Ross Proving to be Consistent as Magic's Sixth Man

Magic's sharpshooter already has 18 double-digit scoring games this season
by John Denton

MIAMI – The true irony of this career-year, bounce-back season for Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross is that he has taken what has always been the biggest knock on him throughout his time in the NBA and inexplicably turned it into a strength.

Consistently inconsistent throughout the first six years of his NBA career, Ross has evolved into a consistently dynamic threat this season for a Magic team that relies heavily on his instant offense and high-degree-of-difficulty shot-making skills. Already this season, he has 18 double-digit scoring games and five nights where he’s pumped in at least 20 points for the Magic (9-13), who face the rival Heat (9-13) in Miami on Tuesday night.

``People always said that and that’s something that I’ve recognized,’’ Ross said of the inconsistent label that has followed him throughout his time in the NBA. ``I’ve used it as motivation in my workouts,’’

Ross, 27, heads into Tuesday’s game averaging a career-best 14.3 points per game and riding a streak of five games in a row of scoring in double figures. While that doesn’t seem overly impressive for a scorer as potent as the 6-foot-7, 206-pound Ross, it’s tied for the third-longest such stretch of a career filled with ups and downs.

What makes this season’s steady production surprising, of course, is that Ross has rarely been that consistent for long stretches of seasons. For years, he was seen as something of a tease because usually his best games were followed by duds. For whatever reason, he never became the player the Toronto Raptors hoped for when they drafted him eighth overall in 2012, and it’s taken him plenty of time to become a consistent threat in Orlando after it traded Serge Ibaka for him in February of 2017.

In his career, Ross has scored at least 20 points 30 times, but he’s done it consecutively just five times. And he didn’t follow up a 20-point performance with another one until he was 172 games into his career.

Of course, the perfect example of the wildly erratic nature of Ross’ career came over a four-day stretch of January back in 2014. Sandwiched between forgettable, poor-shooting nights in which he scored just 10 points was a jaw-dropping, head-scratching 51-point masterpiece against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 24 of 2014.

Ross’ coach at the time, current Detroit Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey, remembers the puzzling low of the 10 points two nights after the 51-point explosion as he does the guard’s career-high performance. Some have even wondered if Ross surpassing the 50-point plateau in just the second year of his NBA career proved to be a hindrance and set expectations impossibly high for him.

``T-Ross has the right mindset to be a great scorer off the bench because he doesn’t remember his last miss, so to speak,’’ Casey said of Ross’ 2014 night when he made 16 of 29 shots, 10 of 17 3-pointers and nine of 10 free throws. ``He’s got a sniper’s mentality.

``There’s not many men in this league who have scored 50 and he’s got a scorer’s mindset,’’ Casey added. ``He just had one of those nights (on Jan. 25, 2014) where everything he shot went in. But, if I remember correctly, the next (game) he had (10) points. But, for that one night, he couldn’t miss. I don’t think (it was a hindrance). It should have given him confidence because very few men have ever scored 50 points.’’

This season, Ross has played with plenty of confidence and his dead-eye shooting off the bench has given the Magic a weapon that they have lacked for years. He’s shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 40.5 from 3-point range – also career-best marks.

Following a 2017-18 season that saw him struggle as a starter (20 games, 9.3 points, 41.1 percent shooting and 32.9 percent from 3-point range) and ultimately suffer a serious knee injury, Ross is back in a familiar role of being a reserve and he’s happy there. He’s come off the bench in all 23 of the Magic’s games thus far and his 14.3 points per game trails only Derrick Rose (19.3 ppg.), J.J. Redick (18.4 ppg.), Lou Williams (17.7 ppg.), Julius Randle (17.5 ppg.), Dennis Schroder (16.8 ppg.), Eric Gordon (16.6 ppg.), Montrezl Harrell (16.6 ppg.), Jordan Clarkson (16 ppg.), Dwyane Wade (15.3 ppg.), Spencer Dinwiddie (15.2 ppg.), Enes Kanter (15 ppg.) and Domantas Sabonis (14.5 ppg.) among players who have played in more games as a reserve than a starter.

``(Ross) doesn’t need much time (to heat up),’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``They play differently, but he reminds me of (former NBA forward) Bonzi Wells, who was like that. (Former Houston coach) Jeff (Van Gundy) would go right to (Wells) and he wouldn’t need touches to get loose, and Terrence is the same way. You put him in the game and you can go right to him. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense.’’

The manner in which Ross has been able to blitz foes with points in a hurry has been especially impressive as well. In Orlando’s most recent win in Phoenix, Ross dropped 12 points on the Suns in a four-minute stretch of the second period and he had six straight in a 71-second span of the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Most of that came against idol, friend and three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner, Jamal Crawford, who Ross refers to as ``the gold standard’’ of bench players in the NBA.

Against Golden State, there was a seven-minute stretch of the first half where Ross a four-point play, a 3-pointer and 13 points. And last Sunday in Los Angeles, when Ross would make the game-winning layup in the final seconds, he energized Orlando’s sluggish offense with an eight-minute window of the second quarter when he scored eight points and buried two long 3-pointers.

``He’s a prolific scorer and a great person to play off of,’’ said Magic rookie center Mo Bamba, a frequent pick-and-roll partner with Ross. ``He’s been playing out of his mind this season and I’m just happy to see him doing his thing.’’

Ross’ ``thing’’ is his uncanny ability to curl around screens, catch the ball while his body isn’t always lined up with the basket and still sink high-arching jumpers. Since Nov. 4, Ross has led the league in catch-and-shoot accuracy (51.5 percent) and he ranks third in the NBA in catch-and-shoot points over that same period of time.

``He’s a talented shot-maker,’’ Clifford raved. ``He doesn’t need a lot of room. And it’s not just that – he’s so quick off the floor and he’s so good on pin-downs and staggers and stuff like that. And he doesn’t need much space. And he’s just playing so well.’’

The question, of course, is whether Ross can do something he so rarely has accomplished in his career and sustain his strong play. He feels that he can after changing his offseason workouts to make his shot more fundamentally sound.

After spraining the MCL in his right knee on Dec. 1 of last season, Ross missed 57 straight games. He made a brief cameo back in the rotation late in the season, but during that time off he decided that he would dedicate himself to his craft all offseason in hopes of putting together a stellar bounce-back season.

``I always played like this growing up,’’ Ross said of his ability to create instant offense. ``But, this year, it should be credited to all the work that I put toward it this summer.’’

Added Clifford, wo predicted back in mid-September that Ross was headed toward a big season after watching him work daily at the Magic practice facility over the summer: ``I think that (offseason work) is everything. To me, most of the time when guys have great years, they’re going to go back to what they did in the summer. Rarely are you going to see a guy have a terrible summer and have a great year. He put a lot into it in the summer and right now he’s in a good rhythm.’’

Fully aware of his rap as an inconsistent player who rarely is able to string much success together, Ross might have found a couple of new drills that have turned his career around. In one shooting drill – taught to him by former Toronto teammate Cory Joseph who learned it from San Antonio teammate Matt Bonner – Ross begins each shooting session by trying to make right-hand and left-hand layups, a free throw, a high school 3-pointer, a college 3-pointer, a NBA 3-pointer and each of those six shots again as he moves back closer to the rim – without a miss. One errant shot and the drill is over for the day. Last Friday, he made all 12 of the shots and went out that night and throttled Phoenix for 21 points.

In another drill, Ross attached a small lid to the back of the rim – a device that makes it even more difficult to make shots. After a summer of shooting at a rim literally with a lid on it, it makes the basket seem twice as big during games, Ross said.

``I used different instruments when it comes to my shooting,’’ Ross said. ``When I get tired and my shot gets a little flat, that (lid) forces me to shoot the ball up. Even the shots that aren’t going in, I know that going to go in because that lid made (the hoop smaller) and it made me shoot (correctly) a certain way. It really helped me get into the groove and get that muscle memory of how I’m supposed to shoot.’’

Odd techniques such shooting games and lids on the rim have, at long last, helped the consistently inconsistent Ross find some consistency in his game. He’s hopeful it’s here to stay – a thought shared by his Magic teammates.

Said forward Aaron Gordon: ``T-Ross is a baller. We want him to keep shooting it and keep doing what he’s doing all season. We believe he can.’’

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