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2020-21 Player Review: Gary Trent Jr.

This is part of a series of player review from the 2020-21 season. To find the remainder of the series, please click here.

Gary Trent Jr. is a Toronto Raptor.

For the Raptors’ wing, this has certainly been a year of unrelenting change and adaptation. Toronto executed a rare midseason trade for the 22 year-old, Duke-educated swingman — indicating the substantial value (and potential) in which Toronto’s decision-makers recognized in him.

The History

After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, Gary Trent Jr. saw steady growth playing with both his NBA team and briefly, in the G-League. Weirdly enough, Portland is only one of two teams (New Orleans Pelicans) in the NBA who currently do not possess a G-League affiliate team. In terms of player development, it is clear — especially in Toronto’s case — having a developmental roster closely linked with your franchise can do wonders. For Gary, he went from barely playing in his rookie season (7.4 mpg) to being a relied-upon rotation player in his sophomore year to most recently, his third NBA season. Hopes were extremely high after his sophomore year due to his standout performance in ‘The Bubble’, with wildly memorable moments coming against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1st round of the 2020 NBA ‘Bubble’ Playoffs.

This was by all judgements and accounts, his moment. He gave the basketball world a glimpse into Gary Trent Jr. the player and person. A man exuding with passion and defensive energy, coupled with velvety-smooth, rhythmic shot-creating skills. Off the court? NBA Playoff-pregame admirers quickly noticed his unique, ostentatious fashion sense and his fun-loving personality. All in all, an incredibly easy individual to root for. This was a man who — despite having a father, Gary Trent Sr. who played in the NBA — was forging his own, separate path in the association. His third and most recent season began with Trent Jr. starting a multitude of games beside All-NBA talent, Damian Lillard due to CJ McCollum’s early-season injury woes. With this injury, Gary had no choice but to slide in as a starter. Coming off an impressive bubble performance, Portland fans were excited to see their young swingman in an even-larger role. Relative to circumstance, he ultimately performed well. Gary averaged 15 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.4 apg and roughly 1 steal per game. As a high-volume shooter averaging just under 32 minutes per game, Trent Jr.’s shooting splits sat at .414/.397/.773. When CJ McCollum eventually returned, GTJ returned back to his usual 6th man role.

The Trade

On March 25th, 2021 — everything changed. In many ways, Portland and Toronto were on a similar path. Contract-wise, both Norman Powell and Gary Trent Jr. were in the midst of contract years. Roster-wise, both teams felt they needed a different jolt. In Powell (who was clearly a better player squarely in his prime), Portland were looking for a true all-around wing who was capable of slotting in seamlessly beside Lillard and McCollum. A player who complimented the outside-inside, isolation-heavy system that Terry Stotts and Portland employed. A player who they believed would help shore up their defensive incapabilities.

In Trent Jr., Toronto found a 22 year-old, third-year wing who had tantalizing shooting ability and although wasn’t consistent defensively (let’s not mistake energy or passion for results), showed enough traits where Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Dan Tolzman felt the tradeoff was a winning one for Toronto. The blend of age, attributes and the individual himself Toronto felt like they were trading for made it a deal worth taking. Toronto saw a player on the upswing who seemed to fit snugly within their existing core of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. It is worth mentioning that although Powell and Trent Jr. were the focal points of the trade, Rodney Hood was also sent to Toronto from Portland. This was for salary-matching purposes, but also with Hood being a potential depth piece for the Raptors.

The Season

Gary began his Toronto Raptors tenure in swell fashion. Most fans quietly contemplated what number Trent Jr. would select as a member of the Raptors, with his usual number 2 owned by rookie Jalen Harris. In a tribute to his father, Gary Trent Jr. quickly snatched up the number 33 — the same number his father wore as both a member of the Trail Blazers and Raptors. The Toronto team GTJ was “excited” to join was unfortunately on a two-game losing streak that would quickly turn into six. During the last game of that six-game skid came Gary Trent Jr.’s explosion. After putting up a mere 29 points in his first three games as a Raptor, he exploded with 31 versus Oklahoma City Thunder. Then came another great game with 24 points, but mostly overshadowed by Toronto’s historic 53-point win versus the Golden State Warriors. After cooling off for a few more games, shooting an ugly 13 of 44 from the field — yet another explosion. This time, GTJ hung a career-high 44 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers, putting up a ridiculous 17 of 19 shooting night (7/9 from 3PT). He quite literally could not miss.

His last eight games of the year left a little to be desired. Keeping everything in perspective, most if not all of Trent Jr.’s short Raptors season was played not only beside brand-new teammates, but an ever-rotating cast of players that were falling in and out of injury. Some nights he found himself being the first option, other nights the second, third or fourth option. It was a tough evaluation for a player who joined a team playing away from home, who practiced in a hotel ballroom and truthfully experienced more change and fluctuation than the cryptocurrency market.

The Extension?

According to John Hollinger, all signs point to the Toronto Raptors aiming to re-sign Gary Trent Jr. in the upcoming NBA offseason. GTJ will enter free agency as a restricted free agent, meaning Toronto essentially has ‘first and last dibs’ on re-signing him. The front office has an opportunity to get a deal done anytime they please as FA approaches — or if a team offers Trent Jr. a generous contract, Toronto has the full right to match it. If Toronto decides to match that contract, Gary Trent Jr. immediately returns as a member of the Toronto Raptors. From Gary’s perspective, it seems as though he’s given every indication he expects to return to the Raptors. As soon as he was traded from Portland to Toronto, he immediately lauded the Raptors player development staff and their history of developing stars and exceptional role players — regardless of their original draft status (Trent Jr. was selected 38th overall in the 2nd round). It’s extremely hard to gauge the general fan sentiment on any single player of the team. For Toronto, and really any NBA team — fans are categorized all over the spectrum. On one side you have hardcore cultists armed with Twitter profile pictures of their favourite players and the other side are the massive cynics and doubters who will give you every reason why the team is better off without said player. Most fans fall anywhere between those two ends of the spectrum. With Gary particularly, it seems as if fan sentiment is generally in favour of a contract extension, however there are voices who’d prefer GTJ to be used as a trade chip due to his somewhat anomalous roster fit. In any case, the league-wide appeal in Trent Jr. will exist despite however interested Toronto’s brass remains in re-signing him.

Who wouldn’t be interested in a fundamentally-sound 22 year-old sharpshooting wing equipped with good size and wingspan? A player known for extremely high character and good leadership skills. A player who doesn’t shy away from clutch situations nor does he back down from tough defensive assignments. Is he perfectly molded? Is this is ultimately what he is? Likely not, with him approaching only his 4th NBA season. The clear strengths and flaws are both there. It only took 17 games in Raptors’ red and black for fans to see it.

The most pressing question remains. There is room for growth, but just how much?

This is part of a series of player review from the 2020-21 season. To find the remainder of the series, please click here.

Quick note: We are trying to plan a draft party (Doug Ford/John Tory/Covid permitting) in some outdoor/safe/all the things venue downtown Toronto, and we want to see how many people would be interested and willing to come out and watch the draft live with a bunch of us.

There’s a chance we wont be able to secure a venue, but we are doing our best and have a couple that are interested in working with us.

We will give priority to those who sign up with us once we nail down the details.

Pre-register here.