The following is part of Raptors Republic’s pieces reviewing the seasons for the Toronto Raptors. You can find all the pieces in the series here.
Is this thing on?
Well after being off for a bit, it’s time to get back to work. It’s been a minute, but I’m so appreciative of this community. The Raptors are a love I can’t deny and seeing this team grow up again over the last year was almost as enjoyable as watching my nephew turn one in June (happy belated birthday Ethan).
Listen. We all knew last year was a development year for the organization. Finding out what the team has and if this new direction is worth following. I’d say the dividends paid off, especially when considering that the Raptors talent being discussed in a possible exchange for Kevin Durant are products of the organizations highly-regarded development system. One of the often-mentioned names in those same rumours is Gary Trent jr. Trent has played just 93 games for the Raptors (regular season and playoffs), but after going through his first training camp north of the border, he stepped things up.
Trents growth was immense and while he may not be the sexiest name, he’s someone that flew under the radar during one of the most important Raptors seasons to-date. It’s often those who fly under the radar that are integral to a team’s overall success. His three-point shooting and scoring numbers pass the eye test but he wasn’t just hungry – he was starving. And it was evident on defence.
If any player is going to become an aggressive two-way wing, perhaps there’s no better mentor then Fred VanVleet. Trent’s backcourt partner is so valuable on defence with his quick and active hands. It’s that same tenacity that rubbed off on Trent this season and elevated his game, swiping 56 steals in 2021 (84th) to 122 in 2022 (4th). It’s a result of the perfect storm. The Raptors realized that they weren’t going to match the offers made to Norman Powell in the 2021 offseason, which is why they traded him for Rodney Hood and Trent at that years trade deadline.
Hood was a veteran and could’ve been a serviceable player but didn’t fit with the Toronto’s timeline or plans, while Trent was the piece that the Raptors used to replace Powell. Through 17 games, Trent showed flashes but left a lot to be desired and in the ensuring offseason, he met with Nick Nurse after signing an extension.
After a defensive masterpiece against the Indiana Pacers on October 27th, where he racked up 5 steals, 8 deflections, and 3 loose balls, Nurse praised Trent’s effort:
“I think the other guy that probably doesn’t get much talk about or hasn’t and has played really, really good defense is Gary Trent. He is just all up on people and over people and I’m really pleased with that. I’m sure that’s what we wanted and I’m not sure that we were going to see that and he’s been really aggressive and good with that this year. It’s a big boost, I think to our defensive lineup.”
It was big year for Trent defensively, becoming a pillar for the Raptors on that end. He ranked top three in total deflections, loose balls recovered and was first in percentage of defensive loose balls recovered. Remember when I said he was starving? He ate the competition. He’s not going to be on a DPOY ballot anytime soon, but his contributions to Toronto’s defense is crucial towards gameplay and building a culture.
Offensively, Trent pulled some new tricks out of his bag. Entering the season, plenty of us clamored for him to attack the rim while not settling for trey balls. Oddly enough, the numbers show that his shot selection between 2021 and 2022 were almost identical.
This puts the obvious onus on drawing fouls. For players that attempted at least 15 or more field goals per game, Trent came in at 42nd with just 2.9 free throw attempts. That number needs to be much higher if the Raps extend him after this season. He has the tools and he’s shown the hustle. Could be a matter of beefing up but regardless, drawing contact should be the appetizer and the main.
Facilitating and playmaking should also be welcome additions when Trent begins his 2022-23 campaign. Last year the Raps were abysmal when distributing the rock, dishing only 22.1 helpers (29th) a night. When the playoffs began, that number dipped even lower to 20.7 and while Scottie is is capable of aiding his squad, and Pascal is an advanced passer for his position, the Raptors backcourt needs to become pass-happy. Together, VanVleet and Trent tallied 8.3 assists a night. That’s less than Ja Morant (9.8) and James Harden (8.6) and the same number Chris Paul handed out (8.3). That number should be over 10, especially given the plethora of scoring opportunities Toronto will have next season.
However, him buying solidified his standing. His demeanor and dedication to the team stood out. There’s no better indication of this then in his season-ending presser. When asked what he’d work on this offseason, his answer concise:
“Everything. All-around game. Finishing. Dribbling. Defence. Approach. Learn my body even more. Do different things, working, continue to do yoga. Do different type of stuff to help my body stay ready.”