When ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Trevor Ariza would not be joining the Portland Trail Blazers in Orlando, it was a completely understandable decision. The risks involved in putting 22 teams in this pseudo-bubble are numerous, and as we’ve seen these past couple weeks or so, there could be additional players who decide to opt out of the NBA restart. But from purely a basketball standpoint, there’s a hole at the forward position that the Blazers now need to fill.
Enter Gary Trent Jr., the breakout rotation player who has been a pleasant surprise for Portland this season. The second-year player out of Duke is averaging 7.7 points per game on 38.8% shooting from deep while also defending at a higher level than most wings on the team. And with Ariza out, he’ll be more important than ever to this squad.
As noted above, Trent’s main contribution has been his spacing, shooting about four threes a game and making almost 39% of them. What’s interesting is how he gets those threes. Most of his attempts come in catch-and-shoot opportunities, and he’s shooting just under 37% in those situations, but he’s also been effective as a pull-up shooter. He’s making 38% of his threes in pull-ups and has shown the ability to get off his own shot when needed. The highlights show the versatility he can provide offensively when called upon.
Most of his threes actually come above the break. Of his 201 threes this season, 141 of them have come from the wings and the top of the three-point line. Plenty of these shots also come off the dribble, which is valuable from a player who usually operates as the third or fourth option. He’s still mostly a catch-and-shoot guy, but at the very least this shows that he can create his own shot if necessary.
This article from Rip City Project highlights how important he’s been as a late-game option as well. His clutch stats are some of the best on the team, averaging 3.8 points and 47.8 percent shooting in the fourth quarter since New Year’s Day. In addition, he has a plus-minus of +17. Those numbers might not totally pop, but they show at the very least that he can be trusted on the offensive end in crunch time.
As for his defense, that’s something that’s been a point of emphasis for Trent. He’s stated his desire to win Defensive Player of the Year before, and he’s put plenty of effort into that end of the floor. His 6’5” frame and almost 6’9” wingspan give him solid length to guard the 1-3, and his strength prevents him from getting bullied by bigger matchups.
This clip from Insidious Swede shows Trent’s chops as an on-ball defender. Houston’s Eric Gordon is essentially a bowling ball with a three-point shot, and there’s a reason he’s still able to battle Trent into the paint on that first clip. But what Trent gives up in ground he doesn’t give up in spacing, forcing Gordon to fight for contested shots in those first two clips and Russell Westbrook to pass it out to Danuel House in the final clip.
As a team/off-ball defender he’s usually just as effective. Again, Trent’s versatility helps him here as there are few bad matchups on the floor for him. Couple that with his high defensive IQ and you have a recipe for a player who rotates well along the perimeter and knows when he can take advantage of offensive miscues.
This steal against the Timberwolves is an excellent example of this. He’s able to stick close to Josh Okogie and use his length to tip the ball out of his hands, getting the ball right into the hands of Nassir Little. Making those kinds of plays are exactly what the Blazers need from the swingman.
Trent is going to be an x-factor for this team. With the signing of Jaylen Adams on Monday, Trent will be playing significant minutes at the wing spot, and we’ll really get a chance to see what he can do with extended minutes. If the past is anything to go by, it should be a smooth transition.