The Portland Trail Blazers have two offensively-minded second year guards that are finally seeing the court this year. One is Anfernee Simons, the prospect that President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey called “the most gifted player I’ve ever drafted,” a threatening scorer who despite his recent shooting slump has stepped up in big moments this year and shown lots of promise.
Then there’s Gary Trent Jr., the 6’5” guard out of Duke whose most significant action has come with the Texas Legends in the G-League. As the Blazers have suffered injury after injury, Trent has seen a significant uptick in minutes, going from 7.5 minutes per game in the first ten games this season to 15.6 in the last five. If Portland wants to salvage what has been a down year for the team, they need him to be productive in those minutes. His progression into a valuable role-player might just end up being one of the few positives for them this year.
Trent Jr. has shown in snippets how effective of a scorer he can be. Last season, he played six games for the Texas Legends and thrived during this time, averaging 33.3 points on 50% shooting both overall and from three. He had a varied shot profile, from catch and shoot and step back threes to strong drives to the hoop.
He even had a game-winning step back three to give Texas the win over the Sioux Falls Skyforce on Feb. 1.
While it was pretty firmly the Anfernee Simons show this summer in Las Vegas, Trent Jr. shined as well. He averaged 20.6 points and 6.4 rebounds on 41% shooting. Explosions like this 31-point outing that saw him make 7-of-8 threes against the Rockets were glimpses into the damage a confident Gary Trent Jr. can cause.
Trent’s three-point ability has been his calling card offensively. He’s made 41.2% of his shots from outside and is earning 1.19 points per possession on those shots. Catch and shoot opportunities are what have worked best for him and what he should look to do more of at this level. He’s shot 43.3% from three in catch and shoot and has an overall effective field goal percentage of 62.9% in those situations.
While his outside shooting has thrived, his two point field goal percentage has been poor. He’s shooting 33.3% inside the arc, which has dropped his overall field goal percentage to 38.5%. In Summer League there were moments where he would fall in love with pull ups from both mid-range and from deep. It’s his most frequent shot, a shot that he takes 46.2% of the time and that he’s made 38.9% of. His pull-up threes haven’t been bad, with 40%% of those shots going in, and when he’s hot he’s capable of making those pull ups. But being a real catch and shoot threat for when one of the other shot creators drives to the hoop is what makes him an asset.
Lamar Hurd noted during the game on Monday against the Phoenix Suns that Trent Jr. came into the league knowing that his defense was what could separate him from the rest of the pack. On Monday that showed, with some big defensive plays including a steal that was unfortunately thwarted at the rim and a block on Kelly Oubre Jr.
That game on Monday might have been the best of Trent Jr.’s young NBA career (outside of his 19-point performance in the bizzaro-world season finale of 2018-19 against the Sacramento Kings). He put up 11 points in just under 22 minutes played, including 3-of-6 shooting from three. It was confident Gary Trent Jr., the best version of the role-player that Portland needs him to be. When he’s aggressive on defense and setting up for easy catch-and-shoot threes, Trent Jr. becomes real valuable.
Apparently we’re getting the Gary Trent Jr experience tonight!— Danny Marang (@DannyMarang) December 31, 2019
Already with 11 points (4-7 FGA, 3-5 3FGA) in 12 minutes. His career high is 19 (Last game of the season last year vs SAC).
He’s about as confident as I’ve ever seen him on the floor tonight. He’s letting it fly.
Trent Jr.’s development and production is highly important for the Blazers going forward. As Blazer’s Edge deity Timmay recently pointed out, Portland would like to avoid paying another free agent if possible. Signing a player such as the recently waived Jeff Green or the reportedly uninterested Joakim Noah sounds nice in theory, but in practice the Blazers most likely don’t feel a need to sink money into what they might consider a “lost” season at this point.
Whenever you watch the shorthanded Blazers and ask yourself, "why hasn't Portland signed someone??", the number one reason is most likely, "the luxury tax".— Timmay (@pdxTimmay) December 29, 2019
“Lost” might be a bit of hyperbole considering Portland hasn’t even hit the halfway mark yet. But there is a looming sense that the best this team can do is a low-seed appearance in the playoffs, and losses against teams like Phoenix and the Knicks don’t exactly inspire confidence. With the most likely outcomes being Portland missing the playoffs for the first time in six years or just sneaking in as a lower seed, the Blazers more than anything just need quality minutes and consistent improvement from guys like Trent Jr.