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Player Review: Gary Trent Jr. is forging his own path in Toronto

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For Gary Trent Jr. to shed Norm Powell and Gary Trent Sr. from people’s minds, he needs to forge his own path to greatness with the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Gary Trent Sr. and Norman Powell.

Two names that will forever be linked to Gary Trent Jr. and his tenure with the Toronto Raptors.

The first name is obvious. His father was a journeyman who played for 4 teams during his 9-season career. Of course, the part that all Raptors fans will remember is how the Trents ended up in Toronto!

The second name is also obvious. DeMar DeRozan will always be tied to Kawhi Leonard. Jonas Valanciunas will always be tied to Marc Gasol. Greivis Vasquez will always be tied to OG Anunoby and Powell. For the time being, Powell will be tied to Trent Jr.

The Season That Was For GTJ

With the season slipping away and the prospects of losing two more championship roster pieces to free agency, Masai Ujiri simply had to make a move for Powell and/or Kyle Lowry. While there was a gap in Lowry’s value between Masai and Kyle’s suitors, a deal for Powell was ultimately more achievable.

Trent Jr. was admittedly not on many Raptors’ fan’s radars before the trade. When the Shams tweet dropped, I remember not being initially blown away. But just as quickly as we all could do some quick Basketball Reference checking, Trent Jr. immediately made an impact.

In his fourth game with the team, Trent Jr. dropped a career-high (at the time) 31 points in Oklahoma City. With Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet all in uniform, Trent Jr. was surprisingly the lone bright spot in an embarrassing loss to the lottery-bound Thunder. He splashed six triples and looked every bit like the younger Norm Powell that Raptors fans were hoping to see.

He carried over the good vibes into the following game at home against the Warriors. His 24 points (and six 3s again) don’t jump off the page. His plus/minus, though, surely does!

The game after the record-setting 53-point beatdown of the Warriors, GTJ scored a modest 16 points against the Wizards. As is customary when joining the Raptors, you’re not officially recognized until you’ve hit a game-winner against Washington.

Trent Jr. would cap his second full week(!) with the Raptors by dropping the 8th-highest scoring game in franchise history — 44 points on 17-for-19 shooting (perfect on all 10 non-three field goal attempts) — in a 20-point blowout of the Cavaliers.

The rest of his first season with the Raptors (keyword: first) played out as you’d expect, considering the team’s not-so-secret decision to #FadeForCade. GTJ had moments where he flashed his upside — 23 points in a rematch with the Thunder (this time a victory) and 25 points in the final meaningful game of the season against Washington — but also showed his age/experience in poor performances against playoff defenses like the Knicks (4 points, -33), Clippers (3-of-16 shooting), and Hawks (3-of-15 shooting).

His place on the Raptors roster is solidified. With Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and the remaining starter roles going to Kyle Lowry / free-agent centre (or Khem Birch) / lottery pick, Trent Jr. seamlessly fits in as the Sixth Man / injury replacement starter role that his trade partner filled perfectly. This off-season, the question isn’t whether or not he should be re-signed, but how high a cost the front office is willing to pay.

Future Outlook with the Raptors

Before the season started, Trent Jr. took a page out of his future teammate VanVleet’s playbook and bet on himself by turning down a $14 million / year extension. While he’s shown that he’s more than capable of putting together some NBA-Jam-he’s-on-fire moments, he also struggled to show the defensive upside he displayed in Portland. Again, that could be the product of watered-down lineups while Toronto’s core group took turns resting, but GTJ lacked discipline on defense and often put his teammates in bad positions by gambling for steals. Portland had a bottom-3 defense for each of the last two seasons while Toronto was #2 in their last non-Florida season. Additional defensive reps in Nurse’s system will do wonders for GTJ.

Trent Jr.’s scoring binges were certainly memorable and offer hope for Toronto’s bench unit, but he rarely applies pressure at the rim, relying on his outside shooting to save the day. Unless he works on becoming a 3-tool scorer, defenses will close out hard on him and dare him to drive. At 22 years of age, he’s still the youngest player on the roster (until the draft), so there’s lots of time for improvement.

Think about that for a second.

By the time Powell had rounded out his offensive game, averaging double-digits for the first time (16.0 points), increasing his usage rate (21.5%), and providing impact on both sides of the ball (positive Offensive and Defensive BPM for the first time), he was 26 years old.

Trent Jr. has already surpassed two of the three factors listed above — BPM stats should improve with a full Raptors season under his belt and a more solid rotation around him — four years earlier than Powell.

He’s well ahead of Powell’s trajectory and figures to earn a smaller salary that fits better with Toronto’s roster plans. I’m no cap-ologist, but Trent Jr. signing a deal in the 4 years / $60-65 million range is a huge win for the Raptors, especially considering Powell would’ve commanded a deal closer to $20 million / year.

The future is bright for Gary Trent Jr. and the Toronto Raptors. He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disastrous season in Tampa. Imagine all the good vibes GTJ will bring to the GTA. It’s more than likely that he’ll continue forging his own path in Raptors lore, shedding his trade partner and father from people’s minds and creating a name for himself.