A group text message quickly became a place to bond for the summer Trail Blazers.
This year, all eyes were on second-year player Anfeernee Simons, who was just named to NBA Summer League second-team. But when Simons suffered a sprained ankle in the final seconds of the Blazers’ third game and missed the rest of the tournament, the focus shifted to second-year player Gary Trent Jr.
The 20-year-old quickly picked up the slack with Simons out and he made sure the team camaraderie was strong.
Portland finished Las Vegas Summer League play by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 99-84 on Friday night. Trent Jr. led the way with 28 points and eight rebounds, as the Blazers wrapped up Summer League with a 2-3 record.
The overall record may not have shown how close-knit the Blazers summer squad became in such a short period of time.
“It was a great Summer League team. The way they put the team together. It was great. In the Summer League group chat we have, everybody was joking… You could tell we gelled together quick, just it couldn’t translate on the court, but it was still fun, it was great to meet those guys,” Trent Jr. said.
The Blazers shooting guard not only took charge off the court, but he also averaged 28.4 points on 41% shooting from the field to go along with 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Portland’s Summer League head coach, Jim Moran spent a majority of Trent Jr.’s rookie season working with him day in and day out.
Coach Moran is eager for Trent Jr. to make a leap on the defensive end.
“I work with Gary every day, so he had 28 tonight, but I look at the defensive stuff. So, for me when I watch the film I’m going to be focused more on the defensive mistakes,” Moran said.
“I know he’s a scorer, I know he can shoot, he’s a talented player, but I think as a coach you’ve just gotta keep working on their weakness and I think right now just getting him to buy in more on the defensive end... But, I’m happy for him. He had some good games out here,” Moran added.
Coach Moran knows Ternt Jr.’s defensive mindset is a working progress. Right now it’s all about repetition for the young Blazer.
“Every time I go to talk to him about defense, he’s shaking his head going, ‘I know, I know,’ so we’re on the same page about it, it’s just a matter of committing to it every day,” Moran said with a smile.
“The opportunity to lead and just play,” Trent Jr. said was the biggest positive takeaway for him personally. “All last year, I didn’t really play that much, so just getting the opportunity to get on the floor, get up and down, being able to get a foul, being able to knock down a jump shot, it’s a great feeling."
It was evident by watching all five games played in Las Vegas that the game has slowed down for the Blazers shooting guard.
“Just being patient, I know where to get on the spot where I can get my shot off within the offense. I know the plays pretty well now, so just… be patient, let the game come to me,” Trent Jr. said.
As the son of former Trail Blazer Gary Trent Sr. now sets his sights on cracking the rotation for the 2019-20 season with the Blazers, he knows he must have an impressive training camp in the fall and make sure to “control” what he can on and of the floor.
“Really just control, what I can control. Just continue to work, if the opportunity comes I’ll be ready,” Trent Jr. said.