When the Toronto Raptors shipped Norman Powell to Portland on March 25th in the midst of the best season of his career, it was undeniably a heartbreaking moment for Raptors fans. Powell had accomplished so much in his six seasons north of the border, having played a pivotal role in helping the team win its first playoff series of the decade, and notoriously pushing them by the Milwuakee Bucks en route to their 2019 NBA Championship. Understandably so, last week’s deal was a trade in which most fans felt more sad than excited. The outgoing Powell was a fan favourite, and the incoming Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood were probably two names that didn’t appeal to the casual fan as much.
Playing in Portland, neither Hood or Trent received a ton of media attention. Likely, to any fan who had heard of either player before, Trent was the guy who shot the lights out during the NBA Bubble last year and helped the Trail Blazers make a push into the playoffs, while Hood seems like the guy who can fill up the stat sheet when he’s healthy, but rarely ever is.
Neither assessment is completely inaccurate. Trent was coming to the Raptors as one of the most elite catch-and-shoot three-pointers in the league, ranking 26th in the league in three-pointers made off the catch-and-shoot, while also providing a significant defensive presence for a player of his archetype. Projecting to be a step below Norman Powell with regard to his athleticism and ability to put pressure on the rim, while a better help-side defender and also six years younger, it was clear that the Raptors felt more comfortable paying a 22-year-old this summer, as opposed to a 28-year-old.
Hood made a name for himself with the Utah Jazz after being drafted 23rd overall in 2014. As a sophomore, he started every game that he appeared in, and averaged 14.5 points per game on solid all-around efficiency. It appeared as though Rodney could have been the Robin that Gordon Hayward needed to usher in a new era of success in Salt Lake City, before he was hit with a slew of injuries that derailed his career, and Hayward ultimately left to play in Boston. Still at just 28-years-old, Hood is capable of providing a bit of a scoring spark off the bench, which Raptors fans saw a glimpse of last week when he dropped eight points in three minutes against Portland. Unfortunately, that stint did not last long, as Hood went down with yet another injury and could be sidelined for a couple of weeks.
Trent, on the other hand, looks like he may have found the perfect situation for himself to elevate his game – and his career – to the next level. In Toronto, where the halfcourt offense isn’t half as talented as it is in Portland, Trent is already being asked to do much more than just run off pin-downs and hoist up three’s. His very first possession as a Raptor saw him featured as the pick-and-roll ball-handler with Pascal Siakam as the big. Trent found Siakam on the roll, Pascal drew VanVleet’s defender from the corner, and the ball found Freddy wide open for a three, all facilitated by Trent.
Without looking too deeply into his stats – mainly because Trent has only been in a Raptors uniform for five games, which is a minuscule and meaningless sample size – I do think it’s notable that 38% of Trent’s points are coming from within the arc in Toronto, as opposed to just 31% in Portland. He is being forced to create much more of his own offense, and that’s provided him with the liberty to drive the ball more and find good looks inside. While doing so, his field goal percentage from two-point range has also increased by 1.9%.
When asked this morning about whether Trent has the ability to facilitate some of the team’s offense, penetrate the defense, and put some pressure on the rim, Nick Nurse responded, “I think the footwork is there, and the read is there. I think he’s blown in [the paint] a couple of times playing off the catch, or playing before the catch… [if he already knows it’s going to be] a downhill drive. I think a big part of it is just reps and experience, because you start seeing that you can get all the way to the basket, or you can’t.”
In just under two weeks as a Raptor so far, Trent is already shattering records. In Toronto’s blowout win on Friday, he recorded a franchise-record +54 while he was on the court. Such a ridiculous plus-minus has led to his average +10.2 net rating in a Raptors uniform, as compared to his -0.3 rating this season prior to playing in Tampa. It’s not just records on the court that he’s breaking either. Believe it or not, Trent chatted with OG Anunoby – the quietest basketball player known to Raptors media – for an entire three-hour plane ride. It’s certainly a good thing for Raptors fans if these two get along, as it’s beginning to look more like they’re going to be the future of the franchise.