Trent Jr. Lives Out His Dreams Defending LeBron James
There’s only so much you can do when trying to defend Lakers forward LeBron James. Even at 35 years of age and after 16 NBA seasons, James’ combination of size, skills, smarts and athleticism makes him a mismatch for just about every basketball team on the face of the earth. While it’s debatable (at least to a point) where he’ll will rank among the all-time greats when he decides to step away, it’s hard to argue a player has ever been consistently as good as James has been in his 17th season.
But despite all that, Trail Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr. is doing all he can to slow down James as Portland tries to pull an upset in the one-eight matchup versus the Lakers. Listed at 6-5, 209 pounds, the second-year guard out of Duke gives up roughly five inches and 50 pounds to James, but despite the discrepancy, Trent Jr. has relished the task of trying to contain the future Hall of Famer in his first playoff appearance with the Lakers.
“Really just everything I’ve been asking for my whole life,” said Trent Jr., whose father, Gary Trent Sr., was in his last NBA season during James’ rookie year. “I’ve been dreaming of guarding players of that caliber, as in LeBron James, he’s a great talent, a generational talent, he’s a great player. So just stepping up to the challenge.”
Not that slowing James falls solely to Trent Jr. It’s has to be a team effort to defend a player as talented as James (as much as such a thing can be done), and with his size and familiarity, Carmelo Anthony has spent the most time, 13 minutes and 28 seconds according to NBA.com, checking his fellow 2003 draftee. But Trent Jr. isn’t far behind having spent a little over 11 minutes through three games checking James.
And according to NBA.com, James has shot 6-of-12 from the field and 2-of-5 from three when defended by Trent Jr., both of which are in line with his season averages (Anthony has done the best job, holding James to 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from three).
“He’s coming off a lot of screens, big bodies with Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis,” said Trent Jr. “So continuing to fighting over those screens, giving the extra effort. Any time I’m in a postup, just trying to wear him down. I pick him up full court every time I’m in the game, slowly but surely, just to wear him down, do anything I can to help this team win.”
It’s the last part that is the most important facet of Trent Jr.’s job defending James. While effecting James’ shooting percentages is probably too much to ask a player of Trent Jr.’s size and experience, the Lakers forward has handed out just five assists while turning the ball over five times when defended by Trent Jr., which would seem to indicate that he’s been at least moderately successful in getting the ball out of his hands.
“I think Gary has really done a really good job of picking (James) up, making him work handling the ball, making him expend energy,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “There have been times where somebody else brought it up because Gary is pressuring him. I really like that. Sometimes he’s overmatched inside just because of size and physical stature, but I really like the way he’s competing and making him work on the perimeter.”
The idea that a player of James’ caliber can be contained, especially by a team that has struggled defensively all season, is probably too much to expect at this point. But making James work hard for everything is about the best the Trail Blazers can hope for, so in that regard, Trent Jr. is conducting himself admirably, and having a good time along the way.
“Competing, talking a little bit, doing what I do, anything I can do to effect the game,” said Trent Jr. of defending James. “It’s been a great thing, it’s a fun thing so far. Continue to grow and get better for it game by game.”