Terrence Ross will be the first injury of camp, suffering a minor toe injury that held him out. But there is no slowing down with this compressed prep time.
Sure, there is usually some pain whenever a giant human lands on another human’s toe. But this felt different. It was not a pain Terrence Ross could not muster through, but it was still something off.
Ross went for a MRI on Monday and revealed a minor, non-displaced hairline fracture in his big left toe. Ross was removed from full-contact work but continued to participate in some of the team’s training camp.
This is a relatively minor injury it seems. Even Ross brushed it off, reporting he was still shooting stand-still shots. He just was not doing much motion on those shots. Ross said he can still lift and run and keep up his conditioning as his toe heals.
This is just playing through pain. The fact Ross has been with the team for a while means he does not have as much to catch up.
"“It was one of those phases where you have been in an environment for a while or a certain amount of time, you start to get comfortable with your surroundings,” Ross said after Monday’s practice. “Being with Cliff these past couple of years, I understand what he wants. I’m in a good place. I’ve been working since we got out of the bubble. Took a month or two off and came back in. I have been working out ever since. Coming into camp, I felt great, shooting the ball really well. I got a little injury. A little boo-boo. I’ll be all right. I can play through it, I’ll be fine.”"
He said he should be able to play through it. But the team is obviously being a bit cautious.
Coach Steve Clifford said Terrence Ross put in a lot of work during the offseason inside the AdventHealth Practice Facility to be ready for camp and ready to play when the season resumed.
All hands on deck
Terrence Ross is a critical player for the team. And in this crazy season, the Orlando Magic are going to need everyone playing at their best to find success.
Ross averaged 14.7 points per game last season, the second-most of his career. But it still was viewed as having taken a step back. He made only 35.1-percent of his 3-pointers (down from 38.3-percent in 2019) and posted a 50.8-percent effective field goal percentage.
There were a lot of factors toward this downturn. He suffered nagging injuries that he played through throughout the course of the 2020 season. Ross also became a focal point in how teams defended the Magic. Steve Clifford estimated that after Nikola Vucevic, teams likely focused their gameplans on slowing Terrence Ross.
And so if the Magic are exhibiting some caution, it is because they know how vital Ross can be.
"“I think it will play out,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “The one real positive is he is one of the guys who had done a lot. He was in really good shape. He will be able to continue. He just wasn’t able to participate in the contact parts of practice. It’s just we’ll see as we go along how it progresses and what he is able to do.”"
The numbers back this up.
The Magic were 5-13 in games last year where Ross scored fewer than 10 points. In 2019, the Magic were 8-13 in such games. Ross has had plenty of games where he shot his team into and out of wins.
That is part of the Magic’s formula for success. They need Ross’ spurtability and they are willing to take a few off games here and there for the bigger bonus he gives the team.
The first injury
Injuries are going to be a part of the season. And missing Terrence Ross for this short time is the first challenge.
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Steve Clifford said part of his training camp plan is to play and explore lineups if certain players are missing. He is observing contingencies if any starter has to miss time, including playing some odd lineups like James Ennis at the 4 or playing Khem Birch and Nikola Vucevic together.
That would also include the very-expected lineup featuring both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony together, something Steve Clifford said he has not tried to implement yet but remains on the to-do list before camp ends.
The hope is to give players some reps with different lineups so they do not fly into the season blind.
Injuries and injury planning are going to be a major factor to this season. With so many games packed into a limited schedule, Clifford estimated there will be little time to practice when the season begins.
"“You have to be able to get things in,” Clifford said after practice Monday. “And you have to be able to organize different groupings. It’s part of the challenge.”"
That means this training camp is something of a crash course — especially for rookies Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke who will not have the benefit of the usual offseason prep before the season starts. It also means this is a camp where the team has to plan for contingencies.
On the rookie front, Clifford said — and Ross concurred — Monday was Anthony’s best practice of the season to date. Clifford said that after practice Vucevic put his arm around the young point guard and encouraged him that he was on the right path and understanding what they need to do.
Anthony has probably attacked training camp with more fervor and aggression than Okeke it seems. Evan Fournier noted that Chuma Okeke seemed a bit nervous and tentative in the early parts of the team’s camp.
Understandable considering it has been nearly two years since he last played. But the hints of the player he can be are still ever-present if he can regain confidence on the court.
"“Hopefully he is going to be aggressive becuase you feel like he is not aggressive enough yet,” Fournier said of Okeke after practice Monday. “He still has a lot of stuff to take in like plays, positioning, knowing the 4 and the 3. He is thinking too much. I think a big reason is he is nervous. Once he gets past that, I think we will see a better version.”"
It will be a continuing process for all of them. Adjusting as a rookie is a difficult task.
The Magic are installing far more offense and defensive principles in one week than a college team might install in an entire season. Clifford said his goal is to make sure both Anthony and Okeke are put in positions where they can succeed early.
But the uncertainty of the season will remain a difficult thing to gauge.
Terrence Ross can miss time now because so much of what the Magic are doing is the same and so many of the players are the same. Much of the instruction is for those younger players. And much of the work is about getting back into rhythm after so much time away from the gym.
"“For the most part, we still have our main core guys,” Ross said after practice Monday. “We have some younger guy s on the team this year. For the older guys, we remember everything. We are doing a lot with the younger guys catching up and getting up to speed. We are all clicking. we are all playing well. We are all tied together. Right now, it is about having all the details tuned and making sure everyone is on the same page before the preseason starts.”"
Fournier said the spirit and energy at practice has been good. He said he felt the team was making progress and getting ready for the preseason. He said there is not much difference between this camp and a normal camp. But only time will tell if everything clicks come Friday against the Atlanta Hawks.
But to be sure, the Magic will need Ross.