Over the past decade, the Portland Trail Blazers have consistently been able to find value in the second round of the NBA draft. Will Barton, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, heck, even Allen Crabbe, have all found roles in the league after being identified by the Blazers in the second half of the draft.
This season, Portland has suffered through one of its more dismal campaigns since the arrival of Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts in 2012. Devastating injuries and uninspiring free agents have resulted in the team operating below 500 for the entire season.
However, one of the team’s true silver linings has been the improved play of shooting guard Gary Trent Jr.
Trent Jr. was selected at pick No. 37 in a draft-day deal with the Sacramento Kings in 2018, mainly flying under radar and in the shadow of fellow draftee Anfernee Simons during his rookie year. The highly-touted Duke shooter recorded lowly averages of 2.7 points, 0.7 rebounds and converted 23 percent of his three-point attempts in 15 games.
These averages would have been much lower had he not recorded 19 points, two rebounds and three assists during the Blazers’ last regular season game against the Kings, when he, Simons, and Layman played almost the entire game.
Unfortunately, due to the depth of the Blazers’ roster, Trent Jr. did not see the court during the team’s extended 2019 playoff run.
But just weeks after the Blazers bowed out in the Western Conference Finals, Trent Jr would start alongside Simons at the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League, recording averages of 20.6 points, 2.5 assists and 6.4 rebounds.
While Summer League should never be a true litmus test of talent, Trent Jr. looked more comfortable on the court, shooting, facilitating and defending, offering fans hope that he was taking important strides.
But as the 2019-20 season got underway, the second-year shooting guard would return to the bench, playing sparingly behind CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore and Simons. However, injuries and Bazemore’s trade to the Kings have recently opened up minutes for Trent Jr., who has embraced his opportunities, exuding confidence and making better decisions on the floor.
The pinnacle to date took place when the 6-foot-5 guard scored 30 points in a loss at Oklahoma City, not more than 24 hours after being placed on an IV drip to combat a nasty cold. He also notched 20 points against the Dallas Mavericks five days later.
In fact, over his past five games, Trent Jr. is averaging just under 14 points. Even more telling has been his appearance on the floor during clutch moments for the Blazers, most notably in the team’s overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors. He has also expanded his offensive repertoire this season, going beyond a reliable long-range shooter. His court awareness, facilitating, and shot generation have all been on display.
The highlights below show his willingness to operate without hesitation when a favorable opportunity presents itself.
Here, Trent Jr. exploits an open lane in a coast-to-coast bucket:
Without the ball in transition, Trent Jr. holds his lane and finishes a chance at the rim once the pass arrives.
Unlike some of the role players in the Blazers’ recent history, Trent Jr. has shown that he can space the floor if he is left unattended.
Shooting aside, Trent Jr. has also shown glimpses of his patience. On this play, he survives a less-than-ideal screen provided by Jaylen Hoard, navigates through traffic and finds an open shooter in the corner.
Unassisted and removed from transition, Trent Jr. has the chops to create his own looks from outside the paint.
From the corner, Trent Jr. showed that he can fill an important role in the Blazers’ offense. On this play, he attacks a half-hearted close out to finish at the rim.
For someone who was mostly dressed in street clothes last season, Trent Jr. is now one of the first Blazers summoned from the bench, since he and Simons are now the only reserve guards on the roster. If Trent Jr.’s rise continues, he could be a very important piece for the Blazers moving forward.