The Toronto Raptors were one of the few teams to lock down a four-year player before his rookie contract ended by inking Terrence Ross to a three-year, $33 million extension (Raptors signed two players to extensions this year). On the surface, paying a bench player averaging just 18 minutes per game seems excessive. It’s no doubt a bit of a gamble on the Raptors’ part, but one they’re wise to make.
Ross is just 24 years old, is an elite athlete and has showed the ability to shoot from beyond the three-point line. He’s not consistent at anything at this point, but the raw materials of a killer 3-and-D player are there.
Ross averages over six three-point attempt per 36 minutes for his career, almost the same number that the Spurs’ Danny Green, a sought-after free agent last offseason. He’s not as effective at converting them as Green is, but is four years younger and two seasons ago he shot 39 percent. There’s no reason to believe he can’t improve as a marksman.
Even if he never becomes a consistent 40 percent shooter, he’s athletic enough to continue to develop his slashing game, unlike other players that rely almost exclusively on their jumper. Ross isn’t a gifted ball handler, but he can attack closeouts in line drives and his floater has looked much improved this season.
The lack of an in-between game is one of the biggest reasons Ross hasn’t blossomed into a good all-around offensive player. If he can continue to build on that area, he could be a perfect low-usage, high-efficiency wing.
On defense he has work to do. He possesses ideal size for a shooting guard and shows very good lateral quickness. His problems on that end have little to do with physical tools. Ross is prone to mental lapses and doesn’t always show the type of focus or energy a lockdown defender has to have.
Plays like that one aren’t uncommon and sloppy performance have cost Toronto in the playoffs. The hope is that after three years in the league Ross reaches his potential as a defender. On a small sample size, he does look improved on that end and the numbers back that up. Opponents are shooting just 26 percent when Ross is guarding them, a ridiculously low mark.
Despite Ross’s still untapped potential, the extension is a gamble, albeit a minor one. The new collective bargaining agreement has shortened contracts, which means we won’t likely see seriously crippling deals being handed out. The dollar figure is high but it’ll likely be around 10 percent of the cap for the duration. It’s still a mid-sized deal that might not be easy to move if something goes horribly wrong, but it’s not untradeable.
The biggest knock on the extension is that it’s hard to see Ross vastly outplay its value and the risk that he could’ve secured a much higher offer from another team next offseason after coming off the bench this year is small. It just wasn’t necessary to sign him now.
Yet locking down Ross now does have some benefits. DeMar DeRozan is about to become an unrestricted free agent when he inevitably opts out of the final year of his current contract. With so much cap space available next summer throughout the league, he could get a deal close to the max. DeRozan is a very good player, but he’s clearly not the savior Toronto needs, which could mean parting ways with him if that happens.
Ross is a good backup plan in case that happens. He’s not the scorer DeRozan is, but he could be a perfectly good fifth option in the starting lineup for a reasonable prize. The Raptors are off to a hot start, but the team clearly is a couple of pieces away from being a legitimate contender and general manager Masai Ujiri surely knows that. By extending Ross he’s giving himself the choice to let DeRozan go without having to worry about having a hole at shooting guard.
As for Ross, he could’ve bet on himself and wait things out until everyone struck out on Kevin Durant and started throwing money around, but he made the right decision. The extension provides him with financial security and the comfort of knowing he’s appreciated, flaws and all. By most reports he’s embraced coming off the bench and now that DeMarre Carroll is around, he won’t have to guard big wing scorers. Toronto is a good place for him.
It’s rare to find contracts that aren’t controversial outside of maximum deals for superstars. There’s surely people who will criticize the Raptors for handing an inconsistent player without an elite skill a sizable extension and they’ll have a point. For Toronto’s front office, however, the opportunity to secure a rotation player who could soon become a starter to a reasonable salary was more important that maximizing cap flexibility.
Whether the new contract turns out to be a bargain, simply fair or a mistake will depend on Ross’s development going forward. If he can consistently deliver on defense and hit three-pointers off the catch, the fact that he can’t create won’t matter. Every team needs a good 3-and-D player and the Raptors might have locked one down.