As A Starter Or Off The Bench, Trent Jr.'s Goal To Be Great Remains Unchanged

by Casey Holdahl
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If you follow Trail Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr. on social media, you’re already aware of the young man’s mantra “Just Be Great.” It’s an approach that Trent Jr. tries to bring to all aspects of his life, and it’s served him well throughout the years.

He dedicated himself to just being great after leaving Duke after his freshman season, only to end up being taken by the Kings with the 37th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft and then flipped to Portland for cash and a few future second-round picks. And he didn’t give up on greatness when he appeared in just 15 games his rookie season while playing almost double the amount of minutes in the G-League (206) as in the NBA (111).

And when he played sparingly to start his sophomore season -- he only cracked the 20 minute mark in two of Portland’s first 20 games in 2019-20 -- his commitment to greatness stayed the same and eventually resulted in Trent Jr. becoming Portland’s most effective weapon off the bench and eventually a starter in the Trail Blazers’ run to the postseason in the Orlando Bubble.

And now that’s he’s starting in place of CJ McCollum, who has been sidelined since mid-January due to a broken bone in his left foot, Gary’s greatness hasn’t abated. In eight starts this season, he has proven that he’s capable of bringing the same production in extended minutes as he did in limited minutes.

“It’s same old, same old but it’s most definitely a different feeling,” said Trent Jr. of starting. “When you’re coming off the bench, you’re trying to be a spark, you’ve got a feel for the game, in a sense, being able to watch it, but when you start, it’s almost you’re just thrown in the fire. Go with it, be ready, have fun with it."

Now in his third season, Trent Jr. has scored efficiently as a starter, averaging 19.4 points on 41 percent shooting, and while neither that average nor percentage meet McCollum’s production from the first 13 games of the season, it’s about as good of a facsimile as one can expect from a player who entered the season with nine total starts over the course of his first two seasons. His three-point percentage as a starter is a bit better than as as a reserve, while the reverse is true of his field goal percentage.

“Let’s face it, (Trent Jr.) had a terrific offensive bubble and a terrific offensive season so far this year, and the name of the game is putting the ball in the basket,” said head coach Terry Stotts. “As much as he improved defensively over the last two years, what he’s doing offensively is really important for us, especially with CJ out.”

He’s getting to the line more, but not by a lot. He’s got a better net rating as a starter, but that’s probably more due to who he’s playing alongside than anything else. And he’s seen small upticks in rebounds and steals, but nothing out of the ordinary when one factors in he’s averaging more than 12 minutes more per game as a starter.

All told, be it as a starter or a reserve, Gary Trent Jr. has just been great, and at a time where the Trail Blazers really needed it.

“I feel like I can actually contribute to this team and help us win,” said Trent Jr. “Like I always say, I’m going to do that any way, shape or form but with guys being down, the opportunity is there for everybody to step up, up their level. When we’re losing bodies, everybody has to turn it up a notch.”

When Damian Lillard sat out a recent game in Philadelphia versus the 76ers, the top team in the Eastern Conference, Trent Jr. stepped up, leading the Trail Blazers with 24 points in 38 minutes of an improbable 121-105 victory on the road.

“I’m really happy and proud of (Trent Jr.) because he’s come so far from when he first got here,” said Lillard. “He’s come such a long way and he just continues to improve. Becoming a better playmaker, takes the challenge on defense, he’s aggressive and I think he just brings that dog spirit to that starting lineup. Not that we didn’t have it before but he’s very forward with that, aggressive on offense, aggressive on defense, high energy, high intensity type of player.

“Sometimes we start slow, sometimes we making shots, but for him, it’s balls to the wall all out. I think that’s something great that he’s brought to that first group.”

He’s set up plays that saved games -- the game-winning, buzzer-beating three that Lillard hit to defeat the Bulls in Chicago could not have happened had Trent Jr. not beat Zach LaVine on a jump ball a few seconds prior -- and has enthusiastically cheered on his teammates when they’ve found success. And he serves as an example that continuing to work and bringing the same mentality, regardless of role, will eventually be rewarded.

“Ever since I was a little kid I can remember I lead and helped be a part of teams my whole life,” said Trent Jr. “Really just being out there, being a voice, whether I’m making shots, missing shots. Whether my teammates are making shots, missing shots, motivating them, telling them to keep going. They do all the same things for me, so it’s trying to be a helping hand.”

While it’s technically possible that Trent Jr. remains in the starting lineup once McCollum returns -- he did start alongside Lillard and McCollum in the bubble -- it’s more likely than not that he’ll return to a reserve role at some point in the near future. But either off the bench or as a starter, Trent Jr’s greatness will find a way.

“Really just roll with the punches,” said Trent Jr. “Whatever the outcome is going to be, it’s going to be anyway. So good or bad, stay consistent, stay level headed, don’t get too high, don’t get too low and you should be just fine.”


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