NBA

Gary Trent Jr. Went From Regular Reserve to Key Piece off the Portland Trail Blazer Bench

Gary Trent Jr. is a second-generation NBA player. His father played nine seasons in the league from the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s. Now in his second season, Trent Jr. took a big step forward this season. The 21-year-old’s improvement has been evident since the NBA’s restart in the bubble at Disney World in July.

It might not be enough to get the Trail Blazers deep into the playoffs, but Trent Jr. has become an important piece coming off the bench for Portland. This is a good sign for the future.

Gary Trent Jr. pre-shutdown

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Trent only played in 15 games as a rookie, starting one, and averaged fewer than three points per game, so anything he did this season would virtually have to be an improvement over that performance.

Prior to the shutdown in March, CBS Sports tells us he was averaging 7.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.9 assists per game in 20 minutes on the court. In the first part of the season, Trent was shooting nearly 43% from the field and about 33% from three-point range.

Trent’s numbers in the bubble

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Trent’s stats improved significantly in regular-season games since entering the Disney bubble in Orlando. His scoring more than doubled from the pre-pandemic games, averaging 16.9 points per game. He is focusing less on defense. So his rebounds dropped slightly to average 1.5, while he increased his assists to 1.4 per game.

Part of his higher scoring is due to his increased playing time, averaging more than 34 minutes in the bubble. But that’s just part of the story for Trent. Sure he gets more playing time, but he’s playing better, too. Trent’s shooting percentage has risen to 51.6%. He’s also doing better from long distance, hitting over half of his threes in the bubble.

Helped the Blazers make the playoffs

Trail Blazers' Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent Jr. of the Trail Blazers celebrates a three-point basket | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Trent’s performance in the bubble games helped the Blazers go 6-2 during that span, which allowed them to clinch the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. He was a big piece of the puzzle coming off of Portland’s bench, playing in about 75% each game and putting up good numbers as he did.

If Trent didn’t step up his game as he did late in the season in the bubble, the Blazers might have missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. But Trent putting up the numbers that he did allow the Blazers to solidify their hold on the No. 8 seed in the conference to ensure that their streak of playoff appearances continued.

A good sign for the future?

Trent hasn’t been able to keep his strong stats in his first few games of the postseason, but he’s also playing against some of the best players in the league, including LeBron James. The Blazers are hoping his performances earlier in the bubble are what Trent will be playing like in the years ahead.

They still have the second-round pick out of Duke under team control for at least another year under his rookie contract. Trent will be a restricted free agent next offseason, reports Spotrac. But the team can make him a qualifying offer to potentially keep him for another season.

If his bubble performance can continue next season, the team may want to extend Trent’s contract beyond then, because he would be one of the better bench options in the league. And if he can continue improving his game, he could work his way into the starting lineup in the coming years.