Raptors' Gary Trent Jr. becoming one of NBA's best shooters

On this episode of Spotlight, Samson Folk recaps Gary Trent Jr.’s impact on the Raptors’ offence as a release valve and isolation scorer, along with his ascension as a ball-stopper and reliable team defender.

Video Transcript

ANNOUNCER: Trent Jr. One second, good!

SAMSON FOLK: Gary Trent Jr. had always envisioned a larger role for himself than what he had occupied next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. When he got traded to the Raptors, he got immediately a quarter season crash course in more responsibility. The result was a marginal uptick in some of his [? counting ?] stats, but his efficiency cratered as he struggled to acclimate to more of the attention that doesn't usually come a role player's way, but somebody who's ascended beyond that.

In his first full season with the Raptors, Gary Trent Jr. came back much better equipped to succeed on both sides of the floor. So, let's review. So before we talk about his offense, we have to know what the intended function was. What do the Raptors want to get out of him? And for the most part, spacing, a bit of extra ball handling, and some heroic shot making to save possessions at the end of the clock. And you'll accept that at any percentage. Anything else was a major plus.

So, let's talk about that spacing and shooting. He shot 41% on catch-and-shoot 3's, which is marginally better than a guy like OG. And maybe you think he should shoot way, way better than OG, given his shooting talent, but 41% adds a lot to the Raptors offense.

He shot 34% on pull-up 3's, which, given the difficulty of many of them, was tremendous. And that all comes out to a tidy 38% from downtown all-told. This spacing was absolutely essential to the health of the Raptors offense. And that could look a lot of different ways, whether it was filling lanes in transition, shaping up off of drives, or occupying a specific spot in set actions.

ANNOUNCER: Over to Trent Jr. We got a game!

SAMSON FOLK: Spain Leak, for example, which is a tweak of the Spain Pick-and-Roll, he would be the back screener, he would slip out into space, and they would often go to this at the end of games to get a good look from downtown.

ANNOUNCER: In the three for Trent Jr.

SAMSON FOLK: The ball handling was less fruitful, but only because he was limited in creating for others. Gary Trent got to his spots, for the most part. And one of the unique aspects of his game is that his spots are easier to get to on the floor because he can shoot so damn well that you don't have to get to all these dangerous places. But it also means that when you're on ball, you're not getting two feet in the paint, you're not getting downhill to generate these rotations from the defense, so you're not creating good looks for your teammates hardly ever.

Every so often he would make a good read off of a dribble handoff, for example, like this nice pass in clutch time to Pascal. But, as I said, ball handling isn't just for play making. It's for finding your own shot, too. And that's where we can talk about his heroic end-of-shot-clock antics.

ANNOUNCER: Got it, from the Westwood Hills.

SAMSON FOLK: He was, by the numbers, the Raptors' most efficient isolation scorer. And prior to his post All-Star break slump, he was giving similar volume and efficiency from the mid-range as guys like Seth Curry and Devin Booker, two absolute maestros from that area of the floor.

Over the course of the season, he wasn't one of the best mid-range shooters like he was in spurts, but he was definitely good enough to justify getting the ball in his hands for late shot-clock possessions or clutch possessions where you needed a bailout, you needed somebody to get their hands on the orange, see if they can chuck it up at the rim, and see what happens.

Gary is very practiced and polished at getting to his two-dribble step back to his left, or that pound dribble and sidestep to his right. And he'll let the variance cook, whatever comes of it is whatever comes of it. And the Raptors needed some of that on their roster because Fred was really great pulling up from three for a large part of the season, but even Pascal, who, he improved immensely at his pull-up craft in the mid-range range, he, OG, and Scottie basically weren't giving you anything as far as pull-ups from beyond the arc. And that makes Gary really, really unique on the roster.

Marginal gains were made in his pick-and-roll game, in his passing game. But more than anything, he was just at a premium on the Raptors. Of the Raptors main five players, he took the least amount of touches. And it was his job to convert those into points quickly at a high rate. A top-tier Grenadier. When he gets the ball, he knows what to do with it. But I don't have to tell you that. The world's most popular basketball content creator can tell you that, Kenny Beechum.

KENNY BEECHUM: So, the name of the article is Gary Trent is the World's Best Grenadier, and it's by Samson Folk. When he gets the ball, he knows what to do with it, dog.

SAMSON FOLK: Now, the defense, we can appeal to Khem Birch on this one.

KHEM BIRCH: Gary is like one of the best I've ever seen, like no offense, not playing defense, then all of a sudden becoming a good defender. It's just crazy. I swear. I've never seen that before.

SAMSON FOLK: The elegant, no offense, is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. But, Khem Birch did hit on something real. Gary Trent Jr. added a ton of defensive punch in the off season and brought it to this version of the Raptors, this version of himself. It came mostly in the form of steals, as he still wasn't very good at suppressing shots, contesting shots, or containing dribble penetration. But steals are really, really important. They are worth their weight in gold.

ANNOUNCER: Wagner up top to Anthony. Trent Jr. goes for the steal. Anthony Gary Trent Jr.

SAMSON FOLK: Passing lane gambles were less ideal, because, a lot of the times, he lost those gambles and the other team would score with a huge advantage after he jumped a passing lane and missed. But his on-ball steals mystify me. He might have the most accurate hands in the NBA on ball, live dribble, coming over on a dig down. His hands were accurate and he hardly ever fouled. That's how he got to sixth in steals per game in the NBA and fifth in deflections.

Hyper activity and accurate penetrating hands. And while, yes, there were mistakes made, the Raptors defense is designed to recover from gambles. They are designed to rotate a lot and to rotate quickly. And in this way, the Raptors defense minimizes his biggest flaws and maximizes his biggest attribute. It was a perfect fit. And it meant that Gary Trent Jr. had his best defensive season, by far.

There's still so long to go, but this was a huge step forward. And as a 23-year-old whose game relies on craft and skill, maybe the ceiling of his game comes really, really quickly. Who knows? But I tell you this, if those shooting spurts even out, they become a little bit more consistent, than you're not looking at a nice shooter, even a really good shooter on a team. You're looking at one of the best shooters in the League. And if that's the case going forward, you have nothing to worry about.

ANNOUNCER: Trent Jr. Bucket! Gary Trent Jr jumps the lane, throws it down!

SAMSON FOLK: And if the case is that he's going to get marginally better each year for some time, then you don't have much to worry about either. A damn good season from Gary Trent Jr. This is Spotlight on Sampson Folk. And thanks for tuning in.

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