Two plays Monday night illustrated what Terrence Ross can bring to the Orlando Magic in his best moments.
Several minutes into the first quarter, Elfrid Payton drove to the left edge of the lane, near the baseline, prompting Sacramento Kings defenders to converge on him. So Payton hurled the ball to Ross at the top of the arc. Ross swished a wide-open 3-pointer.
About four minutes later, a Magic player gathered a defensive rebound and passed it to Payton, who dribbled upcourt. Ross jogged down the right side of the court, recognized he had open space between himself and the basket and raised his right hand to capture Payton's attention. Payton tossed a lob toward the hoop, and Ross caught the ball and dunked two-handed.
Ross possesses long-range shooting ability, speed in transition and abundant athleticism, as those plays demonstrated.
But will those skills and gifts translate into more consistent production? Ross has played 10 games for the Magic since the team traded Serge Ibaka for him and a future draft pick, and Ross' statistics have underwhelmed. Although he's averaging 11.1 points per game for Orlando, he's made only 38.6 percent of his shot attempts, including just 27.3 percent of his 3-point tries.
"It's different," Ross said. "It's a new set-up from how it was in Toronto. I'm just learning it and adjusting to it and kind of learning new things. It's not bad."
Frank Vogel has raved about Ross. To be sure, Ross allows the Magic to employ a small-ball lineup in which Ross serves as the shooting guard and Evan Fournier plays small forward and Aaron Gordon occupies the power forward spot. The new configuration has made the Magic more mobile and versatile on defense and better in transition on offense. The threat of Ross' 3-point shooting also opens space on offense, especially for Payton.
Vogel and Payton describe Ross as a player who makes his teammates better.
"He's somebody who can run the floor," Payton said. "[He creates] spacing. He knows how to play the game. He's brought a defensive presence, another wing defender. He's brought a lot to us."
Vogel has been especially pleased with Ross' ability on defense to chase opponents off screens and switch defensively onto bigger players.
"He's a very capable defender, especially at the two-guard position," Vogel said. "A lot of these small [shooting guards] have been giving us problems much of this season, and he's definitely picked up our ability to contain the basketball on the perimeter.
"He's very, very active on the defensive end with his length and with his hands. We've needed that. He's a better ball-containment guy than I anticipated. We've needed that."
When the Magic acquired Ross, 26, team officials never billed him as a potential star. Sure enough, Ross has rarely dominated games. In fact, he has scored fewer than eight points in three of Orlando's last five games. After a nine-point first quarter Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cavaliers held him to two points the rest of the way. On Monday, he scored five first-quarter points against the Kings but added just three more points the remainder of the night. The Magic played at Sacramento on Thursday.
With the Raptors, Ross served as a complementary player off the bench. In 2015-16 and this season, his playing time never topped out above 23.9 minutes per game.
The Magic have given him a larger role. He now averages 32.8 minutes per game as a starter and plays down the stretches of close games.
"That's a big difference," Ross said. "I think that's probably the biggest thing: learning how to cope with that and stay fresh every night.
"I'm excited," he added. "It's going to be a good taste of what I get to do next year and what's going to come next year. So it's all about getting prepared for that. I'm just trying to finish these last games strong."