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Despite impact slump, Raptors’ Trent Jr. still puts in work to find old self again

Late on Monday night, well after Scotiabank Arena was empty and nearly all of his teammates had gone home, Gary Trent Jr. finally finished work.

It was a long day, but then again, it’s been a long month.

The Toronto Raptors shooting guard has been in a deep funk, neither shooting well or – to hear head coach Nick Nurse tell it – guarding well either.

And then on Monday, Trent Jr. arrived at Toronto’s pre-game walk through and found out he would be coming off the bench against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first time in 85 games as a Raptor he hadn’t been part of the starting lineup.

“We were just going through our [pre-game] routine and I wasn’t in the starting lineup,” said Trent Jr. in an otherwise empty Raptors locker room after Toronto’s impressive win over the Cavs in which he had 14 points and a season-high seven rebounds in 26 minutes as the third man in off the bench. 

“It is what it is. Any game, day in, day out, whatever coach’s game plan is, we’re going to follow it,” said Trent Jr. later. “We’re going to be with him 100 per cent, back him and try to execute it the best of our abilities and that’s what we did tonight.”

After the game Trent Jr. did what he’s been doing morning, noon and night as of late as he tries to crack a cold streak that has seen him shooting just 23.4 per cent from three over 12 games stretched out over a calendar month. Shooting from distance is prone to significant swings – a 2-for-8 one night can turn into 5-of-8 the next and presto: you’re shooting 44 per cent from deep, a level sustained mainly by people whose surname is Curry. Follow up a 2-for-8 with a 1-for-7 and you’re hurting your team. But long slumps for shooters are problems for all concerned.

Trent Jr. has been on both sides of the line this season.

For the first five games he was averaging 20.2 points a night and making four threes per game on 9.8 attempts per game. It was found gold for a shooting-starved team like the Raptors, and it looked like Trent Jr. – a career 39 per cent three-point shooter and a five-year veteran while still just 23 years old – was ready to make a statement as a potential free agent next summer.

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But then he went cold and stayed that way. There were no 5-of-8s to make up for a string of 1-of-7s. His 2-of-5 outing against Cleveland was the first time he’d made more than one three in a game in three weeks.

He’s not sure why either, though he did miss time with a strained hip and a non-disclosed illness.

“All my shots look good except when I shoot them they’re either short or hitting the back of the rim,” he told me Monday.

Trent’s struggles have put him in the spotlight. There was the comment from Nurse last week where he called him out for his defence, longing to see if Trent Jr. can return to the style of high-pressure, opportunistic on ball work that saw Trent Jr finish among the league leaders in steals and deflections last season, “It’s disappointing,” Nurse said. “…We want him to be a disruptor. He kinda fits us if he does that, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t fit us.”

And it goes without saying: if he can’t make threes at high rate and otherwise create some secondary scoring, he probably doesn’t fit either.

Nothing Nurse said was a surprise to Trent Jr. – similarly themed conversations have taken place behind the scenes.

The Raptors need what Trent brings. He’s shown the ability to take over games. Trent scored 24 points or more in 20 games last season and the Raptors went 16-4 when he did.

Nurse was non-committal Monday about whether the line-up he started with against Dallas – Scottie Barnes also came off the bench for the first regular season game in his Raptors career – would be in place when Toronto visits the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night.

Trent says he’s willing to roll with whatever: “I’m not sure [what will happen],” he said. “We got the win. I’m just going to continue to go with the season, continue to work on my craft, work on my shot, get my shots up after practice, before practice, earlier in the day.”

But no one has more at stake than Trent Jr. himself in getting his season back on track. On paper he profiles as someone in line for a lucrative pay day this summer. Shooting guards of a similar profile have been cashing in. Jordan Poole, Tyler Herro and Anfernee Simons all signed deals recently ranging from $100 million to $140 million in value.

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Given the Raptors upcoming cap crunch – Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes are all eligible for big money extensions either this summer or next – there is no guarantee they will be able to sign Trent Jr. in any case. But as a pending free agent (he has a player option worth he is almost certain to decline) you want all the demand in the marketplace you can possibly get. Having the Raptors decide they can live without him in the summer, or trade him before the deadline because they judge that he can’t help them now, would not be the preferred look.

But to Trent’s credit, he outwardly seems unphased by a lineup shuffle, by having his coach call him out or being brought off the bench.

He knows one way to deal with a slump, and that’s to keep working. After the game Monday night he immediately went up to the warm-up court on the upper level of Scotiabank Arena with his dad, nine-year NBA veteran Gary Trent, and Raptors player development coach Rico Hines.

“All you got to do is dive into your work, and even overtime, or triple time. More and more and more,” said Trent Jr. “I just got from the gym now. I just continue to make it part of my routine: I got two workouts in before I even went on the court today.

“I gotta do [it],” he said. “Even for your own peace of mind, whether your shots are falling or not, you know you was in the gym. But if you’re like, ‘ah I should have went back this time’ or ‘I could have went’ – that’s when know you were [BS-ing] and not doing your job to the best of your abilities. So for your own peace of mind and your own sake, continue to work and everything will be okay.”

The Raptors would love it if that’s how it shakes out. A strong outing against the high-powered Pelicans would suit everyone’s timing. A potential game-breaker and floor stretcher who can disrupt defensively would fit in nicely, either starting or coming off the bench.

Trent Jr. has been that player before and continues to work so he can be again, sooner rather than later, ideally.  

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Despite impact slump, Raptors’ Trent Jr. still puts in work to find old self again Source link Despite impact slump, Raptors’ Trent Jr. still puts in work to find old self again

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