Terrence Ross searching for his shot, but finding everything else

Terrence Ross has struggled with his shot to start the season. But he is finding other ways to make a positive impact. And his shot is returning.

Terrence Ross is often lurking. The Golden State Warriors learned to watch out for him in the first half of Monday’s game.

Ross recorded three steals, sneaking along the baseline and covering two guys on the weak side as the Orlando Magic tried to flood the strong side. All the athleticism and speed everyone has wanted to see from Ross on offense came to play in this moment. It is the small thing Ross does to keep the Magic going and create the pace and tempo the team needs to succeed.

Ross has recorded a career-best 1.3 steals per game. According to Basketball-Reference’s defensive box plus-minus, he is a +0.4, the first time in his career he has been better than the average player in that metric. Of course, it is still early and that metric has its flaws.

Still, coach Frank Vogel has extolled Ross’ defense. He has trusted Ross on the best perimeter players. It is the easy deflection for Vogel for the one sore spot in the Magic’s stunning offensive start.

Perhaps his team’s best shooter has not come around and is struggling to put the ball in the basket.

There is no getting around it, Ross has struggled from the floor. If his main role was as a scorer and floor spacer, he has struggled to fill it.

Ross is averaging 9.2 points per game, slightly below his season average. But he is shooting 35.9 percent from the floor and 30.6 percent from beyond the arc. All would be career lows.

It has been a rough go for Ross this year.

According to NBA.com, Ross is shooting just 29.8 percent from the floor on catch-and-shoot situations after shooting 36.6 percent on such situations last year (38.5 percent with the Magic). This is where he gets the majority of his shots — 42.1 percent this season.

He is making just 33.3 percent of his shots that are wide open (no defender within 4-6 feet) according to NBA.com. It has been a frustrating season for Ross.

Maybe shot selection is the problem. Ross tends to take a lot of contested threes coming around screens. Perhaps, he could look to be more aggressive attacking off the dribble or keeping the ball moving.

Shots like this are commonplace with Ross:

He comes around a screen and lets it fly with a defense closing in on him. Other times he takes a little bit of space and shoots.

And that is something the Magic want from Ross. That is something he has done his entire career. And the Magic expect him to get back to that level. So too does Ross. He is never wavering in confidence.

“I’ve just got to get into a better rhythm. It’s still early in the season,” Ross told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel after the team’s loss to the Boston Celtics. “I’m not worried about it. Just keep shooting. You can’t really think about why too much. There are so many more games. It’s not even three months, four months into the season. I’m not really worried about it.”

The good news for Ross is it seems he is turning a corner.

Since that loss to the Celtics on Nov. 5, a 2-for-12 shooting performance that night, Ross is shooting 51.6 percent from the floor and 45.0 percent from beyond the arc. His scoring average has jumped to 11.0 points per game.

It would appear Ross’ shot is returning to him. His shot selection could still tend to be better and he could look to attack the basket more. But these are complaints that have dogged Ross his entire career. Consistency has always been the issue with Ross — whether he is starting or coming off the bench.

Ross is starting to turn a corner. Even if it is a small one.

With the team playing well at the time, Ross seemed content to play his role. So long as he made a positive impact, he was satisfied with his play. And while his shot was not falling, he knew he had to make his worth on defense. That is what he did early on in the season.

Now that the Magic are struggling, Ross’ offensive struggles come into greater focus. Even though he is playing much better and making shots again.

Ross knows he just has to be ready. He certainly seems willing to shoot when he gets the ball.

The question this year is whether those shots will go in.

The reality is that is Ross’ role. The Magic do not need Ross to have a high usage rate — he has a meager 18.0 usage rate — or create much. He is not asked to be the team’s leading scorer. The Magic have plenty of players in their starting lineup who need the ball in their hands.

Ross’ role is to space the floor. He still carries a bit of gravity to him. Defenses do not want to leave him open.

Ross, perhaps, is proving not consistent enough to fill this role. But that is the role the Magic need from him. To affect the defense with his shooting and play without the ball. That is something Ross has done almost his entire career.

It makes sense that he would find a way to return to that level again.

In the meantime, he has kept his gravity. Defenses know the shots will start falling. And he has improved his defense.

Ross’ shot may not be falling as consistently as it was before, but he is still making a positive impact. That is all Ross could ask for.