Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Gary Trent Jr. is a calm boat in a storm

Gary Trent Jr. continues to set the example.

With a reputation for defense that Portland fans warned against, and a three point shot that was good, a then 22-year old Gary Trent Jr. joined the Raptors as the youngest member of the team’s 2020-21 roster. There’s been a lot of different expectations for Trent Jr. in his time with the Raptors since his arrival in the Norman Powell trade.

As is the case with any shooting guard who scores the ball well — and Trent Jr. does — lofty comparisons get made, and the most consistent one for Trent Jr. early on, was Bradley Beal, even if that seems nonsensical. It materialized early in his second season with the team, and around the time that Trent Jr. had climbed into the top 5 of the NBA’s DPOY ladder. What was fueling this in late 2021? Extremely impressive off-the-bounce shooting, and hectic ball pressure defense mixed with heaps of gambles – that he hit on quite often. That season would really crystallize the ceiling of Trent Jr.’s performance over his years as a Raptor, and it’s what makes what he’s been doing lately so familiar.

Since the Raptors resumed their season post All-Star break, Trent Jr. has seen a massive uptick in minutes, usage, shot attempts, touches – basically everything. The Raptors have been uber-injured, and there’s a massive opportunity for anyone interested in creating or taking shots to do so. Trent Jr. picked up that mantle (or at least a large part of it) and we’ve seen a player who slowly watched his opportunities shrink from year 2, to year 3, and then change dramatically in year 4, reclaim all the things that he once showed on the court. His points per game dropped from 18.3, to 17.4, and now all the way down to 12.7. This wasn’t a dwindling of skillset, but a radical change in team context and role.

Pre All-Star: 11.5pts / 26mpg / 41% FG / 10FGA

Post All-Star: 18.6pts / 33mpg / 45% FG / 15FGA

“I’m getting a hell of an opportunity to play in the NBA. It’s a great league.” Trent Jr. told me “Just because I may be sat, playing and not playing, benched and not benched, opportunity may be gone, opportunity may be here, I just continue to work. Control what I can control, and try to be a good teammate. Try to be a good person/player. Go out there to try and help to contribute towards winning as much as I can. That’s really my only main focus that I have.”

We are definitely in the player empowerment era and that has led to more money in the NBA, which in a cap league sport, gets divvied out to players across the league; however, anyone who isn’t a star is subject to the possibility and reality of more movement across teams and across roles than ever. Trent Jr. has, despite having a skillset that demands attention on the roster, been subject to a lot of different views on these Raptors. His ability to roll with the punches, to center how he affects his teammates as a person and a player, and to act consistently as the team remains rather inconsistent? He deserves credit, and a lot of it.

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.

Trent Jr., Nwora, Dick and the Gunner Role

“I honestly feel like I could help (the younger guys) a lot, too. There’s not one part of the NBA that I have not seen.” Trent Jr. said after setting his season high in points. “For example, Scottie Barnes. He came into the league who he is, what he’s gonna be, everything given to him. Lights, glitz, glamour. I done went from the bench, behind the bench. I done been in a suit. I done been on the court. I done been a starter. I done been back bench, so there’s no part of the game I haven’t touched, that I haven’t been a part of. So, I feel like that just helps me. How to handle things, how to go about things. Just all those situations I’ve been in my whole career.”

When we talk about culture, or teambuilding, or the intersection of the two things, usually people break off into two separate camps: Vibes vs. dollars. It’s tough to mix the two properly, and if you can strike that balance, well, you’ve got a stew goin’.

Kelly Olynyk is somewhat of a vibes decision, in that he’s a reliable veteran, a supposed locker room chemist, and a player who can help facilitate the young players development under the framework of Darko’s system. With Trent Jr., it’s hard to ignore the awkward situation that his contract status has played out under, but it’s easy to notice how he’s navigated everything with aplomb. It’s not the Raptors job to set Trent Jr. up in the best position to earn, but there’s no looking past the radical change to the offense post-trade deadline in 2022-23 that bit a chunk out of his earning potential. This year, a contract year, he’s taken the Raptors prized rookie — a player who may supplant him — under his wing, and he continues to give himself to the team as he’s lost nearly a third of his shot attempts.

Lately? He’s been a scorer helping to guide them through games, and a feisty defender providing ball pressure. Maybe most importantly? He’s been setting an example for other players to follow. In any case, he’s willing to be anything that’s asked of him.

Have a blessed day.