Bucket-getter Terrence Ross will challenge Suns’ other bench players

Feb 13, 2023, 10:10 AM | Updated: 10:13 am

Terrence Ross #31 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot at Amway Center on December 23, 2020 in Orla...

Terrence Ross #31 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot at Amway Center on December 23, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

The Kevin Durant era of Phoenix Suns basketball begins with a “Big 4” of Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.

This alone makes them the favorites in the Western Conference and perhaps for the whole thing.

Look back on past iterations of teams with one top-five player, another in the top-10 and two more in the top 30-75 (depending on how optimistic or pessimistic you are about Paul and Ayton). The other names rarely matter in the grand scheme of the difference between a championship.

Remember Mario Chalmers? Zaza Pachulia? Tiago Splitter? Kendrick Perkins (He’s on TV a lot nowadays so yes I am guessing you remember him)?

Those are some of the fifth starters for the best NBA teams we’ve seen in the last 15 years.

This is not meant to completely diminish the impact of those players and roles. All those guys had moments to earn their ring, and if Phoenix is going to get one, its version of those names will have to as well.

This is meant to illustrate the need to collectively restructure how we conceptually think about depth. President of basketball operations and GM James Jones has always built his rosters around it. His goal was 3×5, having three capable players at each position. The fascinating part about making the Durant trade was him abandoning that core philosophy, which is why I wasn’t ever sure if he was going to pull the trigger.

He did. And while the Suns aren’t deep anymore, they’ve got a different version of depth with 11 guys competing for 3-5 spots in the playoff rotation, an arduous task for head coach Monty Williams that we will be covering closely over the next two months.

Phoenix’s ability to stay afloat through a cascade of injuries involved the majority of those 11 contributing in big ways. So combine them with the new guys, and all of these players have earned a right to compete for playing time.

One of them is guard Terrence Ross, one of the premier names on the buyout market the Suns were reportedly able to corral on Saturday.

Ross, coming off seven seasons with the Orlando Magic, saw his offensive role really drop off thanks to new young talent like Cole Anthony, Paolo Banchero, Markelle Futlz, Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner. Ross went from being third on the Magic in shots per game two seasons ago (13.4) to ninth this year (7.1).

We are about to learn how much of that had to do with the aforementioned young talent and Ross’ ability at 32 years old. (Side note, take that into consideration when it comes to how hungry Ross will be to compete in Phoenix. This is a couple of months that will likely change the trajectory of his career for better or worse.)

Ross does something that no else within the Suns’ returning reserves does to his level. He gets buckets.

Looking back on Ross’ last three productive seasons from 2019-21, he averaged 15.1 points per game across three seasons despite starting in only two total games. Looking at players across that span who started in less than 30 games and sorting by PPG, Ross ranks fourth behind Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell (his Clippers years were elite), per Stathead.

In those years, Ross shot a below average 41.6%, which is less about his inefficiency and more about the player he is. Let me explain.

Less than a third of Ross’ shots the last five years have come within 14 feet of the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. So even though his percentages on long 2s range from 40-48% (pretty good!) and he was at 35.3% on 3s (fine!), that’s where he’s making his money, so the field goal percentage isn’t all that flattering.

To begin on the 3-point percentage, an encouraging bit of data is the five-year sample has Ross shooting 40.2% on triples when NBA.com’s tracking doesn’t have a defender within at least four feet. That’s on 913 total attempts, a strong sample size he will add to playing alongside the Suns’ stars.

That strong number is important because Ross is, erm, ambitious at times. It’s the type of ambition Duane Washington Jr. brought to Phoenix, the type of shot selection that can sometimes inspire frustration from any coach watching.

Here’s the thing. You need guys like that. Gerald Green rarely took a good shot back in 2013-14 for the Suns and it didn’t matter because they went in enough.

And Ross won’t be that guy nearly as often in Phoenix with that Big 4.

He will be centralized to catch-and-shoot looks while also flying around off-ball movement, where Ross’ plus athleticism still shines.

Dribble handoffs and such welcome him the opportunity to use his speed and agility to get to those pull-up 2s. Ross obliges.

This is a skill set the Suns need. Too many times in the past they’ve had a lineup out there filled mostly with reserves where even the notion of a scoring punch is nowhere to be found. Ross brings that every time he’s on the floor.

But it’s not that simple. There is another need involved in this equation too. Ross will need to defend if he’s going to play. He does not bring a reputation from Orlando of doing that, where he played for mostly terrible teams and only one that finished above .500, so I’m reserving judgment until we see him in a winning environment like Phoenix.

Ross’ competition for minutes will bring it on that end.

For all his faults, Landry Shamet has been a plus defender for the Suns and really gets after it on the ball. While Damion Lee can get picked on, he tries very hard and fully understands what’s going on from a team defense perspective, like Shamet. Josh Okogie is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league.

If the Suns stay healthy, only one of those four plays in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe two.

Ross’ arrival with known and valuable offensive skills further emphasizes that the battle for those spots is on.

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