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Trent Jr., Nwora, Dick and the Gunner Role

More change could be coming.

The Raptors intentions and their successes haven’t necessarily been aligned for a decent bit of time. Last season, the Raptors were supposed to be good. This season, they thought they had an outside shot at being good and when that didn’t materialize they changed course — and did so swiftly — and changed the fabric of the team entirely. Now, intentions are more nebulous and successes are harder to measure, but there are still things we can look for. Something that can change rapidly from what it’s been the past few years? The Raptors off-ball gunner.

When it comes to, let’s say, the Gary Trent Jr. role on the Raptors, he has been the clear occupier of it. It’s not only Trent Jr. who can occupy that role, though. The Raptors were a team completely bereft of shooting, movement shooting, and especially pull-up shooting; which ballooned Trent Jr.’s shots, role, and importance on the squad. Prior to this season, and in years past, he had no competition for that role, and the Raptors couldn’t expect anyone to compete for it or supplement it. I don’t think the expectation was that Gradey Dick would come in and supplant Trent Jr. completely, but when he was drafted it was a signal that the Raptors are at least trying to bring in skillsets that provide some of what Trent Jr. has been able to – and fairly reliably.

Now, as the Raptors build out their offense under the BBQ framework, the roster has changed and that change now includes Jordan Nwora. Not only has Dick performed a little better as of late, but the Raptors expectations have changed for the team, and that has allowed for Dick to eat up 20 minutes of play time in a very competitive game, while putting up 1 shot and not scoring a point. Louis covered Nwora’s hot start with the Raptors here.

Trent Jr. and Nwora are very close in age. They aren’t close in salary, and they won’t be this summer, even with Nwora being able to provide a decent facsimile of Trent Jr.’s game. Dick is much younger than both, and the Raptors just used a lottery pick on him. Dick’s progression, reps, and play time are a serious consideration. When Bobby Webster said the Raptors “consider him (Dick) in a class of his own” as an off-ball player, they knew what they were talking about. You can clearly see that if the shot arrives in the form it’s expected to, Dick will provide larger impact than Trent Jr. has been able to as a Raptor. That is, however, a decent chunk of time away.

There’s a convergence of a few things here. If Dick is likely the ideal player in that role going forward, if Nwora can likely do a decent amount of gunner type things, and at a much cheaper rate; and finally, as the Raptors expectations change, they can stomach the drop off that might come from exchanging Trent Jr.’s possessions and minutes into players that are more volatile for the time being? Why wouldn’t they? The defending champion Denver Nuggets let Bruce Brown go, because they thought they could get a lot of what he did on the court from Peyton Watson, and for way cheaper. The Raptors might not have the direct transition from Trent Jr. to Dick — and they could roll the dice on that, if they’d like — but, they could also fairly easily set up a stop gap in the form of Nwora.

The Raptors rolled the dice on Trent Jr. a few years ago. They had an elite starter/6th man type off-ball scoring guard in Norman Powell, saw his looming free agency, and they expected that the intersection of Trent Jr.’s age, contract situation, and the Raptors soft reset would make for a stronger future at the position. Trent Jr. has been a few million cheaper over the years, but by most objective measures (if you subscribe to that) he hasn’t performed at the level that Powell has, even as a shooter. That is mostly due to a stagnation as a passer and diminishing returns as a defender.

Trent Jr. saw his role shrink in the wake of the Jakob Poeltl trade as the Raptors built out more of the offense around the Fred-Jak pick n’ roll. It is also meaningful, of course, that Trent Jr. has scored a lot less and played a lot less on Darko’s version of the Raptors. However, he’s also been hitting 46-percent of his catch and shoot threes this season. Since the Anunoby trade, Trent Jr. is hitting 53-percent of his catch and shoot threes, and 51-percent overall. He’s taken almost 1500 threes as a Raptor and hit them to the tune of over 38-percent. Other things have seen ups and downs, but he’s been super reliable as a shooter and spacer on the whole. Shoot the ball, shoot it well.

Last year, Trent Jr. was looking to turn down his $18.5M extension and hit the market for a longer contract at a higher term. A super lucrative market didn’t materialize for him then, and probably won’t materialize for him this upcoming offseason. We’ll see how that shakes out.

It was obvious that with OG Anunoby & Pascal Siakam being traded, their roles with the team would radically change. That’s obvious. What is really interesting though, is how we’ve slowly seen Trent Jr.’s role with the Raptors go from an oddly secure position in the NBA landscape, to something that has been rapidly destabilizing. Of course, there’s a chance at stability too. It will more than likely largely depend on dollar amounts, but it helps that Trent Jr. is a reliable shooter, has been a consummate pro despite all the destabilization — that did affect his market — and his teammates really like him.

The trade deadline, the usage, the minutes – how all of that goes progresses should be extremely interesting over the course of the season. Keep an eye on the gunners, not Arsenal.

Have a blessed day.