It's official – LaQuinton Ross is apparently entering the 2014 NBA draft. With Ross, you have what every single pro team could ever look for in an NBA role player: a tall, long-armed wing who can shoot the three and occasionally attack the rim with aggressiveness.
So having said that, why do I feel like Ross is making a poor decision in deciding to leave the comfortable confines of college for a professional career? I'm nearly always in favor of guys going to get their money when they have the chance. It's also worth mentioning Ross turns 22 in November, which means he'd be an older guy upon entering after his senior season. Furthermore, Ross has a daughter that he is supporting, so there's not really a way that I can fault him personally for leaving.
And yet, I still see so much more room to grow in Ross's game on the college level that it's hard for me to get behind his decision to most likely get drafted in the second round, potentially get sent to Europe, and never get a chance to live his NBA dream by getting lost in the shuffle. Let's take a look at where Ross's game stands as of right now, and try to see where he fits in the NBA.
Before we get further into the specifics of Ross's game, let's just look on the surface. How did Ross perform for the Buckeyes? Well, it's somewhat difficult to really rely on the advanced stats in Ross's case because he was Ohio State's only reliable option on offense. But let's take a look at them – along with his per-40s – anyway, and try to garner as much as we can out of them before we move onto his actual play.
Those numbers look okay on the surface, but given the obscenely high usage rate and extremely high offensive rebounding rate – good for third and tenth in the Big Ten respectively – they aren't necessarily translatable. Also, given that PER correlates heavily with USG%, it's pretty fair to say that his stat line is somewhat inflated here because he was responsible for so much of Ohio State's offense. That's not a role he's going to play in the NBA. The odds are also very high he won't be around the rim enough to get offensive rebounds either. At 6'7-8, 220 pounds, Ross does not have the size to rebound on the interior in the NBA, which means that offensive rebounding rate will not transfer to the league. Plus, his greatest strength is spacing the floor on the NBA level. This could lead to fewer put back opportunities, which constituted a portion of his offensive value.
It's absolutely fair to say that at this moment in time, Ross doesn't offer much outside of his ability to score on offense. He never really looked for others on offense because, well, he was Ohio State's only chance of scoring most possessions. Seriously, look at Lenzelle Smith's shooting splits in conference. He was the second leading scorer on this team. It was a dire, harrowing situation on offense for the Buckeyes. While I wouldn't really say Ross had the best shot selection this season, I do think there's a reason why it was what it was.
So how did he perform in that role for the Buckeyes, and how efficient was he? Let's look at his shot chart in Big Ten games, as created by ShotAnalytics (which is an awesome website that you all should visit periodically).
Here, we see pretty much exactly what we expected. Pretty much no midrange shots outside of the paint, a decent finisher around the rim, and very hit-or-miss three point shooting. Ross loves the left wing three pointer, and was extremely efficient when he had a chance to take it this season. He did a majority of his damage from that spot in catch-and-shoot situations coming off of assists from either long offensive rebounds or from kick outs by Aaron Craft or Shannon Scott. Let's take a look at a few of these plays.
Here, Craft swings it over to Scott, who attacks after a poor, off-balance close by Ray Rice. Ross starts to drift up from the corner into the weak spot of the zone on the wing. Finding the soft spot in the defense from behind the arc will be one of the niches that Ross fills in the NBA. He does an excellent job of that, but doesn't really have his feet set to shoot before receiving the ball. Most excellent catch-and-shoot players already have both feet pointed at the rim upon receiving the ball, which allows for a quicker trigger on the jumper. That's why you see some guys do a hop step before receiving the ball, or a begin to bring their foot forward before the pass hits their hand. Here, Ross only has one foot pointed towards the rim, and the other foot on the ground pointed towards Ohio State's bench. That makes his trigger a bit slower, and allows Jon Ekey to get out and contest the three. It goes in, but little things like this are important to jump shooters in the NBA because of how quick defenders are and because of the depth of the three point line.
These fundamentals in setting his feet could also have implications as to why he shoots far better from the left side of the floor, as seen above, as opposed to the right side. Stepping into the three from this side as Ross does is a lot more natural with passes coming from the lane than it is on the right side for right-handed shooters. It keeps his balance in line with the rim. Let's take a look at a three pointer from the right side of the floor and try to understand a little bit more as to why Ross struggles on that side.
Ugh. He opens up too far to Craft in order to receive the pass, which throws off his entire footwork. His back foot (which is his pivot foot in this scenario) isn't even set at the rim here when Craft throws the pass. That throws off Ross's balance entirely here, and his feet never actually get pointed at the rim. They're more towards John Beilein standing on the sidelines. The ability to get that left foot down and pointed to the rim is much easier for a right handed shooter on the left side of the floor. It's easier to plant the left foot, and wait for the pass to step into it with your right foot than it is on the right side of the floor. Here, as Ross tries to step into the with his right foot, it's clear he's not going to be pointed at the basket. Because of that, he ends up overcompensating and shooting it a bit too far to the right, which is seen by it ending up sailing wide right. You can also see how this throws off his balance slightly as well by the way he follows through with a one foot hop. The first thing that Ross needs to work on in pre-draft workouts is his footwork when lining up to shoot. This is also a small thing that would be fixable in the offseason in college, and would allow him to go from shooting 35% on college threes like he did this season to more like 40+%, which is what he's capable of given his skills.
The other place that's interesting as far as scoring the ball for Ross is in the paint. His 59% at the rim is slightly below average among draft prospect small forwards this season. When getting into the paint on drives, Ross possesses a pretty quick, long first stride that allows him to get into the paint. He's fairly quick overall when he's going in a straight line with the ball, but he has almost no shiftiness or change of direction in his dribble. Also, given that he's still pretty skinny, it's probably going to be somewhat difficult for him to finish there as it is in the NBA, especially immediately.
The place that's far more interesting to examine is that short post area, where he excelled this season shooting 45% in conference. Ross was often deployed there against zone offenses, and was Ohio State's most reliable weapon in these situations. He possesses both a solid foul line jumper, as well as a good floater once he gets further into the high post. Let's take a look at an example of that:
As mentioned already, one of the fundamental things that Ross does best is create a wide zone for passers to get him the ball. Here, we get to see him flashing in the high post against Minnesota's 2-3 zone, doing an excellent job sliding and holding that base open for his ball-handlers. Then, once the pass goes down into Amir Williams – not necessarily a beacon of playmaking for the Buckeyes – he pivots on his right foot and keeps that wide pass catching zone for Williams to get him the ball. Once he gets the ball, he uses his length against a smaller defender, spins back over his left shoulder, and shows off excellent touch on a leaning floater that allows him to get a nice, soft roll on the rim.
Before I go into why I think Ross is a deficient defender at this stage – which, by the way, most collegiate players are –let me first explain why I think he actually has solid potential on this end against small forwards if he decides to become an attentive, effort-driven player. At 6'7-6'8 with a 7'1 wingspan, he has excellent length to be able to both close out on spot up shooters, and be difficult to get around as a ball handler. Also as I mentioned earlier, Ross doesn't have slow feet by any means. He's not the best with change of direction, but he possesses enough speed at this stage that when combined with his length should allow him to adequately defend.
It's also worth mentioning that Ross was often forced to guard out-of-position this season, much like Jabari Parker was at Duke. Ross will very rarely be forced into guarding big guys like he was this season because of Ohio State's small lineup. However, as with most things in Ross's game, he has fundamental problems which make him worse than the sum of his parts. Let's take a look at a couple of plays that show his troubles on that end instinctually and attention-wise.
Ross is guarding Kenny Kaminski here, whose only purpose in any sort of basketball-related activity is to shoot the ball, mostly from the corner. Here, Kaminski sets a screen for Harris to come up to the wing, then leaks into the corner. Kaminski does this slowly. There wasn't really any urgency. It wasn't a cut to the corner. He just kind of sauntered out there. Ross doesn't follow him into the corner, and instead just watches the ball handler. Then as the ball handler, Denzel Valentine, gets into the lane, Ross doesn't really do anything. He doesn't stop the ball as a help defender, and he doesn't flash out into the corner. He just stands there. Valentine makes the easy pass to Kaminski, who knocks down a three pointer. Ross gets caught falling asleep a lot on this end, both due to a lack of awareness and a lack of attention to his surroundings. This example isn't necessarily one of laziness, but it is one of bad habits that need rectified. Here's an example of bad instinctual defense.
Here, we see an example of a guy curling off of a screen and Ross not really knowing how to attack it. Errick Peck receives the screen at the elbow, and Ross tries to fight through it but doesn't really know how to get through it. Instead of taking away the curl into the shot, he goes to the right side of the screen for some reason, which allows Peck to take a dribble into the middle and get a pretty easy look at a jumper. Ross gets over for the late contest, but it's too late. Peck makes the jumper. While these are only two specifically bad plays within Ross's defensive catalogue this year, they are mostly indicative of poor play on this end.
So while I do think that Ross very clearly has talent that is translatable to the NBA, I think he'd be better off waiting a year. Not only does he have potential to improve himself on both ends – and almost undoubtedly would – but also the draft itself is small forward-heavy this season. Not only is there strength at the top with Andrew Wiggins and Parker, but there's also depth throughout the entire first round in Doug McDermott, Rodney Hood, Sam Dekker, T.J. Warren, Kyle Anderson, James Young, K.J. McDaniels, and Jerami Grant. Plus, there are even more guys on Ross's level like Alex Poythress, Cleanthony Early, Glenn Robinson III, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Even if a few of these players drop out, this class is still incredibly deep at the position.
There is a very real chance that by entering this specific draft, LaQuinton Ross will go undrafted, and that would be a shame. He'll really need to impress during private workouts. That will probably be the most important part of his pre-draft process.
Ross is a guy that, with some coaching and development, can really improve his game and get drafted into a better career situation by waiting until 2015. I don't fault Ross for his decision given the current climate of college basketball and his life situation, but I do think that he is one of the few players that could benefit by holding off. Now that his decision is apparently made, let's just hope he doesn't get lost in the shuffle of Europe or the D-League like many before him.