Raptors: Gary Trent Jr. has been a revelation on the defensive end

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 27: Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 27: Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors accomplished their goal of bringing back free agent Gary Trent Jr. in the offseason, but the price it took to get him back (three years, $51.8 million) left some fans a bit curious. The biggest issue with the former Trail Blazers shooter and Duke alum relates to what he can (or can’t) do on the defensive end.

The two warring factions of advanced metrics and the eye test came together and declared Trent a poor defender, as he lacked the size to defend most wings and the hustle to lockdown guards. Luckily for Toronto, Trent has come into this year ready to justify that payday. by any means, even if it meant putting in tons of work on defense.

Trent went into Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic averaging 2.8 steals per game, which is far above the 1.0 per game he managed last year. He and Fred VanVleet are also near the top of the league in deflections, a sign that his effort on defense is much improved.

While Trent doesn’t necessarily have to turn into Tony Allen on defense, he did need to take a step forward if he wants to start for this team long-term. So far, he’s on his way to justifying the payday, as his defense has been one of the most encouraging signs for Toronto in this young season.

Gary Trent Jr. is playing great defense for the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors are still a work in progress on offense, but Nick Nurse and Masai Ujrii seem to be willing to tolerate some iffy individual offensive starts. The key for this team being successful is perfecting this positionless, switching defense that they want to create, and No. 33 is doing his part.

In a peculiar twist, Trent has had more offensive struggles than defensive issues, as he came into this game shooting 35% from the field. Even with that, we have years of experience that show he will get that shot straightened out, while this quality defense is a new revelation.

Trent will eventually get his shooting fixed up, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that he went from an objectively terrible defensive player to someone that can not only hold his own, but make plays at an above-average clip. One question Trent does need to answer, however, relates to his sustainability.

Can he keep this up over the course of a full season, or will his impact on that end take a slight nosedive once teams start to figure out how to attack him? Regardless, the effort is clearly there on defense, which is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to Trent justifying that contract.

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