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NBA’s Emphasis on Off-Ball Movement Could Help Gary Trent Jr.

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A look at the NBA’s emphasis on freedom of movement, and its potential impact on Blazers rookie Gary Trent Jr.

NBA: Summer League-Atlanta Hawks at Portland Trail Blazers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Without a minute played in the regular season, Trail Blazers rookie Gary Trent Jr.’s NBA future is already looking bright. The reason: the NBA’s emphasis on freedom of movement. Yes it is early, but scoring has exploded across the league through the first week of action. Now more than ever, players who generate offense by moving away from the ball are excelling. Trent, one of the best three-point shooting guards in the country last year, is primed to capitalize on the new playing style.

Before we get to Trent’s future, let’s take a closer look at what exactly officials are looking for. The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds outlined the NBA’s change in emphasis earlier this week in a post featured on NBA.com.

The league’s officials are emphasizing what the NBA calls ”freedom of movement” this season, an effort to clean up some of the extra contact that happens away from the ball and impedes offensive players from cutting and getting open. And it’s no surprise that the tighter whistles are an advantage to the offense, though they are hardly the only reason why scoring is soaring.

Yes it is a small sample size, but scoring has been through the roof to start the year. Last season the Warriors lead the NBA in scoring by averaging 113.5 points per game. This season, there are 11 teams that are currently putting up more than 115 points per game.

On an individual basis, some of the NBA’s best spot-up shooters are producing eye-popping numbers. At the age of 34, JJ Redick is averaging above 20 points per game for the first time in his career. Brooklyn’s Joe Harris is enjoying a significant bump to his scoring average, but his insane 59.1 three-point percentage is the stat that jumps off the page in the early stages of the season.

So what does this mean for Trent? A reasonable starting point is examining how the Blazers are featuring Nik Stauskas on offense. The former Michigan standout is enjoying a career renaissance in Portland. Stauskas has been at his best when he actively creates open looks for himself by moving without the ball. That is the same recipe that Trent used to record an ACC-leading 40.3 three-point percentage at Duke.

Trent’s lack of playing time to start the regular season shouldn’t be a concern. Unless your name is Damian Lillard, coach Terry Stotts has sparingly relied on rookies during his tenure with the Blazers.

When evaluating Trent’s future, you have to look at two things. First, you have revisit Trent’s college resume. With Grayson Allen leading Duke’s offense, Trent thrived as a perimeter shooter off the ball. Second, how do Trent’s skills align with the NBA’s recent shift in emphasis? The NBA has provided a green light to perimeter players that stay active off screens, which plays right to Trent’s strengths. When combined, the 19-year-old guard’s future appears to be brighter than originally anticipated.

It is early (as Robert Flom pointed out on Thursday), and Portland will have to be patient with Trent’s development. But if Stauskas continues to flourish prior to heading into a cash-friendly free agent market, the Blazers could call on Trent sooner rather than later.


—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com