By John Denton
Nov. 6, 2017
ORLANDO – Whether his Orlando Magic win or lose, whether he scores 20 points or two points and whether or not he impacts a game with his defense, Terrence Ross always knows what to expect when he gets back to the locker room and checks his cell phone.
On the text messages he receives, some of them stretching well beyond the length of his phone, lie a strong support system that keeps Ross grounded and confident regardless of whether his jump shot found net or just rim that night.
His mother, Marcine Parker, used to be a sweet-shooting guard at Cal-Poly Pomona University, and she fully understands what it’s like to ride the highs and lows of making and missing 20-foot jumpers with a hand in the face. Meanwhile, his grandmother, Priscilla Taylor, lives three time zones away in San Diego, but she still follows the Magic as closely a die-hard, face-painted fan sitting courtside at the Amway Center.
Their postgame messages usually flow in about the time Ross finishes his cold-tub plunge and his hot shower. They don’t focus as much on the results from the game as they do trying to make sure that the 26-year-old Ross keeps his confidence up.
“My mom is always sending me inspirational quotes and sending me little messages,’’ he said with a big, toothy grin. “And my grandma is sending me messages. And my family does it, too.
“I get more inspirational messages after good games than after bad ones,’’ Ross added. “My mom is always like, `Don’t settle! You can do better!’ I’m like, `Thanks, mom.’ Even my grandmother will send me these long messages. I’m thinking she doesn’t even watch the games and she knows everybody’s name on the team and she’s studying all of the new positions.’’
Those inspirational messages are likely coming in handy now for Ross considering that he has mostly struggled even as the Magic (6-4) thrived early in the season. Orlando raced to a 6-2 start despite their shooting guard’s woes, and Ross’ ineffectiveness has only become more glaring of late as the Magic offense sputtered in losses to Chicago and Boston.
Ross, who was acquired by Orlando last February in a trade for Serge Ibaka, has averaged just 8.5 points per game largely because of him shooting only 30.9 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from 3-point range. Those numbers are well below Ross’ career stats as far as scoring (9.6 ppg.) and accuracy from the field (42 percent) and 3-point range (37 percent) in six NBA seasons.
Magic head coach Frank Vogel, someone who pushed hard for the addition of Ross last February, feels that it’s just a matter of time before the shooting guard regains his shooting stroke.
“We’ve got to get him going, no doubt about that, because we need him,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic host the New York Knicks on Wednesday at 7 p.m. “He’s a good two-way player and he’ll be fine, but he’s in a little bit of a rut right now and we’ve got to get him going.’’
Never was that more apparent than the past two games when the Magic were forced to play without point guards Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin – both of whom were out because of strained left hamstrings. Orlando averaged 114.9 points and shot 48.9 percent from the floor and a NBA-best 44.1 percent from 3-point range in the first eight games of the season while posting a dazzling 6-2 record. However, in the past two losses, they’ve averaged just 88 points while making only 38.4 percent of their shots and a 25 percent success rate on 3-pointers.
Ross failed to make at least half his shots in any of those first eight games, but it didn’t matter as much because his teammates were picking up the slack and regularly raining in 3-pointers. However, his woes against Chicago (two-of-seven overall and one-of-three from 3-point range) and Boston (two-of-12 overall and zero-of-four from 3-point range) became more glaring because the Magic desperately needed production from him. To his credit, Ross has remained positive and stressed that it’s more important to him that the team has success than just him making shots.
“You win, the team wins, everybody gets rewarded. I still try to do my best to impact the game – whether that’s with rebounding, with steals or defense or plus/minus (ratio) or whatever,’’ said Ross, who has always been known as a streaky shooter. “I’ve just got to get in a better rhythm, but it’s the start of the season and I’m not worried about it. Just keep shooting and one night you’ll catch fire and get back to yourself. You can’t really think about why too much because there are so many more games that you have. It’s not even three or four months into the season, so I’m not even really worried about it.’’
What does have to be somewhat worrisome to the Magic is how Ross’ shooting numbers aren’t matching up to his previous NBA track record. This season, he’s 7 of 23 (30.4 percent) on midrange shots compared to 85 of 182 (46.7 percent) last season. This season, 19 of 76 (25 percent) on all jump shots and 10 of 42 on threes (23.8 percent) compared to being 41.1 percent on jumpers and 37.5 percent on threes last season.
Then, there’s this: Last season, Ross had an effective FG percentage of 61.3 percent on 111 shots after he had come off a screen. According to SportVU, that was the best mark in the NBA among 115 players who had at least 100 shots off screens. This season, he’s just three of 10 so far on those tries.
Again, it is still very early in the season and Ross and the Magic are extremely hopeful that his numbers will eventually catch up to his career averages.
“I try to be a little more aggressive (when struggling) and try to make things easier for me with my defense so that I can get easy transition (baskets),’’ he said. “Just seeing the ball go through the hoop, that always helps. I mean, really, it’s about defense for me because you can’t be on the court if you’re not doing that. I try to be more of a terror on defense and then when my shot comes around that will be good for me.’’
When Vogel was head coach in Indiana, his teams used to have fits trying to slow down Ross when he’d come off the bench full of energy for the Raptors. Toronto coach Dwane Casey’s favorite play for Ross was one that had the guard run off a staggered series of screens to get him open for shots, and Vogel repeatedly ran that last season when Ross arrived in Orlando. This season, Vogel has tried mixing things up with Ross – even using him with four reserves at times so that he can be the go-to scorer in the floor.
“I’ve played the majority of my career coming off the bench, so that’s something I’m kind of used to,’’ Ross said of playing alongside of Orlando’s reserves. “When the starting unit is out you need somebody to pick up the intensity so it doesn’t drop too much and the game doesn’t change too much. That’s a position I’m really comfortable in.
“I’ve just got to play my game. Everybody is doing well right now, so you don’t want to mess with too much,’’ Ross added. “I’m kind of getting (the ball) in sporadic spots, but I don’t really know (the reason for the struggles). I mean it’s still early and the shot is going to be there and I just have to be ready to take them. They’ll fall.’’
That’s the advice that Ross often gets in those postgame text messages from his mother and grandfather. He has basketball in his bloodlines what with his mother – a 6-foot wing – playing collegiately and his father, Terry Ross, playing professionally overseas and in the Continental Basketball Association for the Tri-City Chinook. The older Ross, an undersized post player at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, once won the 1995 CBA Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game in Hartford, Conn. Occasionally, the Magic’s Ross will pour over that old footage to see how his father handled the highs and lows of playing basketball professionally. But, mainly, he gets his inspiration from those family messages that are usually waiting for him after games.
“I still have tapes at my mom’s house of (Terry) playing overseas and playing for Tri-Cities,’’ Terrence said. “We’re like completely different players. He was an athletic big man, but undersized. My mom was more of a swing guard who could shoot a little. With his athleticism and my mom’s shooting ability, I’m kind of the guard of the family.
“I mean, they do their best to relate since I’m the only person (in the family) to play at the highest professional (level) and they do what they can to help,’’ Ross added. “It’s good having them encouraging and supporting me all the time.’’
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