With a healthy roster and the new addition of Khem Birch, a true center that the Toronto Raptors have been desperately needing all season, Gary Trent Jr. has been moved to the bench. This bold move has caused a bit of controversy on Twitter, and many Toronto Raptors fans have opposing opinions and thoughts on this controversial decision that was recently made by Nick Nurse.
Nurse first chose to send Trent Jr. to the bench for their recent game against the Brooklyn Nets, and for their game against the New York Knicks this past Saturday, he also chose to keep Trent Jr. out of the starting lineup. So, at least for the foreseeable future, it is safe to say that it seems like Trent Jr. will be coming off of the bench for the Toronto Raptors. With GTJ out of the starting lineup, the Raptors’ new starting five for their last two games has been Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Khem Birch. Barring any injuries, this is seemingly the new starting five moving forward, at least until the end of the season.
As fans of the Raptors, most of us know why Trent Jr. has been moved to the bench, and it has nothing to do with his play. Frankly, in his 12 starts with the Raptors, he was playing very well and effectively filling the scoring void that was left by Norman Powell. It was only a couple of weeks ago when he had a career-high 44 point game vs the Cleveland Cavaliers while shooting a remarkable 17-19 from the field. As a starter, he was regularly scoring over 20 points each game while playing well over 30 minutes. This hasn’t been the case recently, and in a combined two games since he has been moved to the bench, Trent Jr. has scored nine points while only playing 33 minutes.
Although it seems like relegating GTJ to the bench might be hindering his development and productivity, it is needed to help unlock a better version of the current Raptors team. When Trent Jr. starts, the starting five, barring no injuries, is Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, GTJ, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. This is a very undersized lineup, and especially against bigger teams, the Raptors aren’t able to compete in terms of physicality and rebounding. On the other hand, with Khem Birch in the starting five, the Raptors have rebounded the ball better and have been much more competitive. Rebounding is something that the Raptors have been struggling with all year, and inserting Khem into the starting lineup has seemingly fixed this issue.
The problem with this whole scenario is the number of minutes that Trent Jr. is getting whilst coming off of the bench. With GTJ coming off of the bench, you would expect him to be receiving starter-like minutes, but so far, Nick Nurse has not given him the minutes and opportunities that he needs in order to flourish. In the last two games when Trent Jr. has come off of the bench, he has only played 14 and 19 minutes respectively. With such a limited role coming off of the bench, GTJ has not been able to get into the flow of the game, and this has affected his overall play and scoring. At this point in the season, it is a known fact that the Raptors have been in dire need of a consistent bench scorer, and when you have a player that can pour it on like GTJ, you need to be giving him more than 15-20 minutes a game.
It is obvious what needs to be done with Trent Jr. and his new bench role. Nick Nurse needs to take his handcuffs off and let him loose. With the second unit, Trent Jr. should have all of the freedom in the world as the main scorer and one of the main ball handlers, alongside Malachi Flynn. This will not only help the development of GTJ, but it will also help the Raptors as a team.
Nick Nurse needs to figure out a new rotation that involves GTJ getting more minutes off of the bench. If Trent Jr. is playing confidently and getting his shots, the Raptors are a very dangerous team that could make a run in the postseason. But, without Trent’s minutes and spark off of the bench, the Raptors could be looking at a disappointing finish to the regular season, including a finish outside of the top 10 in the Eastern Conference.