Gary Trent Jr.’s shooting woes are more glaring when the Raptors are riddled with injuries
There have been few guarantees during this unpredictable Raptors season but one thing that seems certain is they are going to need a healthy Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby to make a run. Another safe bet is that Gary Trent Jr. will have to be at the top of his game.
Trent has become one of the streakiest shooters in the NBA. When he’s on, the 23-year-old is exactly what the Raptors need. He provides spacing with lights-out shooting from beyond the arc and, when the opposition overplays, he has the ability to create his own shot by carving through the defence to get a short open look.
Then there are moments when he disappears from the floor entirely, or his shots miss the mark by a full foot, and the Raptors’ lack of alternatives becomes glaring. Without VanVleet and Anunoby around to share load from outside, the shooting slumps become even harder to ignore.
Trent went on a tear in the weeks leading into the all-star break. During a 12-game stretch, the product of Duke University averaged 25 points on 46 per cent shooting from the floor, including 45.6 per cent from deep. He scored at least 15 points in all but two of those games and was held to single digits just once.
It has been a different story since. After exiting the break, Trent is averaging 13.4 points on 29.1 per cent shooting, including a dreadful 22.2 per cent from three. has scored more than 15 points just twice in seven games.
The results were better Sunday in Cleveland as Trent finished with 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. But the game against Orlando before might have been his worst of the year. Coach Nick Nurse was forced to pull him late in the fourth after a four-point effort, that included 0-for-9 shooting from downtown.
The inconsistency has made it difficult to know what to expect from Trent on any given night, but Nurse believes he is trending in the right direction.
“He had a good night, I thought,” Nurse said after the loss to the Cavaliers. “I know it’s only 7-of-19, but to me at least another four or five of those go in and out, right? So, he got some good clearance. I thought he got bumped on two or three others.
“He did get a couple free throws, but I thought he could add a few more. I thought he made pretty good decisions and it felt to me like when he shook his guy down and stepped back that he was going to make them tonight, which is certainly progress for sure.”
When healthy, the Raptors are a different team than they are right now. VanVleet not only fills the role of facilitator, but he gives Nurse another threat that creates room for Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes to slash and roam. Anunoby often assumes the most difficult defensive assignment while providing even more offence.
With Trent thrown into the mix, the Raptors go from a poor shooting team to one that should have enough to survive. The same cannot be said when the rotation is thrown out of whack and bench players like Svi Mykhailiuk and Yuta Watanabe struggle to fill in the gaps.
That doesn’t leave much margin for error as the Raptors attempt to keep their hopes alive for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. A play-in game would be even riskier for the shooters because of the inability to make up for an off-night.
As the underdogs in this race, the Raptors will have to be at their best to pull off an upset and steal a seed, or a round. The good news is VanVleet should be back soon from a sore knee, possibly as early as Wednesday night in San Antonio, and Anunoby might return about a week later from a fractured finger.
The potential is there to make for an interesting final month of the season. The Raptors need VanVleet and Anunoby to make that happen and they also require Trent’s outside touch. If all three things occur, this team should have an interesting finish to the year. If they don’t, the trip to the playoffs might be short-lived.