GTJ Is More Than Just Drip

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Gary Trent Jr. Evolving Into An Integral Part of Young Toronto Raptors Core

It’s never easy to trade a fan favorite, especially in a year where the team isn’t playing up to expectations.

As the Toronto Raptors continued to compete despite departures to integral parts of their 2019 championship roster, their season spent in Tampa Bay gave them a very necessary reality check.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left following their historic championship run. Serge Ibaka would leave to the Los Angeles Clippers soon-after. Marc Gasol, the team’s defensive anchor and secondary playmaker, was aging and his time as an effective center in the league was coming to a screeching halt. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry, the heart and soul of the franchise over the last decade was approaching free agency and the Raptors had to strongly consider whether or not it made sense for them to pay a point guard entering his age-35 season a large boat sum of money.

The next step for Masai Ujiri and the organization was evident – it was time for a rebuild – or at the very least, a re-tooling of sorts.

At the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline, the Raptors surprisingly held onto Lowry, only to move him in a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat in the Summer for a package that included young center Precious Achiuwa.

But with that being said, they did make one big trade deadline move that shocked the entirety of Raptors nation.

Norman Powell, endeared by the city of Toronto for his never-ending commitment to the team, was traded in the midst of what was a career season. His career season was happened to coincide with his walk year as the then-27 year old guard was setting himself up for a very lucrative payday.

In many ways, Powell was the type of blue collar player who fans of the team could not only relate to but see themselves in.

Drafted in the second round, Powell was used in numerous roles throughout his tenure with the Raptors. He spent time developing with the 905 in the G League, went through spurts of not receiving any minutes at all. Nevertheless, Powell never once complained and always continued to work on his craft, forcing himself into the rotation and evolving into an exceptional NBA player who would earn a five-year, $90 million contract extension this past offseason with the Portland Trail Blazers – the team the Raptors would trade him to at the deadline.

The player the Raptors received in return for Powell was 22-year old Gary Trent Jr.

A relatively unknown player by many in this part of the world, the former second round pick out of Duke University made a name for himself following an impressive showing inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble in 2020.

After being overshadowed by the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland – and rightfully so – Trent was thrown into a much different role upon arriving to the Raptors. An offensive-minded guard who arrived to Toronto as very much a one-dimensional player, the Raptors entrusted Trent to immediately provide the team some juice on the offensive side of the ball.

Trent did that and more.

Very quickly integrating himself with the team and its fanbase, Trent had his coming out party against the Cleveland Cavaliers on last April when he erupted for 44 points while only missing two shots in one of the most efficient shooting nights in NBA history.

There is more to Trent than his unique off-the-court vibe and the drippiness behind his fashion decision. At 22-years old, Trent is quickly becoming one of the more lethal young scorers in the game and more importantly, a key part of the team’s new youthful core of athletic and exciting players.

Already in his fourth NBA season, Trent Jr. is averaging a career-high 17.5 points per game, while shooting at a 38-percent clip from long range. An exceptional perimeter shooter with Portland, Trent has continued to display his ability to score in a variety of different ways as he is now forced to deal with the premier defenders of opposing teams as one of the Raptors primary scoring options. Through 19 games, he is boasting a 52.7 effective field goal percentage and a 55.6 true shooting percentage.

While scoring has never been an issue for Trent, it has been his defense that has raised numerous question marks, especially in his time with the Blazers.

“What we’ve kind of learned this year is that Trent is just not the impactful defender that it seemed like he was kind of when he broke out last season and then certainly in the Bubble,” said Jack Winter, Sports Illustrated’s Portland Trail Blazers reporter last season. “His advanced numbers are just awful, really bad, like nearly as bad as Damian Lillard’s.”

This season, Trent has seemingly shut up all of his doubters in a way no one could see coming.

Impressive is one word that can be used to describe Trent as an on-ball defender this season. For the first time in his career he has a positive DBPM (Defensive Box Plus Minus) and he is on paced to set a new career mark for defensive win shares. His win share per 48 minutes is also smashing his past career-highs and he currently sits second in the league in deflections per game. Despite how aggressive Trent has been as an on-ball defender, he is only averaging 2.3 personal fouls per game, suggesting not only that is he able to lock in his opponents but also be smart and efficient as a defender.

“Ever since I’ve got here, even last year, they’ve been harping to me, defense, defense, deflections, hands out, get in passing lanes,” Trent said on his improved defense earlier in the season. “So really just getting at it every day. Listening to my coaches, trying to get better on the defensive end, and just trying to stay active.

At 9-10 on the season, the Raptors are no where near where they want to be, but with a 22-year old Gary Trent Jr. and a 27-year old Fred VanVleet, Toronto has one of the youngest and most exciting backcourts in the NBA and as they see continued growth from the likes of OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and Pascal Siakam, the future of the Raptors may just be a very bright one.

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