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What the Phoenix Suns can expect from buyout pickup Terrence Ross

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
February 15, 2023

As of Wednesday morning, Terrence Ross is officially the newest addition to the Phoenix Suns.

The team had to wait for Ross to clear waivers from his buyout with the Orlando Magic, but as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski initially reported on Saturday, the 32-year-old wing planned to sign with the Suns. The Dallas Mavericks had emerged as an early frontrunner for his services, but after new owner Mat Ishbia and coach Monty Williams joined the pursuit, the prospect of playing with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant reportedly won him over.

Williams said he talked to Ross about his time under coach Steve Clifford as a reference point for some of the things Phoenix does on defense, in addition to where he might fit in.

“I just talked to him about the way we play and how we thought he could fit and just wanted him to feel wanted.” Williams explained. “Obviously, we try to shoot guys straight about what their role could look like, and I explained to him exactly what that would be and the possibilities and the constraints. But just told him, like James did, and like our owner did, that we wanted him here, and we felt like he could be an important person in this organization, not just on the floor, but a culture piece and all the stuff that we try to push every day.”

Rather than wearing his usual No. 31, which was Shawn Marion’s old number, Ross will wear No. 8 with the Suns, leaving only one remaining roster spot open. Per team policy, the Suns would not confirm whether the deal was for the veteran minimum or part of the taxpayer mid-level exception, but The Four-Point Play’s David Nash reported yesterday it will be for the minimum:

It’s been a busy week for Phoenix, which said goodbye to longtime fan favorites like Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Dario Saric but welcomed in Kevin Durant and T.J. Warren in a blockbuster trade, as well as Darius Bazley from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That makes Ross the fourth new face for Williams to evaluate and possibly integrate into his rotation. But after spending the last seven years on Magic teams that never won more than 42 games, only reached the playoffs twice and never made it out of the first round, what does T-Ross have to offer?

Here’s a look at what the Suns can expect from their new wing.

Terrence Ross brings shooting

One thing is clear: After losing Cam Johnson’s 3-point prowess as a movement shooter, adding a guy like Ross helps fill some of that void. Given the role that Williams, Jones and Ishbia all played in recruiting him, and what they’ve said about him since, Ross figures to play a more prominent role than the typical buyout pickup.

Although he’s only a career 36.2 percent shooter from long range, Ross is having a great year from deep, making 38.1 percent of his 3s. He’s drilled 39.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks from beyond the arc, 44.7 percent of his corner 3s, and ranks in the 86th percentile in points per possession on spot-up looks, according to The BBall Index.

He’s a movement shooter through and though, ranking in the 95th percentile in off-screen possessions per 75 possessions. The Suns have struggled at times to properly utilize shooters off movement like Landry Shamet and Langston Galloway, but Ross is a more experienced vet who will find his openings and let it fly.

Williams’ pursuit of a guy nicknamed the “Human Torch” hopefully indicates he’ll trust him enough to let him rip:

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ross is how willing he is to take tough shots — and how often he makes heavily contested looks. According to The BBall Index’s “openness rating,” which determines how open a player’s average 3-point attempt is, Ross ranks in the league’s second percentile. That means he’s very rarely getting wide-open looks, but he’s still knocking them down at a 38.1 percent clip.

This is nothing new; combing through the nine seasons that are in The BBall Index’s database, Ross’ openness rating has been consistently nonexistent:

  • 2013-14: 10th percentile
  • 2014-15: 7th percentile
  • 2015-16: 6th percentile
  • 2016-17: 6th percentile
  • 2017-18: 10th percentile
  • 2018-19: 0 percentile
  • 2019-20: 0 percentile
  • 2020-21: 0 percentile
  • 2021-22: 1st percentile

Some of Ross’ allure has to come from the fact that he has no problem taking and making tough shots with a hand in his face — something that will theoretically make him more reliable when defenses tighten up come playoff time.

At 6-foot-7, that smooth release over the top of outstretched hands is an obvious asset:

On a Suns team with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton, Ross will be afforded the type of open looks he doesn’t often get, even if he’s not the team’s fifth starter. Fortunately, he’s knocked down 55.6 percent of his “wide open” 3s this season, which NBA.com defines as the nearest defender being at least six feet away.

“I never been on the court on the same team with a guy who — with two guys — that demand that amount of attention,” Ross said. “‘Cause usually I feel like when I’m in the game, guys are usually trying to double-team and get the ball out of my hands. So to be out there and have that space and see how that is, it’s gonna be brand new to me.”

Considering he’s taken nearly 54 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season, Ross fills a need in terms of floor-spacing.

He’s not great on pull-up 3s (32.5 percent), but stick him in a corner or get him flying around screens or dribble handoffs, and he’ll make opponents pay with the kinds of backbreaking triples that will force defenses to pick their poison.

What else does Ross bring on offense?

While most of Ross’ shot selection comes from the perimeter, he’s also got — surprise! — a sneaky good midrange game off the dribble. While the rest of the league zigs with 3-point shooting and shots at the rim, the Suns are zagging in the other direction, accumulating players who can not only hit 3s, but get buckets from their spots in the midrange, where defenses are more willing to concede shots.

According to Cleaning The Glass, Ross has taken 41 percent of his non-garbage time shots from the midrange, which ranks in the 92nd percentile at his position. He’s also made an impressive 47 percent of those shots, which ranks in the 86th percentile.

Whether he’s coming off the bench or exceeds expectations by taking the starting job, Ross has a smooth midrange game that will feel right at home on this roster.

“I think it just gives our team just more opportunities, more ways to score, more ways to put pressure on the defense,” Ross said. “I know the league’s kind of moving away from that a little bit, but any time you can mix that in with getting inside and out, it just a neat dynamic to the game.”

While he won’t be asked to create much on offense, Ross is also a decent secondary playmaker who can even run pick-and-rolls. Despite not getting a ton of reps, he places in the 87th percentile in potential assists per 100 passes, 81st percentile in passing versatility and the 60th percentile in passing creation quality. That’s more than good enough for a 0.5 offense that will be high-powered around him.

As a pick-and-roll ball-handler, Ross ranked in the 96th percentile in points per possession. Phoenix can even use him as the roll man, since he ranked in the 92nd percentile in points per possession on those plays.

Essentially, if you give him a good screen, Ross can elevate from the perimeter, wiggle his way into a middy or even throw up a decent floater off the run, since he’s made 15 of his 30 floaters so far this season:

Unfortunately, Ross doesn’t provide much rim pressure as a slasher or cutter, since he doesn’t get to the hoop very often. Only seven percent of his shots come at the rim (ranking in the first percentile, per Cleaning The Glass), and he doesn’t get to the free-throw line either, placing in the seventh percentile in both shooting fouled percentage and floor fouled percentage.

Can Ross stay on the floor?

Again, Williams’ reported involvement in recruiting Ross indicates he may be more willing to live with some of The Human Torch’s more ambitious heat checks. The Suns have plenty of firepower between CP3, Booker and KD, but having another guy who can make defenses pay for leaving him will allow Phoenix to bludgeon teams with properly spaced pick-and-rolls leading to momentum-swinging triples.

The question is whether Ross has the defensive chops to stay on the floor come playoff time. He’s accustomed to running all over the court on that end, placing in the 84th percentile in off-ball chaser defense and the 85th percentile in ball screen navigation this year.

However, he’s hardly a point-of-attack defender in the same vein as a Mikal Bridges or a Josh Okogie. The BBall Index rates him in the 37th percentile for perimeter on-ball defense, and Ross’ Magic teams have ranked 17th, 29th, 28th, 18th, 14th, 26th and 26th in defensive rating during his time there. He hasn’t been on a top-10 defense since the Toronto Raptors back in 2016-17, when he was traded to Orlando midseason. It may take some time to dust some of those defensive instincts and principles off again.

The Suns are hoping a long-awaited change of scenery to a championship contender reinvigorates him. Ross is already feeling those effects.

“Being in a rebuild and having some success but not much, I think that just gives me a greater appreciation for the opportunity that this provides and where I’m at right now,” Ross said. “And it means a lot, man, to know that a team like this has confidence and faith in me to come in and help. So it’s a good feeling, I’m honored to be here.”

Nothing is guaranteed, since this roster still has Booker, Durant, Okogie, Torrey Craig, Warren, Damion Lee, Ish Wainright and Shamet all vying for minutes at the 2 and 3 spots. But with Shamet’s timeline to return unclear and Wainright needing his two-way contract to be converted in order to play after the All-Star break, Ross has a real opportunity to carve out minutes somewhere in the rotation.

If he can simply avoid being targeted defensively, Terrence Ross’ 3-point shooting over hard contests, smooth midrange pull-ups and even some secondary playmaking could make him a solid complementary piece of Phoenix’s playoff rotation.

“I think any team, no matter whether it’s the playoffs or regular season, your team has more dimensions on that side of the floor when guys are able to create shots or finish shots,” Williams said. “And Terrence is a guy that can do both.”

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