Within the Nick Nurse period, the Toronto Raptors have been an impressive defensive crew. The well-traveled head coach and his assortment of assistants have introduced a depth of information and wide-ranging expertise to the franchise, which in flip has led the crew to experiment with practically each defensive idea beneath the solar.
The stereotypical participant that this workers has longed for is a flexible wing with size who can guard a number of positions.
So when the Raptors moved Norman Powell (6’4″ with a 6’11” wingspan) for Gary Trent Jr. (6’6″ with a 6’9″ wingspan), it appeared as if the entrance workplace had begun to maneuver away from Nurse’s blueprint.
Whereas Trent Jr. possessed a superb wingspan, he was not thought-about a powerful defender.
In Portland, he slowly constructed himself right into a rotation piece, and by the Orlando bubble, he had grow to be a spot starter.
Regardless of by no means eclipsing 0.9 steals per recreation with the Path Blazers, Trent Jr. rapidly noticed his steals common bounce to 1.1 SPG throughout 17 video games with the Raptors in 2020-21.
Quick ahead to the current day, and Trent Jr. sits fifth within the NBA with 2.6 SPG and leads the league in whole steals with 18 — forward of defensive stalwarts like Jimmy Butler (17), Paul George (17), and Alex Caruso (16).
He is also making game-winning steals now.
How did a participant who couldn’t common one steal a recreation whereas taking part in 30-plus minutes an evening for Portland instantly morph into one of many league’s finest pickpockets?
For that reply, we flip to the movie.
Leaping the Passing Lane
One of the widespread methods defenders get steals is by anticipating an motion occurring earlier than it does.
Normally, this bears out when a participant can intercept a move as they rotate defensively.
Trent Jr. nearly appears like a defensive again within the halfcourt at occasions.
Within the first two clips, he merely assaults the move because it comes towards the participant he’s guarding, reacting quicker and attending to the ball first.
The ultimate clip is the place you’ll be able to see him learn the play earlier than it unfolds.
As Justin Vacation begins his drive, the Raptors protection is in full-on scramble mode. Khem Birch executed his job and ran Vacation off the three-point line. Nonetheless, Dalano Banton has already gotten to the basket to cowl Malcolm Brogdon, permitting Svi Mykhailiuk to bump out to cease Vacation’s penetration.
Scottie Barnes is defending Torrey Craig on the ball facet wing, and that leaves Trent Jr. alone on the weak facet to cope with the remaining two Indiana Pacers.
Myles Turner decides to make a forty five lower from the other wing to the basket, and Brad Wanamaker relocates to the slot as Vacation drives to the basket.
Since Trent Jr. was already in correct assist, it appears to Vacation that The awaiting Raptor will stonewall Turner’s lower. Trent Jr. even strikes into what would’ve been Vacation’s passing lane to Turner.
Nonetheless, it’s not Turner who Trent Jr. is frightened about.
Toronto does an important job of closing out to shooters. Both working them off the road — as Birch did to Vacation — or getting a hand up and contesting shot makes an attempt.
Trent Jr. is prepping to shut out on Wanamaker ought to Vacation give him the ball. His work early within the possession permits him to knife between Turner and Craig (who additionally lower to the basket) unseen by Vacation. By the point Vacation’s move makes its technique to Wanamaker, Trent Jr. is there to grab it away.
Given Nurse’s most well-liked defensive scheme, these are the sorts of steals that the Raptors actively get hold of. The truth that Trent Jr. has tailored to this in addition to he has is why the crew felt snug investing $54 million into him over the summer season.
As a rotational defender, Trent Jr. doesn’t at all times attempt to sneak his means into steals.
Sure moments name for him to assault the ball as the assistance defender.
Towards Romeo Langford and Oshae Brisset, Trent Jr. lurks on the outskirts of the motion after which snaps into movement as quickly because the basketball is let free on the court docket.
The second clip is extra about Trent Jr.’s aggressive mindset on protection.
It’s the fourth quarter, and although the Raptors have a wholesome lead, six minutes is plenty of time for both Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown to get sizzling.
On this play, Tatum isolates towards Birch — benefit Tatum — within the left nook. Trent Jr. is within the correct assist place, and due to that, it permits him to take a big gamble. As Tatum will get into his transfer and appears to drive previous Birch, Trent Jr. springs on him from the baseline and swipes the ball away as Tatum makes an attempt to spin out from the double crew.
The aggressiveness for Trent Jr. doesn’t solely apply to assist eventualities. Followers could make an argument that he’s the crew’s most aggressive on-ball defender too.
Trent Jr. loves to make use of his fingers defensively. This was one thing that confirmed in spurts whereas he was a Path Blazer.
Instantly when Al Horford receives Marcus Sensible’s move, Trent Jr. is true on prime of him. Not solely that, however he has his fingers in Horford’s hips, forcing him to take the ball away from his physique and place his leg in between the ball and Trent Jr. This retains the Celtics massive man sq. his shoulders to the basket.
Usually, you’ll see defenders loosen up at this level. Their preliminary job carried out, they corralled the pick-and-pop.
Not Trent Jr. He stays tight to Horford, invading any sense of non-public house, and retains his fingers energetic of their seek for any opening to take a stab on the basketball. As Horford sweeps the ball again throughout his physique, it meets Trent Jr,’s fingers which might then knock it free.
The identical takes place with Robert Williams III within the second play. He can leap above Trent Jr. and safe the rebound, however the second Williams drops the ball beneath his waist Trent Jr. pounces on it and slaps it free earlier than recovering it on the ground.
Then, towards Jaylen Brown, Trent Jr. appears to be overwhelmed on the preliminary drive however in the end can get again in entrance of Brown. Trent Jr. sneaks in a steal try on Brown’s first collect, which deters the Boston swingman from rising right into a pull-up jumper. Nonetheless, as soon as Brown begins to scan the ground for an outlet Trent Jr. bade his time earlier than reaching in and jarring the ball free from Brown’s hip.
This ultimate play is a private favourite. Much like the earlier play, Brogdon can get a step forward of Trent Jr. off the dribble. Nonetheless, as a substitute of chopping off Brogdon’s drive, Trent Jr. sees that Valuable Achiuwa is in assist place and as a substitute follows the play from behind and might poke the ball free earlier than Brogdon retrieves it passes it to Domantas Sabonis.
As soon as once more, Trent Jr. recovers to protect Sabonis now. After leaving his ft for Sabonis’ pump pretend, Trent Jr. once more could make contact with the ball by hitting it from behind as Sabonis makes an attempt to dribble.
This transfer isn’t as commonplace on a nightly foundation, however when Trent Jr. can pull it off, it’s such a chef’s kiss of an motion.
It ought to come as a shock to nobody that he is aware of his means across the low block; his father was referred to as “The Shaq of the MAC” throughout his taking part in days.
Like his father, Trent Jr. is constructed sturdily, and although he received’t be confused for considered one of basketball’s most spectacular bodily specimens, he has the energy to carry his personal within the publish.
Nonetheless, as a substitute of over-relying on that facet of his physique, Trent Jr. will typically use his foot velocity to win battles within the publish when he switches onto a much bigger participant.
For forwards and facilities, posting up is a type of dance. Most don’t run to the low block after which about-face to obtain a move. As a substitute, there’s some arm wrestling, tugging, and preventing for positioning that happens earlier than an entry move is made.
Trent Jr. is aware of this dance nicely and infrequently lets his opponent undergo a number of steps earlier than he swims round them and disrupts the incoming move.
In each clips, Montrezl Harrell and Kristaps Porzingis assume they’ve Trent Jr. pinned towards their backs, however he can maneuver round them and get to the basketball first.
Tip Brandon Jefferson
How Gary Trent Jr. reinvented himself defensively originated on Raptors Republic.