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Gary Trent Jr.’s quick hands contribute to the Raptors’ defensive edge

Toronto Raptors take on the Indiana Pacers Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

There were a lot of expectations going into this NBA season for the Toronto Raptors — OG Anunoby becoming more of an offensive presence, Fred VanVleet transitioning into the point guard leadership role, Scottie Barnes being phenomenal at basketball. One thing that fans may not have expected? A huge defensive leap by none other than Gary Trent Jr. — but don’t worry, there is still time to apologize for anything you may have tweeted about him in the offseason.

The Raptors obtained Gary Trent Jr. from the Portland Trail Blazers in a down-to-the-wire trade at last season’s deadline that sent Norman Powell to the Pacific Northwest and Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood to Toronto. At the time, Trent was expected to contribute some sharp shooting off of the bench, and in his early days on the team, he delivered. Most remembered from his early days is this buzzer beater to secure the win against the Washington Wizards in April.

During the offseason, he signed a three-year, $54 million contract with the Raptors, securing his spot on the roster for the near-future. Again, as this season started, he was expected to be a key bench player and provide an offensive boost, something that was needed as the team waited for Pascal Siakam to recover from shoulder surgery. Due to Siakam’s absence on the starting lineup, Gary was given the chance to start — which seemed to make ALL the difference as the Raptors tried to survive before their star player returned to the lineup.

Sure, he provides much needed points on the offensive end, but what has really made the difference so far has been Trent’s defence. He currently leads the league in steals, averaging 2.8 per game, as well as deflections, averaging 4.5 per game. His quick hands have helped the Toronto Raptors lead the league in deflections and loose balls recovered per game, at 21.2 and 8.4 respectively.

Trent’s explosive defence has also lead to a steady offensive performance — he currently averages 15.2 points per game, which is significantly higher than his career average of 11.3 PPG. Though those numbers are not too much of a leap from last season both with Portland and Toronto, his defensive abilities will only lead to him getting more minutes (and hopefully more points) as the season continues — especially under the defense-first mindset of Coach Nick Nurse. His current season average of 2.8 steals per game is a huge increase from his numbers of 0.9 with Portland and 1.1 with Toronto last season.

Gary Trent Jr. seems to be a great addition to the culture of the Toronto Raptors, which prioritizes defense so highly. There was speculation as to what the starting lineup would look like as Siakam returns — would Nurse elect to keep a true-center at the five spot, or give the nod to Trent and play small? If Sunday’s lineup against the Brooklyn Nets was any indication of where Nurse’s mind is at, it seems like Gary Trent Jr. has earned his spot in the starting lineup. This seems to make sense, with all three of Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby bringing height, and the Raptors’ recent history of playing position-less basketball.

One thing is for sure — Gary Trent Jr. has brought a spark to the Raptors’ backcourt, and seems to be fitting in well. We’re excited to see how it all blends together once Siakam gets acclimated and the rest of the team gets healthy. At 6-5 to start the season, this team has promise, and Gary Trent Jr. has been a key factor so far. While we loved seeing all his incredible Bench Fits last season, we hope Trent Jr. is a strong presence on the court for the rest of the season.