LAS VEGAS — The Toronto Raptors kept on saying it. It did not matter if it was Dwane Casey, Masai Ujiri or Kyle Lowry who was speaking. Their seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets, the one that ended with a gut-punch of a one-point defeat on home court, was a “learning experience.”
The thing about such opportunities is you can never really know if anybody went ahead and learned anything tangible. For the Raptors, we will not start to see the answer until November, and will probably not be fully informed until next season’s playoffs are over, assuming the Raptors make it back there.
Of all of the Raptors’ pupils, Terrence Ross endured the harshest lesson. He started each of the seven games, sure, but that was more about the Raptors’ lack of options on the wing than Ross’s play. He shot just 30% from the field, averaging only 5.0 points per game. On the other end, he was exposed as scrawny by Joe Johnson. (Nobody else on the roster had an answer for Johnson, a big reason the Raptors just spent US$5-million on the thicker James Johnson.)
In other words, no Raptor had more incentive to channel his frustration into something more productive this summer than Ross.
“I think about it all of the time,” Ross said this week of the playoff series. “Yeah, it sucks.”
Accordingly, Ross has spent most of his summer following DeMar DeRozan around — first in Los Angeles, and now in Las Vegas, with the Raptors’ summer league team.
“We don’t talk about it,” DeRozan said. “But I know [the playoff series] bothers him. … He feels like he let us down. The one thing I always tell T is, ‘Don’t let adversity get you down.’ If anything, let it push you even more. That’s what’s going to make you a better player. You can tell by us just working out or when we get a chance to play five-on-five, he’s [annoyed]. That’s when I can tell it still bothers him. He can’t wait to get back on the court and redeem himself.”
Alas, the on-court action will have to wait. For now, Ross is engaging in a mental and physical overhaul of his game. Ross joked that he is on a “nice little diet,” with the purpose of gaining weight. (Anecdotally, he remains lithe.) He is working on his post game, with DeRozan saying that his fellow starter has been stealing a few of his moves.
The most important part, though, is that he is working. Ross is an undeniably promising player, given his sheer athleticism and smooth shooting stroke. At the very least, he should become a 3-and-D wing — a player who specializes as a three-point shooter and perimeter defender.
However, there had been worries that Ross was too laissez-faire for his own good. This summer has been evidence of change for the Raptors.
“He didn’t even take a full month off,” said Raptors assistant coach and summer league head coach, Jesse Mermuys. “He was lifting early on. We started basketball stuff three weeks after the season ended. He’s come into a zone a little bit. He’s a little bit more mature, a little bit more serious about basketball, and it’s showed in his development so far. Because he’s working so hard, he’s seen results. It’s opening his eyes, and now he’s working even harder.”
“I think people get caught up in bodies changing, getting physical and all that,” DeRozan added. “I think the most important thing for me was mentally, just understanding what you’ve got to do mentally, where you’ve got to take your game, your work ethic, knowing what you have to improve on. That takes a lot to understand: to constantly work on that every single day.”
Again, we will not know whether or not Ross’s work will pay off for quite some time. If the disaster against the Nets resonated with him, though, maybe the heartbreak will have been worth it.