Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

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Gary Trent Jr. is the world’s best Grenadier

Gary Trent Jr. continues to make his case to be considered as one of the NBA's best shooters.

As the Raptors have rounded into shape, the formerly fuzzy idea of their defensive identity has crystallized against some of the best teams in the NBA. On the second night of a back-to-back, they abandoned that and let their offense, largely driven by Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam, take them to a victory.

The sweet stylings of Trent Jr.’s offense saw him eclipse 40 points for the second time in a Raptors jersey. The last time? A 17-19 fever dream against the Cavaliers in the latter half of the Tampa season, and he would go on to shoot 32-percent from the field over the rest of the games that year. This year? Well, he’s been shooting the hell out of the ball coming into it, and looks like he’s going to shoot the hell out of the ball after this one too. I always want to temper expectations; to say that this has to be an unbelievable run of form. That’s not to say he’s not a hell of a shooter outside of this stretch run, but roughly 28 points per game on 50/50/80 shooting splits over a 10-game stretch is just… insane?? Especially when you acknowledge how difficult his shot diet can be at times. He isn’t this. But, how close is he? How do I find the answer?

My solution? Don’t fret about it. Just marvel at what is no doubt one of the greatest sustained shooting performances in a Raptors jersey.

The thing that blows my mind? Over this 10-game stretch, Trent Jr. is the world’s best Grenadier. When the ball reaches his hands, the possession is supposed to end there. The incredible passing chops we’ve seen from Siakam are wonderful and his possessions are much more expansive in what they might provide, but Trent Jr. is an offensive injection. Even over this absurd stretch where he’s averaging 28 points a game, he takes less touches than everyone else in the Raptors starting lineup. Less than Scottie Barnes. Less than OG Anunoby. And his points per touch… double everyone’s except for Anunoby. This isn’t to say that Trent Jr. should be the offensive hub for the Raptors – these numbers don’t account for assists, or how often he gets to spot up relative to the others – it’s the fact that he takes up so little of the offense’s time to do his work. Pin pulled, grenade thrown – and my god, with astounding accuracy.

Staggered pin-down, piece of cake, triple. Garrison Mathews tries to jump the handoff, back track into open space, triple. No time wasted. Just cold, hard buckets. And once again, Mathews tries to jump the action. This is the slowest possession, but even then you can see Trent Jr. knows what he’s going to do. The slowed down aspect of this particular possession is to maximize the mismatch and get into his iso package – which he does. 

There’s a shooter on the west coast that is known for this type of low maintenance, supercharged offense. His name is Klay Thompson and he’s one of the greatest shooters to ever touch a basketball. This isn’t to say they’re 1-to-1, not remotely. Thompson is one of the truly great cutters of the last decade. Steve Kerr’s obsession with split-action and Thompson’s unparalleled level of teammates meant he worked with more opportunities than almost any other player in NBA history. Trent Jr. is also the author of more of his shots than Thompson has ever been. They’re different. But, these remarkable, low-calorie, all nutrition performances from Trent Jr. make the mind wander to others who have done it before, and even in a loosely similar way. Not a comparison, a point of reference.

And this is the tantalizing aspect, or rather the serendipitous intersection of the Raptors slow, matchup hunting offense and Trent Jr. With how good he’s been as a shooter lately, teams might have to switch more often to track him off-ball. They occasionally top-lock and surrender back cuts (it’s not exactly the same, but they use Fred VanVleet as the flex screener for OG for this reason, the shooting gravity), they run themselves out of position, and in their earnest attempts to stop Trent Jr., they may very well surrender deep post position, a mismatch, a driving lane – anything. Before this torrid stretch when ‘GTJ’ was shooting 37-percent from downtown on 7 attempts per game, teams were definitely worried about tracking him. But, they’re mortified at the idea of losing him now.

“They brought me in with open arms, they showed me nothing but unconditional love, no matter how I’m playing, and I don’t wanna be anywhere else.” – Gary Trent Jr. on the Raptors

Trent Jr. has done a fantastic job of reinventing his defense this season – he had 5 steals last night, and has played passing lanes extremely well over the last few games – and his s0-so performances are, on the aggregate, much better. Hustle statistics, defensive catch-alls, eye test, they all point overwhelmingly to positive progression on that end. His shot selection has trended more towards 3-pointers during this stretch, but over the season his proclivities toward jumpers (especially the tough ones) and allergy to the rim are just as prevalent as they’ve ever been. He’s just better. And when better is only tied to “he hits the tough shots now, and at a similar rate to guys like Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Seth Curry” what tangible thing do you point to, other than result? Just that. The best shooters in the NBA always defy belief when they start doing it. They make you sit your ass back in a chair and accept it. That’s what Trent Jr. is doing here – until he isn’t, or is. Bet on whichever outcome you’d like.

So, there he was in Houston, as he has been in so many games over this stretch, plugging himself in when the Raptors needed him. It’s perhaps odd to describe a volume shooter as selfless, but when you require as little as Trent Jr. has been taking, and give so much… it seems apt.

Have a blessed day.