Terrence Ross on His Consistency: 'I just think I have really found my niche now'

MINNEAPOLIS – Terrence Ross’ successes as a prolific scorer and shooter usually come at such a frenetic, furious and rapid-fire pace that it’s often difficult to imagine him being able to do it for extended stretches of an 82-game NBA regular season.

But, somehow, through his maturation as a person and the evolution of his game, Ross has been able to shed his label of being something of an inconsistent, talent tease early in his NBA career. Now, even though his points still tend to come in bunches and his 3-pointers often hit foes like one-two haymaker punches, the Orlando Magic guard has managed to develop a distinct level of consistency within his game for the first time in his eight-year pro career.

It’s taken him plenty of time, Ross candidly admitted, but through experience and personal growth he’s figured out ways to use his unique skill set and his ability to get sizzling hot within seconds and become the player many thought he could be when he came into the NBA as the eighth overall pick in 2012.

``I just have a better understanding of how things go over a long season and I feel like now I know what works and what doesn’t,’’ said Ross, now 29 years old and in his fourth season with the Magic. ``I just think I have really found my niche now.’’

Has he ever found his niche of late? On Wednesday in Miami, the 6-foot-6, 206-pound shooting guard almost single-handedly pushed the Magic past the torrid-shooting Heat by scoring 35 points and drilling eight 3-pointers – both season highs – before Orlando ultimately fell 116-113. (In that game, Ross and Miami’s Duncan Robinson (nine 3-pointers) became just the second set of foes in NBA history to make at least eight 3-pointers in a regular-season game).

That Wednesday performance in Miami capped a seven-game span following the break for the NBA All-Star Game where Ross has averaged 23.7 points while shooting a staggering 50.8 percent from 3-point range and a solid 47.8 percent overall. Since the all-star break, Ross – affectionately nicknamed ``The Human Torch’’ because of his love for comic books and his ability to get scorching hot in seconds – ranks third in the NBA in 3-pointers made (33) and fourth in fourth-quarter scoring (9.4 points over the final period). Also, his 23.7 points per game (24thin the NBA since the all-star break) is well ahead of what top Sixth Man of the Year candidates Montrezl Harrell (17.3 points per game), Dennis Schroder (16.3 points per game) and Lou Williams (15.5 points per game) have produced since Feb. 14.

With two 30-plus-point efforts, three more nights of at least 20 points and two others in the upper teens, Ross is on the best scoring and shooting jag of his career. Up next for Orlando (27-35) are the 19-42 Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that Ross battered for 33 points, seven 3-pointers and a whopping 19 fourth-quarter points last Friday to seal a much-needed victory for the Magic.

``When he gets hot like that, it’s great for us because he opens up so much,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said of Ross, a close friend who also chose to return to Orlando after being heavily pursued by several other NBA teams in free agency last July.

``It doesn’t take much for (Ross) to get open and shoot,’’ Vucevic continued. ``He’s gotten really, really good coming off pin-downs and different screen actions and we know to look for him. That’s one of the most efficient offensive things that we have. Whenever he gets hot – or whatever happens – we just have to get him good looks because he opens up so much for our team regardless of whether he’s making shots or not.’’

Ross is making plenty of shots these days, especially in fourth quarters with games hanging in the balance. Since the all-star break, his 66 fourth-quarter points (in seven games) are second in the NBA only to Bradley Beal’s 100 points (in eight games). Remarkably, Ross has made 24 of 38 shots (63.2 percent) and 15 of 19 3-pointers (78.9 percent) in seven fourth quarters since the break.

``Incredible, just incredible,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of Ross’ shooting.

Ross’ run of high-level success started last season when he averaged career highs in scoring (15.1), rebounding (3.5) and assists (1.7) and became the first player in NBA history to make at least 200 3-pointers (217) without starting a game.

This season, his overall production – 14.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists, while shooting 40.1 percent from the floor and 35 percent from 3-point range – has nearly caught up to last season’s numbers following a poor shooting start to the season.

What’s even more impressive for Ross is that he’s finally figured out how to follow up one strong performance with another.

Early in his career, while playing for the Toronto Raptors, Ross scored a then-franchise record 51 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 25, 2014 by making 16 of 29 shots, 10 of 17 3-pointers and nine of 10 free throws. His follow-up act? A 10-point dud where he made just three of nine shots two nights later.

In his first six NBA seasons, Ross scored at least 20 points 29 times - but just once consecutively (Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2014). Admittedly so, he was often a follower back then who was plenty happy simply going with the flow while deferring to older veterans DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in Toronto.

Last season with the Magic was clearly a major breakthrough moment for Ross. He had 20 games with at least 20 points and in two instances last season, he scored 20 points consecutively. Then, he ended last season with four straight stellar scoring nights, including 26 points in Boston in the game where the Magic clinched their first playoff berth in seven years and 35 more points in the regular-season finale.

This season, he’s scored at least 20 points 15 times and at least 30 points twice now in the past week. Seven times, he’s followed up a performance with at least 20 points with another one at that same level.

Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey, Ross’ coach during his time in Toronto, has had the benefit of seeing the shooting guard’s career evolve over time. The days of Ross being the inconsistent player whose focus tended to waver and he often deferred to others is a thing of the past, Casey stressed.

``Those days are gone. He’s a man now,’’ Casey said of Ross, who is now married and the father of two kids. ``He’s a terrific young man and I remember that I used to get on him and say, `Terrence why do you seem like you’re so tired all the time?’ Come to find out he’s playing those video games against (friends) from the West Coast all night. He’s really outgrown those (days) and he’s a tremendous young man who’s playing at a high level.’’

No one is happier about that progress more than Ross, who no longer has to hear the knock that he is inconsistent and unreliable from night to night. His unquestioned importance to the Magic can now be seen in the raw numbers: Orlando is 15-12 this season when Ross makes three-or-more 3-pointers and 8-7 when he scores at least 20 points; conversely, the Magic are just 11-22 in the games where he fails to hit three 3-pointers – something that is often the product of foes blitzing him with stifling double teams in order to get him to give the ball up.

``It feels good to do it at that level now,’’ Ross said of the consistency that he’s developed in the seventh and eighth years of his NBA career. ``It was tough for me at first (early in his NBA career), trying to figure out ways to be consistent. But I feel like I’ve found what works now for me and ways to play at that level.’’

Orlando, which is in a fight with Brooklyn for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference standings, needs Ross to stay at the high level he’s been playing at consistently of late. He knows it, and now he has the game and the know-how, to keep it going for a Magic team depending on him to pile up the points.

``Every game right now is important,’’ Ross said. ``We still need to play our way in (the playoffs). It’s going to be close, all the way down to the end of the season, so every win we need now.’’

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