Trail Blazers

Carmelo Anthony vs. Gary Trent, Jr. and the Trail Blazers conundrum

Trail Blazers

Everyone knew the first 10 games of the 2020-21 regular season were going to be an important and tough test for the Trail Blazers.

And so far, it's been a bit of a rough go.

Penciled in as a top-tier team in the Western Conference, the new-look Blazers have stumbled-- and not just against playoff-caliber teams.

On Sunday, the Blazers watched as Stephen Curry dropped a career-high 62 points. Then, on Tuesday, they let a very winnable game against the Chicago Bulls slip through their fingers.

In fact, the Trail Blazers made history for all the wrong reasons in their collapse to Chicago Bulls

It's early, sure.

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But, while sitting at 3-4, good for 10th place in the Western Conference, the Blazers are playing nowhere near what anyone expected-- pundits, fans, the players themselves... no one.

In their latest loss, there was a nugget in the box score that did not go unnoticed: It was the usage of Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr.

Anthony was on the court in crunch time while Trent Jr. was watching from the bench. When the game ended, the future Hall of Famer played 28 minutes, while the third-year youngster played just 19.

So, why fuss over nine minutes?

Because those nine minutes could have changed the game. It could change a lot of games. 

 

While there is no doubt Carmelo Anthony is a future Hall of Famer, his play has diminished. And that's not a knock on Anthony. There's just a lot of wear on Anthony's tires entering his 18th season. Anthony is averaging a career-low 12.6 points per game, but he can still get buckets when he needs to. He can hit big shots. Game winners. Offense isn't really where the issue lies with Anthony. The issue with him is on the defensive end. 

Anthony is not as fast or athletic as he was 10 years ago, and he really doesn't have the lateral quickness to stay in front of a lot of players. 

When you pair him with Enes Kanter, who also struggles on the defensive end, the Blazers second unit sticks out like a sore thumb. The Kanter/Anthony pairing has the worst net rating of any two-player Blazers tandem (that has played at least 50 minutes together), at -17.6.

Individually, Anthony has the second-worst net rating on the team at -12.6. 

So when you look at Anthony playing nearly 10 more minutes than Trent, you see 10 minutes that could have changed the game.

Again, this is not a knock or some sort of indictment on Anthony. 

But, for what it's worth, Trent's net defensive rating is -3.6.

That is why Gary Trent needs a bigger role. Trent is currently averaging 21.8 minutes per game. But, during the eight seeding games in the NBA bubble, he averaged 34.1 minutes and 16.9 points per game. He was a big reason the Blazers were able to secure a playoff spot. It's not as if Trent, Jr.'s potential impact is speculative. We've seen it. 

A self-described "dog" once he hits the court, Trent, Jr.'s energy is welcomed, noticed. 

It should be Trent, Jr. getting the 30 minutes off of the bench.

He should be the premier bench guy, the Blazers sixth-man candidate. 

Before you click out of this article to jump on social to tell me "but they don't play the same position." Yeah, I know. But Melo being on the floor directly impacts Trent's minutes. Sure, one player is a forward while the other is a guard, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is how those two are used within Coach Stotts' rotation. With the way Stotts runs his substitution patterns, the usage of Anthony can directly impact Trent Jr. and vice versa.

It's a direct correlation.

When Anthony comes in he plays power forward, while Derrick Jones Jr. or Robert Covington play the three, Trent sits watching until CJ McCollum, a potential All-Star, needs a break. 

Could Coach Stotts just as easily sub Trent in to play small forward and keep Covington or Derrick Jones Jr. at power forward? Well, yes. 

This way, you keep two of your better defenders on the court in the second unit. Trent - Covington - Kanter is a better three-man pairing than Jones Jr - Anthony - Kanter.

 

Now, a likely rebuttal would be that things are likely not as simple or black and white as they seem. 

But, with it being so early in the season, without a full training camp and preseason, what does it hurt to try?

Again, the argument here is not that Melo is bad.

He's not.

He brings value to this team, without question. But, his role in the lineup needs to reflect his current capabilities. Cutting his minutes or altering his usage in no way impacts his greatness or his legacy. He is a Hall of Famer regardless!

Perhaps, there is even an argument to be made that Anthony should be the team's starting power forward. That way, Anthony can still get big minutes and Trent can be the premier bench rotation player as he should be.

But, maybe that's for another article. 

Whatever the case, it is apparent Trent deserves a larger role, more than being benched a half at a time.

The definition of "adapt" is "to make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify and become adjusted to new conditions." 

Time will tell how things play out.