Is Terrence Ross or DeMar DeRozan a Better Building Block for Toronto Raptors?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

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One game.

That's all Terrence Ross' 51-point explosion against the Los Angeles Clippers was for the Toronto Raptors. One game.

Snap judgments after one game don't mean anything. They're impulsive, exaggerated and disingenuous to whatever argument you're attempting to make. 

But this is about more than one game. Ross' 51-point performance is just the latest evidence in a long list of encouraging signs.

Since the Rudy Gay trade, Ross, a sophomore, has stepped up. And so has DeMar DeRozan, who's generating All-Star (reserve) buzz, coming into is own as a No. 1 option and potential cornerstone.

It wasn't supposed to be like this for these Raptors, these supposedly tanking, Atlantic Division-leading Raptors. ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) had indicated in December that no one was untouchable on Toronto's roster.

General manager Masai Ujiri was looking to blow it up, and he would blow it up. There was no concrete building block already in Toronto, not one the Raptors believed in and were willing to place the "untouchable" label on.

Now, they could have two such players, two potential building blocks.


DeRozan's Value

Jan 24, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots a jump shot during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Raptors defeated the Sixers 104-95. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TOD
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Ask this same question a year ago, and most people probably burst out laughing. 

Maybe not this exact question. Anything including "DeRozan" and "building block" would've incited some school-girl giggling is all. Four years into his NBA career, he was more comparable to then-teammate and then-inefficient scorer Gay. Halfway through 2013-14, he resembles an Eastern Conference All-Star more than he does an ugly chucker.

To be sure, there are still some kinks in his game, large holes that are not going unnoticed. And efficiency remains an issue, as he continues to shoot just 42.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from deep. 

But his overall numbers this season speak for themselves:

DeMar DeRozan by the Numbers
First 415.245.323.

That's the type of play you want from an athletic scorer like DeRozan. His shooting percentages could be higher, but he's passing the ball more and his offensive rating exceeds that of his defensive rating for the first time in his career.

One of the biggest problems with him, though, remains shot selection. When he attacks the rim consistently and is kicking out to open shooters, he's difficult to defend. On plenty of other occasions, he's predictable, living and dying by mid-range jumpers.

More than 64 of his shot attempts have come between 10 and 24 feet this season, and he's shooting just 38 percent in that area.

DeRozan's Shot Selection
Shot LocationFGMFGAFG%
10-14 ft.3810635.8
14-18 ft.9524039.6
18-24 ft.5514936.9

This isn't a one-time occurrence, either. Last season, 60.4 percent of his total shots came within that same range, and his conversion rate wasn't much better. 

DeRozan's Shot Selection (2012-13)
Shot LocationFGMFGAFG%
10-14 ft.6817339.3
14-18 ft.15336941.5
18-24 ft.7220135.8

Players who rely on their mid-range games as much as DeRozan does should be hitting those shots at a much higher clip. The fact that he's not, yet continues to attempt a majority of his field goals from there, is a problem.

Three-point struggles make it even worse. Shooting guards are supposed to stretch the floor, which is another thing DeRozan, a career 26.1 percent distance shooter, doesn't do.

Dwyane Wade is a 2-guard that comes to mind when asking if shooting guards who cannot drill treys are able to be successful. He's made nine All-Star appearances and won three NBA titles while shooting just 29.1 percent from beyond the rainbow, so there is hope.

Unlike DeRozan, however, Wade's scoring methods are tried-and-true. His ability to reach the rim consistently—even now—and routinely sink mid-range jumpers has ensured he's never shot worse than 46.5 percent from the floor during his career. DeRozan, meanwhile, hasn't breached 45 percent since his sophomore campaign.

Nonexistent defense is a serious issue as well. DeRozan's career 111 defensive rating ties him with Arron Afflalo and Tayshaun Prince for the third-worst mark among all 60 players who have averaged at least 32 minutes per game since 2009. Though he's made some improvements—opposing shoot guards posting 13.9 PER against him, per—he's still not considered a two-way player the way franchise pillars typically are.

So, even as we're watching DeRozan light up opposing defenses for 20-plus points a night, spearheading Toronto's inadvertent resurgence, the numbers leave us wondering whether he can be a building block at all.


Ross' Value

Jan 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross (31) dunks against the Los Angeles Clippers at Air Canada Centre. The Clippers beat the Raptors 126-118. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Not even two years into his NBA career, it's difficult to gauge Ross' ceiling.

Reliable starter? Future superstar? Your favorite NBA 2K player?

When watching Ross and seeing firsthand how he puts his God-given tools to use—length, athleticism, etc.—I liken his potential to that of a consistent three-and-D guy, someone who gives you floor spacing on one end and an impassable wall on the other.

Put in that context, he becomes one of the Association's more intriguing prospects.

Think about some of the best younger three-and-D guys—Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Wesley Matthews, to name a few. Then think about some of the older ones—Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Kyle Korver. Would you want/have wanted to build your franchise around any of them? 

In some instances, yes.

Butler and Leonard are two youngsters their respective teams will look to build around, while Battier and Korver have always been considered glue guys or even one-sided specialists—despite their obvious two-way value—over the course of their careers. 

That's the thing about three-and-D guys. In many cases, they're effective specialists, complementary pieces brought in to round out rosters, not anchor them. The result varies by situation, of course. Put Jimmy Butler next to a healthy Derrick Rose, and he's the sidekick—same with Leonard and Tony Parker.

But Ross has the opportunity to be someone bigger. Toronto's pecking order isn't even close to established. Jonas Valanciunas and DeRozan have both been considered "the future" at one point or another, but they're not the unquestioned foundations on which Toronto will build upon.

Lately, someone else has thrust his name into the conversation—Ross.

Unleashing offensive hell on Los Angeles isn't merely our launching point; it's a means to start the discussion, not end it.

Ross is young, talented and athletic. More importantly, he's been valuable on both ends of the floor since Gay was dealt to the Sacramento Kings.

Ross' Evolution
MPGPTSFG%3P%REBASTOff. Rtg.Def. Rtg.Net Rtg.
2013-14 Overall25.010.241.840.73.3.8105.3101.73.6
Since Gay Trade29.813.

Nothing about his numbers kicks you in the face, screaming "superstar." His 12.1 PER is also below the league average of 15, but he's only in his second season. This is the first time he's receiving over 25 minutes a night consistently, and he's delivering.

Efficient outside shooting has helped fuel his rise. DeRozan cannot be relied on to knock down three-pointers and stretch defenses; Ross can.

Ross has also shown the ability to create his own shot more, something he wasn't known for coming out of college. When you have someone like him who can operate within the flow of an offense as a spot-up shooter or self-sufficient scorer, that's huge.

Passing remains a concern, specifically how aware of his surroundings he is when attacking the basket. Some of the best scorers—see Kevin Durant—are pesky covers because of how versatile they are. Ross isn't a frequent facilitator, but at only 22, there's time to improve upon an increasingly high ceiling.


So, Who?

Versatility is king.

Both Ross and DeRozan are young and, in some ways, projects. Each has also elevated his game of late, fortifying Toronto's surprisingly competitive dynamic. And truth be told, neither one of them may be the answer in Toronto. 

There are still so many questions that need to be addressed, and there's no predicting what Ujiri does next. But given the option, Ross is the better choice to move forward with as a primary building block.

While still young, the Raptors know what they're going to get from DeRozan—consistent scoring held together by erratic shooting and a low defensive ceiling.

Ross' potential is greater in almost every area of the game. Maybe he'll never be the 20-plus-point scorer DeRozan is, but he's a floor spacer who can get buckets in a variety of ways. On top of that, he's already shown more consistent upside on the defensive end.

"You don't really realize what you're doing until it's all over," Ross said of his 51-point display, per The Associated Press (via USA Today).

One game—a loss, no less—that's what that was. But it was also a reminder the Raptors have something, someone in Ross—a project, no doubt, but someone special still.

Someone who will quickly prove he can be a more integral part of Toronto's future than DeRozan or anyone else currently on the roster.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.


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