You’re not getting another open three,’’’ Ross frustratingly recalled later that night – one where the Magic fizzled offensively late in the game and lost. ``Sure enough, after that they trapped me on every pick-and-roll.’’

The NBA is, if anything, a copycat league when it comes to a strategy that works. Accordingly, several teams have adopted a defensive game plan similar to the one that Toronto used in the playoffs last spring and again in November to limit Ross’ looks from 3-point range.

Here’s why foes usually look to do whatever they can to limit Ross, who missed two games earlier in the season with a sore right knee: The Magic are 4-1 when he scores at least 20 points and a respectable 10-9 when the guard makes two or more 3-pointers. Conversely, they are just 9-17 when Ross scores fewer than 20 points and only 3-9 in the games where Ross makes one or zero 3-pointers.

``More and more teams are starting to play me a certain way,’’ noted Ross, whose Magic (14-19) face the high-scoring Wizards (10-22) in Washington, D.C. at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. ``That’s just something that everybody is starting to notice – taking away what I do. For us, we’re just trying to come up with different things.’’

Ross and the Magic ran into that strategy again on Monday at the Amway Center when the Atlanta Hawks were clearly intent on keeping the streaky shooting guard from heating up. When Ross was forced to put up mostly contested looks or give up the ball all together, he mustered just four points and the Magic offense fizzled in an unsightly 101-93 loss to the Hawks.

``I’m going to say this, and I said it to the team (on Tuesday): He’s the one that I’ve got to help more because (opponents) are so locked in to him,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``He had a good stretch there (in early December) when his knee felt better, he was more balanced (on his shot) and he was getting more separation. But, like (Monday) night, when (Ross) was on the floor, (the Hawks) said, basically: `Anybody but him.’ (Tuesday) was about trying to rectify some of that.’’

Last season, Orlando often won games like the one that it dropped to Atlanta on Monday because of Ross’ ability to heat up in fourth quarters. In 2018-19, the Magic tied for the league lead in victories when trailing after three quarters (11) largely because of Ross’ ability to pile up points in a hurry.

However, many defenses this season have worked to take away Ross out of the equation – both in fourth quarters and throughout games. Whereas Ross led the Magic in fourth-quarter scoring last season (5.3 points per game), his production over the final 12 minutes has dropped off this season (3.9 points). This season, he’s getting off fewer 3-point looks in the fourth quarter of games and his assist numbers have plunged as well.

For the season, Ross’ overall production (12.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists on 40.2 percent shooting overall and 33 percent from 3-point range) pales in comparison to what he did in 2018-19 (15.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists on 42.8 percent shooting overall and 38.3 percent from 3-point range). Trapping defenses have allowed him to get fewer overall shot attempts (11.0 this season compared to 12.7 last season) and fewer 3-point looks per game (6.0 compared to 7.0).

Then, there’s this as it relates to the enormous effect that Ross’ shooting has on Orlando: He has averaged 16.1 points on 44 percent shooting overall and 36.2 percent accuracy from 3-point range in the 13 wins he’s played in, but those numbers drop to 10.3 points, 36.8 percent overall shooting and 29.8 percent 3-point accuracy in the 18 losses he’s been a part of.

Ross’ value was seen of late when he had a season-best 26 points and six 3-pointers in a win over Chicago and 17 points and two threes in the Magic’s one-point victory against Philadelphia. Conversely, he mustered just nine points and one 3-pointer in Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee and four points and four 3-point misses in Monday’s deflating defeat against an Atlanta team that entered having dropped 21 of its previous 23 games.

``It changes our offense completely because not many guys in the league can do what he does,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said recently of Ross. ``To have him is a luxury, having him come off screens and shoot it that quickly and jump that quickly helps us a lot and it opens up so much for us. He’s a great shot-maker and when he gets it going like he did (last week against the Bulls), it opens up so much for us.’’

Ross’ inability to get open for clean shot attempts played a major role in Orlando shooting just 41.6 percent from the floor and making only five of 25 3-point attempts on Monday against the Hawks. Up as much as 18 in the first half, the Magic lost when their offense made just 16 of 45 shots (35.6 percent) and only one of 13 3-pointers over the final 24 minutes.

After reviewing footage of the game, Clifford said the Magic played with enough effort – as evidenced by their defensive work – but their poor shooting and attention to detail offensively sabotaged the night.
``When you don’t score, it can look discombobulated (and a) lack of effort,’’ Clifford said. ``And some nights, it is (a lack of effort). Last night, we needed more offensive energy and stuff like that, but (a lack of effort) is not why (the Magic lost). You miss 10 free throws, you screw up four fast breaks and you shoot 20 percent from three (for the game), and it’s not going to look good.’’

The Magic are trying to find new ways to get more good looks for Ross, starting with Wednesday’s game in Washington, D.C. against a Wizards team that toppled the Miami Heat on Monday. After all, Clifford said, Ross isn’t the first great shooter that defenses have plotted to stop. Double teams on Ross should create open shots for others on the Magic if the ball is moving freely, Clifford said.

``We just have to find different ways to get him open,’’ Clifford said. ``You don’t invent it. You go back over the years – I have a veteran (coaching) staff – and you sit there and say, `What did they do for Reggie (Miller)? What did they do for Ray Allen?’ You just build it onto your offense.

``It’s as simple as this: They’re not going to let him play one-on-one,’’ continued Clifford, who compared Ross’ plight to that of Tracy McGrady when the two were together with the Houston Rockets. ``And it’s not just with the ball; it’s without the ball, too. When everybody else plays pick-and-roll, they’re in more conventional coverages. And when (Ross) plays pick-and-roll they double-team him and make him a passer so that he can’t get into (shooting) rhythm. … When he comes off, the (center) jumps up to double-team and what happens is he just doesn’t get a lot of easy ones. If you look at his baskets from (Monday), when there’s a little bit of room, he can put the ball on the floor and that’s when he got to his (shots). But, it just makes it hard for him to get into a rhythm (when foes trap). What (Ross) does do well is he just moves the ball and makes the right play. That’s what you’ve got to do.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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