Ross Happy to Have Big Role With Magic

Trust and Appreciation From Coaches and Teammates Made Staying in Orlando During Free Agency Easy Decision for Ross
by John Denton

ORLANDO – Terrence Ross won a Slam Dunk Contest in 2013 while in a Toronto Raptors’ jersey, he scored a career-best 51 points in 2014 while representing Canada’s lone NBA team and he reached the playoffs three times in the 4 ½ seasons he spent north of the U.S. border.

But never, Ross stressed, did it feel quite like this. Never did he feel this loved, never as needed as he is now by the Orlando Magic or this loved for what he does on the basketball court by his teammates. Never, he also noted, did it feel like home as much as this does now in Orlando.

And here’s the kicker: Ross’ feelings have nothing at all to do with the differences between living in the United States and Canada, or while playing for the Raptors franchise and the Magic. Instead, it’s all about the importance of the role that he’s been given with the Magic, the trust that he’s built with his teammates and the intense feelings that he has that things are going to be really good for the Magic for several years to come.

``There were a ton of different reasons (for his career numbers last season) – the team, the guys, and when you feel comfortable and you settle in somewhere, it’s just special,’’ Ross said following the Magic’s Saturday preparations for Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. ``I feel like I just fit in really well (with the Magic), even more so than I did in Toronto. I was just a younger guy there (with the Raptors) and more of a role player, and here I have a bigger role. I feel comfortable, everybody has accepted me, and I had fun playing (in Orlando). When you have fun, you’re going to feel good and play good.’’

Ross’ feelings for what he thinks about Orlando and the Magic were put to the test back in July when he hit free agency and he had several offers from other teams to potentially head elsewhere. It was easy to see why teams such as the Lakers, Jazz, Mavericks, Pacers and Kings – who either made contract offers or had serious interest, according to the guard – were in hot pursuit considering the season he had just posted. While averaging career highs in scoring (15.1) and rebounding (3.5) and helping the Magic to the playoffs, Ross also became the first player in NBA history to make at least 200 3-pointers (217) without starting a game all season.

Ross, 28, didn’t need much time to tell the teams courting him that he was staying put in Orlando. He recommitted and eventually resigned with the Magic in early July, in large part because of what he feels is to come more so than what transpired last season. Even as Ross was being wooed by other teams, he kept asking himself one question: Why would he dare leave a place where he finally found just what he’d been looking for all throughout his seven-year NBA career?

``I spent a ton of time in Toronto, but it was different because I wasn’t ever a focal point there,’’ he said. ``Coming (to Orlando), I’m playing a lot more and I’m such a big part of the team, and I feel like when you have something like that, you don’t want to leave that.

``That was one of the biggest reasons I stayed – we have something special here, you can’t find this position and you can’t be in this role everywhere you go in the league,’’ he added. ``I found a special place where people embrace me and want me to do what I’m doing, and it’s very rare to find that in this league.

``I definitely had some interest (from other teams), but it’s like it was hard to even focus on that,’’ he added. ``It was like, `Yeah, that sounds nice, but … .’ I really do love it here.’’

That love has been returned to Ross in the form of him morphing into one of the most popular players off a Magic squad that excited the fan base last season by reaching the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2012. Ross, of course, was a big part of that stirring run, by providing instant offense and piling up gobs of points off the Magic’s bench. It earned him the nickname of ``The Human Torch,’’ one he adores because of his life-long love of comic books and the inference that his red-hot shooting stroke can heat up in a moment’s notice.

Comforted by his new contract and his familiar surroundings, Ross picked up this preseason where he left off last season, averaging a team-best 14.2 points a night in five exhibition season games. Even more impressive than the 13 3-pointers he made in the preseason was the fact that the Magic were a team-best plus-34 in the 93 minutes he was on the floor.

Teammates and coaches continue to be amazed not only by what Ross accomplishes, but how he goes about doing it on the basketball floor. Quite possibly, no player in the NBA is as good at making difficult and contested shots better than the 6-foot-7 Ross, who uses his superior vertical leaping ability to get extra lift on his jump shot.

``The guy is a wizard, man,’’ Magic forward Jonathan Isaac said of Ross. ``He makes shots with people hanging all over him.’’

Last season, Ross had the third-most 3-pointers (60) in the NBA in situations where the defender is considered to be tightly guarding him (2 to 4 feet), trailing only James Harden (146) and Kemba Walker (69). Also, Ross tied for seventh in the NBA in total number of made field goals (119) while being ``tightly guarded,’’ trailing only Kevin Durant, Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russell.

Ross said there’s a reason why he’s so adept at making closely contested shots that most players won’t even attempt.

``Growing up, I’d play `21’ or `Crunch,’ and I was always a kid who couldn’t dribble and if I wanted to win, I’d have to outshoot everybody else,’’ remembered Ross, who was born in Southern California, but later moved to Portland, Ore., as a teenager. ``So, I always had a knack for making tough shots and making a lot of threes and developing that skill earlier than most kids. I’ve always had a confidence of taking tougher shots and not feeling so pressured with them. I think that developed into my game now, as silly as that sounds, and it’s just one of those things that I’ve always had confidence with.’’

While some of Ross’ shots might make a coach cringe, Orlando’s Steve Clifford said he learned early on last season that he has to coach his standout shooting guard differently than others. What might be a difficult shot for some often falls right into Ross’ wheelhouse.

``(Magic players) will tell you that I tell them all the time, `He’s not like everybody else,’’’ Clifford said of Ross. ``For him, he definitely gets coached differently than the other guys and they know that.’’

Ross wasn’t afforded those same liberties and opportunities much early in his career as he played behind DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in Toronto. Back then, Toronto head coach Dwane Casey looked at Ross as someone with a big heart and plenty of talent, but also as a player who needed direction, guidance and more maturity. Casey, now the head coach in Detroit, considers his one big accomplishment with Ross being that he got him to stop playing video games all night so that he showed up to practices and games better rested. Casey, who was looked to almost as a father figure by Ross, said he was happy to see his former pupil find happiness and a long-term contract in Orlando this past summer.

``He’s a kid who I watched come into the league in Toronto and go from playing video games all night to where he is now. He’s worked his butt off to earn it,’’ Casey said. ``He’s a great young man, we had a lot of great times together, but four times a year I have to pull against him. But I’m happy to see his success and growth as a player.’’

The growth displayed by Ross last season also included the highest level of consistency that he’s ever shown. In his six seasons prior to 2018-19 with Toronto and Orlando, Ross scored at least 20 points 29 times - but he did so just once consecutively (Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2014). For example, when he had the 51 points in 2014, he came back a couple of nights later and scored only 10.

This past season with the Magic, the inconsistency that dogged Ross much of his career disappeared as the Magic gave him a significantly bigger role in the offense than he had ever enjoyed. He had two instances early in season where he scored 20 points consecutively (22 on Nov. 11 in New York and 21 on Nov. 12 in Washington; and 26 on Feb. 5 in Oklahoma City and 32 on Feb. 7 vs. Minnesota). Then, he closed the regular season with the best basketball of his career to help Orlando qualify for a playoff slot. Over the final four games of the regular season, Ross went off for 23 points (vs. New York), 25 points (vs. Atlanta), 26 points (vs. Boston) and 35 points (vs. Charlotte).

He also had quite the flare for the dramatic, averaging a team-best 5.3 points a night in the fourth quarters of games. His clutch, fourth-quarter play allowed Orlando to notch 11 victories last season when entering the fourth quarter trailing – the second-most such wins in the NBA.

Many of his biggest performances of the season – he had four 30-point nights, 20 20-point performances and 16 instances where he led the team in scoring – came following big fourth-quarter performances to rally the Magic. In addition to helping the Magic surge past Philadelphia, Houston and Boston late in big wins, Ross tormented the Indiana Pacers with three big-time performances in fourth quarters to lift Orlando to wins.

Now, he knows that defenses will likely defend him differently, trapping him on pick-and-roll plays and shifting coverages toward him to try and keep him away from the 3-point line. He got a taste of that in the playoffs when the Raptors mostly bottled him up by regularly running two defenders at him.

Now, Ross says, bring on the double teams because he has just as much trust in his teammates as they do in him to bury difficult shots and shoulder the load during fourth-quarter rallies.

``Just play, make the right play and move (the ball) quick,’’ said Ross, who switched from his familiar No. 31 to No. 8 in the offseason in honor of his young son. ``When more double-teams start to come or they show harder (on screens), it just opens up more opportunities for everybody else on the court. The faster that I can get the ball into the right player’s hands, it helps.

``The (unexpected) shots that I take, it keeps the defense on their toes,’’ Ross added. ``It makes the defense play me different than they would someone else. Some other guys, they might go `under’ or not show as hard (on screens), but I have that reputation as a shooter, and when I come in games, I think that gives us another option to play out of. With double teams and defenses hedging hard, it creates more space for other guys and that’s how I help the team flow a little better.’’

This season, Ross wants to help the Magic flow better come playoff time. He is confident that last season’s strong closing kick and run to the playoffs is just the start of long run of success for the Magic. Now, he said, it’s about going deeper into the playoffs and becoming a contender in the Eastern Conference.

Ross is happy in Orlando, and happy he stayed with the Magic. He’s happy with this role and happy with the trust that his coach and teammates have in him. And to hear Ross say it, even happier days are to come for him and the Magic in the very near future.

``Everybody’s so happy that we went to the playoffs, but that’s such a small step in the direction that we’re trying to go,’’ he said. ``We can have way more fun times ahead of us, but it just takes the time and work. I think we could start something special here and go to the playoffs the next few years. We’re all really looking forward to that, but it’s just about trying to figure out how we can do this consistently.’’

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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