Not Only a Very Good Shooter, Terrence Ross is a Very Good Defender, Too

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - What we’ve known about Terrence Ross his entire career and particularly during his time with the Orlando Magic is that he’s a great shooter. Taking that a step further, we’ve all come to admire his ability to make “tough” shots. Even when defenders are draped all over him and come at him from all different directions and angles, the 6-foot-6 veteran somehow, someway stays balanced enough to not only get many shots off, but make a fair number of them as well.

What isn’t as widely known about the 30-year-old is that he’s actually an extremely good defender, too. The proof of that is in the numbers this season. For instance, among players who have been the closest defender to at least 240 shots, which is how many Ross has been the closest defender to, the Magic’s sixth man ranks sixth in the league in defensive field goal percentage (40.8 percent).

Another key strength of his on the defensive end is his ability to deflect passes away. Ross has the second most deflections on the Magic behind Nikola Vucevic.

With the amount of running around he does on the offensive side to try and free himself up, it’s impressive that he has enough energy left to play such stout defense.

The Magic, as a whole, have been far better defensively the last several games. In fact, over the last five games, despite being extremely undermanned, Orlando has the third best defensive rating. They also rank third during this stretch in opponent field goal percentage, second in opponent free throw attempts, fourth in opponent points off turnovers, tied for first in opponent second chance points and second in opponent points in the paint.

In the win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday, the Magic really clamped down defensively after halftime. New York shot just 25 percent from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range in that second half. The 89 points scored by the Knicks was the second fewest given up in a game by Orlando this season.

“It was really important for us. It was a good team effort,” said Ross, who in addition to playing stifling defense scored a season-best 30 points, his seventh 30-plus-point performance since joining the Magic in 2017. “We had to kind of dig deep, figure out how we were going to slow things down. In that second half, we were kind of all on the same page, tied together and just closed it out.”

Ross is just one of several underrated defenders on the Magic. While it’s a challenge playing without arguably their two best defenders in Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon, there’s enough defensive talent on the roster for Orlando to stay this solid on that end.

One of those misjudged defenders is Vucevic. He’s a smart defender who makes good decisions and is almost always in the right spots. Rarely is he ever in foul trouble, which he doesn’t get enough praise for. At the moment, the 7-footer, who is in his ninth season with the Magic, is averaging just 1.7 fouls per game, truly remarkable for a center.

“One, he’s a communicator, and there’s nothing more important than that. He’s an organizer. If you watch him during the game, he sees things and he helps his teammates be a step ahead of plays that help us take away baskets,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said about Vucevic’s defense. “The other thing is, he knows what we’re doing and he does it. It’s one of the most important things. There are a lot of guys out there that, for instance, steal the ball a lot, block a lot of shots and they are poor defenders.”

Another player to keep an eye on is rookie Chuma Okeke. He has the tools to transform into one of the league’s most versatile defenders, and he has shown glimpses of that potential this season. Opponents have shot 40.6 percent from the floor when he has been the closest defender, which ranks No. 1 on the Magic and is among the best marks in the NBA among players who have been the closest defender to at least 100 shots.

The return of Michael Carter-Williams a few games ago is another big reason why the Magic have played much better defensively lately. There are very few guards, if any really, who are better at defending the pick-and-roll than the 6-foot-6, 190-pounder. When he first signed with Orlando late in the 2018-19 season, Clifford, who had coached him for a season in Charlotte before then, graded his on-the-ball and pick-and-roll defense an 8 ½ or 9. That has proved spot on. For him, it’s just a matter of staying healthy because when he’s on the floor, the Magic are a significantly better defensive team.

The Magic’s defensive rating when MCW has been on the floor this year is a team-best 97.2. Even more impressive, perhaps, is that opponents have shot 29.4 percent from 3-point distance when he has been on the court.

A matchup on Friday at Amway Center against the Golden State Warriors, whom they just played a week ago in San Francisco, will be a great test for Orlando. Over their last eight games, the Warriors have the 10th best offensive rating.

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