Unfazed Through It All | NBA.com

Leave it to Gary Trent Jr. to not be fazed by being part of an abysmal shooting night in which his team starts out missing its first 15 shots and 28 of its first 30.

No one missed more than him in a wretched first quarter offensively for the Raptors against Milwaukee when he went 0-for-6 but by the end of the night had gone 8-for-17 the rest of the way to notch his fifth straight game of scoring at least 20 points.

When Toronto staged a most unlikely comeback after trailing by 16 points with under 80 seconds remaining to force overtime, it was Trent Jr. who scored seven points in the final 30 seconds including the game-tying three over Brook Lopez – who caused nightmares all night for the Raptors – with 0.8 on the clock.

“You kind of block out all the noise, really try to focus in, lock in on the details of the game, what’s going on in the moment,” Trent Jr. said of the frenzied fourth quarter finish. “You don’t really hear too much of the outside noise. But it does help, when the fans are into it, being loud. It helps us a lot.”

Overtime was unfortunately a microcosm of everything that had happened until those final few minutes of regulation, but it was also representative of how Trent Jr. has turned around his season.

In 11 November games, Trent Jr. shot just 27.4 percent from three, a mark far removed from his career 38.4 percent rate. After a particularly bad stretch in which he shot just 7-for-43 (16.3%) from the outside, he was benched.

Head coach Nick Nurse attributed the struggles to both illness and physical issues but also challenged him to be more of a disruptor on the defensive end after looking well short of the man who finished fourth in deflections per game last season behind Dejounte Murray, Fred VanVleet, and Matisse Thybulle. To Trent Jr.’s credit, he never flinched.

“Anything [the] coach draws up is a good thing,” Trent Jr. said when asked about being moved to a reserve role. “Win, lose, or draw, we’re gonna go with it, no matter what the situation is… that’s what it is.”

A blowout loss against the Pelicans in the final game of November offered a glimmer of hope for Trent Jr. individually as he finished with 35 points including 6-of-11 and like a true scorer, that’s all he needed. The 23-year-old averaged 17.9 points while shooting 40.3 percent from deep for the month of December and looks like he might be even better in January. Things are looking up on the other side of the ball as well. After averaging 2.5 deflections through his first 17 games, Trent Jr. has averaged 3.3 deflections over his last 14, which is pretty much in line with the 3.4 mark he set last season.

“Consistency in [the] offense, consistency in opportunity, consistency in playing time,” Trent Jr. explained as the keys to his success. “Whatever it is, any time I’m given, go out there and play hard, try to help my teammates win.”

As great as it’s been to see the three-point shot come around, the work he’s put in inside the arc to convert a career-best 52.7 percent of his two-point attempts shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Comparing his numbers from 2021-22 to this season, per Basketball Reference, Trent Jr. has improved his efficiency within three feet of the basket by 11 percent to 68.9, from 3-10 feet by 16 percent to 57.6, and his 10-16 foot jumper now sits at an impressive career-high rate of 54.5 percent. For some perspective, former Raptor DeMar DeRozan – known for his mid-range exploits – has a career-best mark of 51.1 percent from the 10-16 foot range, albeit on more than double the volume.

What has also stood out during this time is his ability to play off of Pascal Siakam, becoming a much needed source of spacing as pretty much anyone else not named OG Anunoby struggles from the outside. Any double off Trent Jr. to help on Siakam is currently begging to be punished, and Trent Jr. has thrived off those opportunities whether it be taking the open shot or attacking closeouts.

“Gary’s been awesome taking the shots that he has and making them with a lot of confidence,” Siakam said. “That’s the Gary we want and we know he’s capable of doing those things. For me, I just play off instinct and figure out who is open and get them the ball and he’s playing really well. Obviously, we want him to keep it up and continue doing what he’s been doing because he’s been awesome.”

While the most eye-catching aspect of his offensive game will always be his jump-shooting, Trent Jr. has made a substantial improvement in earning some freebies as well. He had nine games all of last season with at least six free-throw attempts and now with over 40 games still left to play, he’s already had 10 such games this season.

After drawing a foul on 5.7 percent of his shot attempts last season, he’s almost doubled that to 10.3 percent this season. In the Raptors’ most recent win against the Suns, he was the most relentless he’s been in attacking the basket this season, finishing a perfect 9-for-9 at the free-throw line as part of a 35-point performance.

“Certain moves you get, certain players have got different types of respect in the league because of different things they accomplished, things they’ve done on the offensive end or defensive end,” Trent Jr. said. “It comes with the game. You learn that, continue growing, make plays and try to get to the stripe, be aggressive and hope it goes in your favor.”

Continuing to round out his game beyond the offensive exploits is what will ultimately determine Trent Jr.’s ceiling at the NBA level, something front offices beginning with the Raptors’ will be evaluating with him possibly becoming a free agent at season’s end if he opts against the player option in his contract.

The value of what he already brings to the table is of considerable value to the current roster when considering the lack of shooting across the board. Different players lead in different ways, and the consistency Trent Jr. has brought in his approach has been an asset to Toronto during his time thus far.

Regardless of all that swirls around him, especially at this time of year, Trent Jr. has proven an expert in staying unfazed and focusing on controlling what he can.

“Everyone has an opinion on anything,” Trent Jr. wisely said. “Whatever it is, whether it’s how you’re playing, whether it’s your future, everybody’s a fortune teller. Regardless, I’m just going out there and playing. Whatever happens, happens.”

Leave a Comment