The Portland Trail Blazers bench will look a lot different heading into the 2018-19 season. Gone are Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier, they’ve been replaced with the likes of Anfernee Simons, Nik Stauskas and Seth Curry. But it’s the Blazers’ second-round pick from this summer who has a chance to really turn heads. Gary Trent Jr. is a lights-out shooter with an NBA pedigree, and could be an underrated cog off the bench this season for a team that will likely be battling for a playoff spot.
The Blazers bench lost its two best three-point shooters, Connaughton and Napier, this offseason, and will need someone to step up in order to fill that void. While Curry has proven to be an elite shooter at the NBA level so far, shooting over 40% in each of the last two season, Stauskas has not. He did shoot 39% in 35 games for the Brooklyn Nets last season, but shot only 32% in each of his first two seasons.
Trent shot 40% from long range in his sole season at Duke, and broke JJ Reddick’s record for three-pointers made by a freshman with 97 on the year. He did this while averaging 6.5 shots from distance per game. Along with the marksmanship from deep, Trent also shot an impressive 87.6 % from the free-throw line.
Along with the acquired free agents, Trent will also have to compete for playing time with fellow rookie Anfernee Simons, who, being a first-round pick, has more at stake for the organization in terms of his development. However, Trent is physically more ready for the NBA game, with a year of Division 1 hoops already under his belt (in the vaunted ACC nonetheless), while Simons is making the jump for high school to the pros. Trent is also bigger than Simons, going 6-6, 205 as opposed to 6-4, 185. Simons has a higher upside, but Trent is likely more NBA-ready come opening night. Simons actually shot better from the field than Trent in Summer League, but Trent put up 26 more shots total than Simons. Given time to adjust to the NBA, Trent’s shooting percentage should be fine, as he demonstrated during his time at Duke.
With such a logjam at the guard position for the Blazers, the toughest adjustment for Trent could very well be finding playing time. He’ll not only be competing with the likes of Simons, Stauskas and Curry, but also Wade Baldwin IV, who showed real promise towards the end of last season and in Summer League. With so little depth among the bigs, the Blazers will likely feature some three and even four guard lineups for stretches this season, so that could open up possibilities for more minutes among the reserve guards.
Gary Trent Jr.’s likely role for the Blazers this year will be as a guy who can come in off the bench, spread the floor, and knock down shots. This was non-existent in the team’s playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans last spring. If Trent is able to provide that, he could very well contribute right away and become a viable part of the rotation, while helping the team improve on one of their biggest deficiencies from last season.