Let’s get defensive for a moment.
NBA fans around the globe may only know Gary Trent Jr. for his unique photo shoot on the Blazers' team plane.
Yep, that photo shoot took place in the airplane’s bathroom while the Trail Blazers made their way across the country to enter the Orlando bubble for the 2019-20 restart.
Those Trent Jr. pics were priceless. The comments on the photos, and social media posts that followed made headlines.
But, for those NBA fans that don’t know much about Gary Trent Jr. besides the fact that he will pose next to an airplane toilet; he was one of Portland’s up and coming players this season, specifically on the defensive end, before the NBA was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having a future hall of famer on the team also helps.
Carmelo Anthony has been a mentor for the second-year player and since Trent Jr. will now be expected to earn some backup minutes at the three spot, he can look to Melo for even more guidance.
But remember, Anthony isn’t worried about if he is playing the three or the four, or if Trent Jr. is playing the two or the three.
To Melo, positions in the NBA are a thing of the past.
The 17-year-old vet highlighted Trent’s work ethic and being coachable above all else during Sunday’s Zoom interview from Orlando.
The positions... they’re just positions in today’s game so you’ve got to be able to play multiple positions. Somebody like Gary, the way he works and how hard he works when he’s on the court, the little things that he do – it’s very beneficial for him and for us as a team. The way he scraps, the way he cuts, the way he moves, the way he defends, the way he wants to learn – I think most important part is his willingness to learn and how to get better, want to know how to get better. – Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony
It’s the little things that Melo will continue to help Trent Jr. develop during the Blazers’ three-week training camp.
“So that’s kind of where I come in at, just kind of teaching him and helping him understand the lay of the game… When to do something, when not to do something, when to be patient, when to go – those are just small things that he's still young, but those are the things that he’ll start to pick up and he’s doing it as of now,” Melo added.
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In 53 games played this season, the 21 year old Duke standout averaged 7.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.9 assists in just his second year in the league while averaging 20 minutes per game.
But where his teammates, the Blazers coaching staff, and the Trail Blazers fan base saw the biggest leap was in his defense. In early Feb. of this year, Trent discussed the importance of earning more minutes by focusing on that side of the ball, saying, “When you’re a young player in this league, when you touch the floor you got to be able to defend. Last year they told me to work on my defense and I took that to heart and watched some of my defense with the coaching staff to continue to get better at it.”
There’s no doubt that Trent Jr. is going to continue to be a valuable piece off the bench for the Blazers, especially on the defensive end.
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One missing piece that Portland is ecstatic to get back on that end of the court during this restart is Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic, who says ‘everything is so far great’ after Portland’s first two practices in the Orlando bubble.
After watching Trent Jr. from the bench while rehabbing his broken left leg, Nurkic has noticed a great deal of change in the young Trent Jr.
But one thing that hasn’t changed in Nurk's mind has been Trent Jr.’s work ethic.
Of course, Nurkic also had to get a jab in about the unexpected Trent Jr. photo shoot.
He works. He works his ass off, aside taking pictures in closets and things… Everything else changed. He understands what it takes to be on the floor, guard, and be ready when your number [is] called. -- Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic on Gary Trent Jr.
Nurkic added that both Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons have worked hard over this past year and have been able to make a difference, saying, “when they got a chance they was ready, especially with all of the injuries we got this year, that’s given them even more minutes and they deserve it.”
With a four-month layoff there is cause for concern with any player that he will need to shake off the rust, particularly with a young player.
But, it doesn’t sound like that's the case with Gary Trent Jr.
At least, Blazers coach Terry Stotts doesn’t believe so.
He has picked up where he left off. We were just talking about that with him before practice. The difference for him as opposed to a year ago, he hit his stride during the season, he’s in terrific shape, defensively is where he made the biggest jump. I think offensively, he was shooting the ball well. He’s not playing as much one-on-one. He moves well without the ball. He knows the sets. So, I think it was obvious to everybody this year the jump that he made from his rookie year to the next year… But yeah, he’s picked up right where he left off. -- Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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One thing Trent Jr. showed us all this season was he's not afraid to sacrifice his body to scramble for a ball on the floor or if the ball was going out of bounds, he was there. And more often than not, he found himself sprawled out on the court.
Sacrificing his body is something Trent Jr. knows how to do very well.
Take, Trent Jr. 's flu game in Oklahoma City back on Jan. 18 for instance, his teammates described him as flushed in the face and barely having any energy to lift his head during that morning’s team meeting.
“There’s no way I thought he was playing today,” Carmelo Anthony chuckled when thinking about how Trent Jr. was barely moving at the team meeting on Jan. 18.
But, Trent Jr. not only played, he dropped a 30-piece.
With injuries and a trade that sent Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver to Sacramento, the Blazers had the required league-minimum of eight players on the active roster.
One of those eight was Trent Jr. who was still dealing with a “flu-like” illness.
Portland fell to the Thunder 119-106 despite Trent Jr.’s career-high and Damian Lillard’s 34-point performance.
But the second year player made the most of his minutes during that game, despite feeling like crap.
There was no time when I didn’t think that I wasn’t going to be good to go. You know, your job is to play basketball. Some people go to work still sick, you still have to work, you still have to do your job in a sense. I was always going to be available no matter what my state was. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. said postgame after the Blazers road loss to OKC
January 18th, 2019 will always be known as the Gary Trent Jr. Birthday Flu Game.
The 2019-20 NBA restart could be known for Trent Jr. putting his name on the map, not just in Rip City.