Ross, who the Raptors selected eighth overall in the 2012 NBA draft, had an erratic 2013-14 regular season. He averaged 10.9 points on 42.3 percent shooting, including 3.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.8 steals in 81 games. In 62 games as a starter after the Rudy Gay trade in December, Ross averaged 12.2 points while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc.
Consistency was always an issue. He'd be an offensive powerhouse one night (which includes his 51-point outing against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 25) and an apparition the next.
In the playoffs, there hasn't been that fluctuation of good and bad play because Ross has yet to achieve the former. He's been terrible.
Head coach Dwane Casey is still of the belief that Ross will turn things around, per Lori Ewing of the Canadian Press (h/t The Star):
There’s no pressure on T-Ross, he’s living the dream right now, second-year guy in the playoffs. A lot of guys go their whole career and don’t make the playoffs. So right now, he’s just got to relax, play basketball, have fun, (play) at a hard click, hard pace . . . but there shouldn’t be pressure.
I’m sure he’s feeling it, but he doesn’t have to make shots. He can defend, he can run the floor, he can do a lot of other things than just make shots.
He’s just got to play basketball. That’s the tough thing about first time for the playoffs, you want to give him everything . . . the thing we can do is give him information, then he’s got to go out and play and get into the rhythm. It’s about his rhythm, and his personal comfort level.
Ross' struggles haven't cost the team yet. The Raptors will head back to the Air Canada Centre on April 30 with hopes of taking a 3-2 lead in the series. Home-court advantage is back on their side after an 87-79 victory at the Barclays Center on April 27.
That shouldn't provide salvation for Ross, though. Toronto evened things up in spite of their young sophomore. In late-game scenarios, Casey has elected to sit Ross and work with the likes of Landry Fields and John Salmons at the wing positions to provide an upgrade on the defensive end.
On offense, a cold streak shooting the basketball has rattled his confidence. Shots he was making during the year are now either clanking off the rim or missing the basket entirely.
Ross' downward spiral is heightened by the fact that Jonas Valanciunas, another second-year pro on the team, is putting up outstanding numbers.
Both players are an integral part of Toronto's long-term focus, so Casey is letting them take their bumps early, although he'd rather it not come at the detriment of the team, per Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:
Both of them are soaking up big minutes. If they weren’t young guys, if that wasn’t our future, our direction, they probably wouldn’t be in there with some of the mistakes they’re making. But, they’re our guys and they’ve got to learn. It’s their first playoffs, I expect most of their mistakes. We’re going to ride with them in those situations.
I’m not blind to the fact that they are our future and the only way we’re going to learn is to go through it. The amount of time might be a little shorter, but they’ve got to get out there.
Valanciunas is used to the noise and spectacle that comes with basketball of this magnitude, having played in several international tournaments.
On the other hand, Ross has zero experience of dealing with this kind of pressure. The intensity of the games and the importance of every possession has almost thrown him for a loop, per Lori Ewing of the Canadian Press (h/t the Globe and Mail):
It makes the game seem a lot longer than it actually is. You’re playing the same team every other night so it’s very different. It’s pretty physical.
But at the same time, you can’t be too physical. I tried doing that almost fouled out.
Brooklyn's backcourt of Deron Williams (17.8 points) and Joe Johnson (19.5 points) have exploited Ross' vulnerabilities. It was only until the Raptors started double-teaming Johnson in Game 4 that they were able to slow him down, holding him to just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting. Straight one-on-one defense hasn't been able to cut it. Johnson's 6'7", 240-pound frame has been a nightmare for the 6'6", 195 pound Ross to handle.
Benching Ross would be an awful move on Casey's part, even with Ross playing as poorly as he is. His confidence is shaken, but it's not completely destroyed. Casey has given Ross ample opportunity to play himself out of obscurity, but the results haven't been there.
Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will continue to see a majority of touches, but if Ross can start contributing on both ends of the floor and provide that two-way spark at small forward, it would improve the chances of Toronto advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals a great deal.
*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and current as of April 28, 2014*