ORLANDO – For the first time in a career filled with some tremendous highs and puzzling lows, shooting guard Terrence Ross was able to find some consistency in his game this past season.
Now, Ross is hopeful that the consistency established in a career year will carry over to the offseason and he can continue to play for the Orlando Magic and head coach Steve Clifford going forward.
Ross, 28, heads into unrestricted free agency for the first time in his seven-year NBA career on the heels of his finest season as a professional. Not only did Ross average career highs in scoring (15.1), rebounding (3.5) and assists (1.7), he also set some NBA history in the process by becoming the first player ever to make at least 200 3-pointers (217) while not starting a game.
Playing 81 games as a reserve and playing in a situation where he was looked at to be a go-to scorer off the bench – decisions made early on this past season by Orlando’s Clifford – finally allowed Ross to deliver the kind of eye-popping numbers that NBA talent evaluators thought he had in him for years. Now, after taking his game to another level and helping Orlando reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012, Ross is hopeful that the marriage between he and the Magic can continue following the NBA’s free-agent signing period in July.
“I hope so,’’ Ross said of a potential return to a Magic team that he was a leader on. “It’s fun to be a part of an organization that is doing the right things and then guys get rewarded for it. It would be great to be back, but we’ll see.’’
Ross gave Magic fans plenty to see this season, by piling up points in bunches and helping the team become one of the league’s most potent in fourth quarters. In the regular season and playoffs, Orlando notched 11 victories after entering the fourth quarter trailing – second in the NBA only to Detroit’s 12 fourth-quarter rallies.
Ross had a big hand in those fourth-quarter heroics, averaging a team-best 5.3 points over the final 12 minutes of games. Many of his biggest performances of the season – he had four 30-point nights, 20 20-point performances and 16 instances where he led the team in scoring – came following big fourth-quarter performances to rally the Magic. In addition to helping the Magic rally late against Philadelphia, Houston and Boston, Ross tormented the Indiana Pacers with three big-time performances in the fourth quarter to lift Orlando to wins.
The way Ross played all season – shooting with confidence, remaining in attack mode throughout games and bringing a consistent focus to each game – was different than much of the early stages of his career. For example, he scored 51 points on Jan. 25, 2014 while playing for the Toronto Raptors by making 16 of 29 shots, 10 of 17 3-pointers and nine of 10 free throws. His follow-up act two nights later? A 10-point dud where he made just three of nine shots.
How different of a player was Ross this season? In his six seasons prior with Toronto and Orlando, Ross scored at least 20 points 29 times – but just once consecutively (Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2014).
This past season with the Magic, he had 20 games with at least 20 points. He had two instances early in season where he scored 20 points consecutively (22 on Nov. 11 in New York and 21 on Nov. 12 in Washington; and 26 on Feb. 5 in Oklahoma City and 32 on Feb. 7 vs. Minnesota). Then, he closed the regular season with the best basketball of his career to help Orlando qualify for a playoff slot. Over the final four games of the regular season, Ross went off for 23 points (vs. New York), 25 points (vs. Atlanta), 26 points (vs. Boston) and 35 points (vs. Charlotte).
“To get back into my old groove and to get back to doing what I love to do, it was amazing,’’ Ross said of his season.
His play was also a big improvement over his disappointing 2017-18 season – one that was limited to just 24 games because of a serious knee injury. Ross took little time off following that season, instead spending most of his summer in Orlando to refine his shooting stroke and regain his confidence. Clifford, who was hired as head coach by the Magic last May, saw immediately that Ross was poised to have a big season with the dedication and work that he poured into his game last summer.
“When you have a commitment like that by guys who are at the top of their craft and make the money that they make, I knew then that we had a serious-minded team,’’ Clifford said of the commitment of players like Ross, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and others last summer. “And it’s like anything else, when you put a lot into what you do, you’re more likely to fight when things don’t go your way. I think it was all set up by them coming back in September.’’
Ross is hopeful that he will be coming back to Orlando to continue what was the best year of his career. Because of the NBA’s heavy dependence on 3-point shooting, Ross is sure to have plenty of suitors in free agency. He is eager to see how the process plays out, but he admitted not long after Orlando lost to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs that it is his hope that he’ll be able to continue to grow with the upstart Magic.
“That’s the kind of season that we can really grow from and the real progress of a team as a whole is made through the individual efforts of guys in the summer time,’’ Ross said. “Summer can go all types of ways, and this is my first time in (unrestricted) free agency, so it will be all different for me, but the work will remain the same.
“This will be my first time (as an unrestricted free agent) and I just want to experience everything, take it step by step and not rush through anything,’’ Ross added. “It’s a decision that I will base on my family and we’ll see what happens. … We did a lot this year, but you always want to do more. I feel like this (Magic) team has a lot of potential. It’s a great organization with great coaches and a great fanbase, so this is a situation on the up-and-up and you want to be there for that success.’’
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