Duke basketball product to see giant opportunity once NBA resumes

Former Duke basketball player Gary Trent Jr., now with the Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Former Duke basketball player Gary Trent Jr., now with the Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Later this summer, a Duke basketball alum may considerably boost his stock.

Former Duke basketball sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr. is set to become a restricted free agent next summer, so anything he does between now and then has the potential to seriously affect his future paychecks. The Portland Trail Blazers, who acquired the No. 37 overall pick at the 2018 NBA Draft via a trade that night, will be among the teams in action when the 2019-20 season resumes on July 31 in Orlando.

With a 29-37 record, the Blazers sit ninth in the Western Conference standings, just 3.5 games back of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies. Therefore, with a league-determined eight remaining games in the regular season for all 22 squads with invites — not to mention the potential for a play-in series should the difference between eighth and ninth in either conference be less than four games — Portland has a reasonable shot to sneak into the postseason.

However, the franchise’s chances to do so took what seems to be a major blow this week when veteran wing Trevor Ariza announced he will not make the trip to Disney World (players have until Wednesday to opt-out).

Enter Trent Jr., the presumptive replacement starter for Ariza on the perimeter. After contributing only 2.1 points per contest across 15 appearances as a rookie, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound former McDonald’s All-American garnered an increased role this season. He has played 53 games in his second year, drawing eight starts, and is averaging 7.7 points across 20.0 minutes per game while shooting an impressive 38.8 percent from beyond the arc (83.3 percent from the charity stripe).

ALSO READ: Ranking all 25 Blue Devils in the NBA this season

Oddly enough, the top competitor to Trent Jr. for Ariza’s starting spot figures to be former North Carolina one-and-done Nassir Little. However, as ClutchPoints writer R.P. Salao explained, the Blue Devil looks to be a better option than the Tar Heel:

“First, there’s their 19-year-old rookie out of UNC…While Little has the size and wingspan to defend some tough assignments, he’ll definitely be an offensive liability for them in late-game situations. A better option might be Gary Trent Jr. The sophomore was starting to ramp it up before the league shut down. In 10 games since the All-Star break, Trent Jr. played in 29.3 minutes per contest. He even put up a respectable 11.2 points per game.”

Under pressure, the Duke basketball product appears to become more potent

Trent Jr. has also proven clutch, ranking second on the squad, behind All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, with 23 fourth-quarter made 3-pointers since New Year’s Day. Plus, according to Rip City Project contributor Marlow Ferguson Jr., the 21-year-old boasts a +17 plus-minus in the final 12 minutes of regulation during this span while shooting 47.8 percent from the field, a 5.2 percent increase from his normal.

As a fulltime freshman starter for a 2017-18 Duke basketball team that fell one win shy of a Final Four, Trent Jr. drained 40.2 percent of his overall 3-point attempts — a sizzling 43.5 percent in ACC play — averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals for the season.

ALSO READ: Ranking all 40 Duke teams under Mike Krzyzewski

Anyway, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how Trent Jr. responds to greater responsibility in late July and early August. If he winds up playing a sizeable role in helping Portland to exceed expectations, then he would definitely stand to become a larger part of the franchise’s plans for the 2020-21 season and then be in line to cash in with a nice contract a year from now.

Four 2021 recruits who look like future Blue Devils. light. Hot

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more news and views regarding Gary Trent Jr. and other former Duke basketball players now in the NBA.