The youngest Raptor has plenty to give.
It would be silly to label the overall picture of Gary Trent Jr.’s game after only 5 games with the Raptors, but we can look at the parts of his performances that lend themselves to repeatable success within the context of the Raptors roster.
Percentages are mostly meaningless right now. Basically, we’re looking for how often Trent Jr. is finding shots that he’s proven he hit at a high-rate in Portland, and seeing if those opportunities are coming often with the Raptors. And if he happens to be hitting a healthy dose of triples per game (3.2) on an elite percentage (43%) well, that’s just gravy anyways.
Trent Jr. came on strong at the end of the 19-20 season, largely on the back of a burgeoning 3-point shot. The Blazers were weak at the wings and Trent Jr. punched through that void, launching himself into a role that often saw him clear 30 minutes a game. That translated into 23 starts with the Blazers (18 off the bench) this year, and eventually after the trade – a clear starting role with the Raptors, and per Masai Ujiri, is considered a piece of the Raptors future.
Let’s talk offense.
The Real Danger – Shooting
The jump-shot is very real. Conventional wisdom says that 3-point percentages usually stabilize around 750-attempts and Trent Jr. is sitting at .403 after launching 631 shots from downtown in his career. The real kicker is that he’s already a pretty accomplished shooter off the bounce. A heavy dose of his 3-point attempts over the past two seasons have come on the pull-up and he’s been hitting on north of 37-percent of them. While catch and shoot triples are an incredibly valuable commodity it allows defenses to guard you at the spot where you catch the ball. Trent Jr.’s ability to relocate with ball in hand, against defenders that are closing out to the spot he used to occupy, creates more opportunities for himself to shoot (and do it at a high rate) and lessens the pressure on players like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet to create chasms of space for the Raptors secondary scorers to get their shots off. Especially when you consider the fact that he shoots just as well above the break as he does from the corners. He does have a pronounced dip on his jumper that allows defenders a little bit of catch up time, but again, he has that escape dribble + shoots well enough against close contests that you don’t worry about it too much. Opposing defenses don’t want to lose him anywhere on the court.
Now, don’t mistake the pull-up numbers as a route to Steph Curry-adjace potency, most of his success comes by way of an escape dribble into open space and a side-step jumper. He can always grow and improve of course, but this is where we’re currently at. The short version of this: It’s fairly easy to run limited shooters off of the line, Trent Jr. makes everything more difficult for the defense.
He’s getting a lot of touches out of pin-downs so far with the Raptors, as he should, but check out the reroute to backtrack into open space when the defender over commits. He’s made some great reads.
So, what happens if Trent Jr. is successfully funneled downhill? Well he doesn’t get to the rim often or draw many free throws (which does limit him), but he has a few counters: a step-back or straight pull-up from mid-range, and a funky floater – that isn’t very successful – to help him navigate the middle of the floor. Teams generally don’t have to worry about him passing a teammate into a bucket against a shifting defense, so if you see Trent Jr. put the ball on the floor, expect a shot or a reset.
There’s undoubtedly some good stuff in here. The footwork on the step-backs and pull-ups is crisp, the floater is launched at different heights based on who’s contesting. But, there’s also the lack of a left hand and explosion. Looking forward to the continued development.
The good news is that while the numbers from the mid-range are fairly mediocre, this looks like one area of his game that Trent Jr. is certain to improve upon. His mechanics are sound, and his sense of proprioception when sliding into a jumper is actually quite good – he takes shots in crowded areas, but rear-view contests or bigs jumping out rarely get him. The floater is more up in the air (hehe) as far as I’m concerned, though. It’s such a ‘touch’ focused shot, and his numbers from 3-10 feet have never inspired much confidence. As far as mechanics on a floater? They come in way too many arcs and releases (see, Darius Garland and Immanuel Quickley vs. Richaun Holmes and Brandon Clarke) to go by anything other than percentages.
At the Rim
Trent Jr.’s lack of volume at the rim is a reflection of his understanding of his own limitations. He’s not blessed with great burst from his first-step, and he doesn’t have the start-stop burst that some players get by on – you know it, the explosion on the second or third dribble instead of the first. His biggest ally in working downhill is balance and control, which rarely grants you the ability to leave players in the dust and rocket to the rim. It seems more likely that he could develop some foul-baiting counters attached to his mid-range game, but we’ll see. Sometimes he’ll make a well-timed cut to get to the bucket (baseline, 45 – whichever) but he’s most comfortable taking it to the bucket in transition.
This is a stark contrast to Norman Powell who could get to the rim in the half-court and in transition, but Trent Jr. has time to add craft and we’ll see where he ends up. As is, he’s yet another player on the Toronto Raptors who provides little rim pressure – a team-wide (save for Siakam) problem for the most part.
Any ascension to All-Star status – because he’s really young, there’s always a chance – will become significantly more likely if Trent Jr. can figure out how to get to one of or both of the rim and the free throw line more often.
A Mixed Bag on Defense
More than anything in his time with the Trailblazers, Trent Jr. was miscast as a superstar-stopper. Because of the limitations of the roster around him, Trent Jr. was marched out against the most difficult matchups on a nightly basis. The problem is that a lot of top-flight players have the burst to beat him on foot-speed, or the size to shoot over him. Luckily, with the Raptors that’s going to be much less of a problem.
Matchup Difficulty x Defensive Impact
Some players take on TOUGH matchups as defenders and guard talented offensive players.
Some do, but shouldn’t.
— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) April 1, 2021
One of Trent Jr.’s newly minted best pals, OG Anunoby is one of the best isolation defenders in the NBA. That frees up Trent Jr. to play more off-ball defense where his help-conscious whims should slot in better and better with the Raptors scheme. I don’t have any hot-takes regarding his defense so far, though. He hasn’t had enough time with the Raptors scheme, and there’s been highs and lows. Missed rotations are common for new Raptors (you’re asked to cycle and rotate a lot more frequently than most other schemes). So, a lot of players have trouble adjusting to the cavalier nature with which Raptors defenders will leave their assignments to be covered by teammates. The ‘five players on a string’ mantra is rarely more meaningful than with the Raptors defense.
The real evaluation of Trent Jr.’s defense will come next year when the Raptors get to re-tool their roster and actually get to practice. If all things progress as they should, he’ll be with the team for the foreseeable future and we’ll have lots of opportunities to rate his defense in a more meaningful context.
Onto Bigger and Better Things
With the Raptors dealing with injuries to Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry currently, Trent Jr. looks to be coming into more on-ball possessions and more shots at the very least. If anything, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to work on how he forms up off of Anunoby and Siakam’s drives and vice versa. He adds a flair of freelance shot-making to the Raptors roster, so there’s a lot of potential for explosive scoring performances going forward.
Who knows what else could happen with his game from now until the end of the season, but all of it will inform his market for restricted free agency. You can probably expect the Raptors to end up matching an offer sheet between $14-18M a year.
Have a blessed day.