The Portland Trail Blazers haven’t had a sixth man of the year since 1993. But following an impressive breakout, Gary Trent Jr could change that in 2021.
The Portland Trail Blazers have never been regular recipients of end of year awards, and the sixth man of the year is no different. Cliff Robinson in 1993 marks the only time a Portland Trail Blazer brought home the award, and Ed Davis in 2016 was the last time a Blazer got significant votes.
But Gary Trent Jr’s stunning breakout season could mean a second award is closer than we think. GTJ’s play has become more and more prominent as the year has gone on, and he has averaged almost 13 points-per-game since he broke out with a 30-point game (career high) in January.
The guard added a steal, an assist and 2 rebounds to these stats, as well as shooting an impressive 40 percent from three (which ranks around 22nd in the league).
The Blazers have struggled this season, currently sitting in 9th in the West, and with COVID-19 jeopardising the completion of this years NBA season, it’s hard not to look ahead to next year. For GTJ , next year means a realistic shot at the sixth man of the year, as the sophomore has all the tools to contend for the award.
Let’s take a look at the previous winners. Since 2010, all of the winners have been guards, the exception being Lamar Odom on the 2011 Lakers. Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams have combined for six of the awards, with a young James Harden, New York Knicks J.R. Smith and Eric Gordon taking the last three spots.
The average points-per-game for all these guards in their winning years is around 17 points. The comparison I like the most (out of these guards) is probably Eric Gordon on the 2017 Rockets, as I don’t ever see GTJ beating defenders off the dribble in the way that Crawford/Williams/Harden do; this isn’t a knock on GTJ , more of a compliment to the other three.
Gordon won the award scoring 16.6 points per game, while also hitting 3.3 three’s a game on 37 percent. The Rockets won 55 games that year, and had the NBA’s second-best offense.
A few things will have to align for GTJ to compete for this award.
No player is winning this award with a 20-win team. The Blazers will have to have a strong year, and look like a significant playoff team for GTJ to be a contender. With the Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood and Zach Collins all set to return next year, I don’t see this being too much of a concern.
Health and consistency is another factor that needs to swing Trent Jr’s way. This is also not an award you can win if you miss 30 games; it’s too low-key of an award. LeBron or KD still have a chance to win MVP if they miss time, simply because there names won’t ever be out of the media.
The same with Rookie of the Year; Zion Williamson is a serious candidate this year, despite not making his debut until the end of January. Why? Because he’s Zion. The Blazers guard will need to be consistent with his health as well as his performance.
For the season, Gary Trent Jr is currently averaging 7.7 points. I mentioned earlier that his ‘breakout period’ boosted his numbers to 13 points per game, but this increased number will still need to go up next season. I do think this is realistic though. Gordon attempted 8.8 three’s a game in his winning season, and Trent Jr is currently at 5.5 for this season. A slight bump in offensive responsibility (which is likely, seeing as Hood will be brought back very carefully), and the guard shoot have no problem reaching around 16 points per game
This is the big one. To win these awards, you need to be recognized by the national media, something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to a bench player in Portland. Damian Lillard finds it difficult enough getting respect, so for GTJ to drum up enough media attention will definitely not be easy.
What he needs is a few significant moments. Highlights or plays that will get him on Bleacher Report or ESPN, whether it’s catching fire and having games where he hits 10+ threes, or hitting a game-winner on national TV. Performing in any sense on national TV will greatly help his case, even it’s a short moment like dropping Russell Westbrook, if it gets him on House of Highlights, it’s helping his chances.
I’d really love Gary Trent Jr to emerge as a contender next season. He has the defense already, and his scoring seems to be on the verge of another uptick.
End of year awards mean a lot to a franchise, and puts you on the map as well. I think Gary Trent Jr has a terrific chance to win sixth man next season, and it’d be an achievement that’d mean a great deal to Portland.