MISSOULA — Tres Tinkle couldn't help but let out a quick laugh.
The Missoula native and current forward for the Raptors 905 is still wrapping his head around being dubbed a "professional basketball player," though technically that's exactly what his current employment occupation is.
For the first-year pro, it's a culmination of everything he's worked toward that is finally paying off.
"I play basketball for the love of the game so calling myself a professional, (I'm) still getting used to it, you know?" Tinkle told MTN Sports. "(I keep) forgetting that I’m playing professional basketball just because that’s not really the way I look at it, but obviously I’m very fortunate to play this game for my career and hopefully continue to keep advancing."
The Missoula Hellgate High School graduate and former two-time Montana Gatorade player of the year has spent the past month as a member of the Raptors 905 in the new-look NBA G League season in Orlando, Florida. The G League, the NBA's developmental league, began on Feb. 10 and has been running a condensed schedule ever since.
For Tinkle, Oregon State's all-time leading scorer in men's program history, that means he went 11 months between official basketball games, from his career finale with the Beavers, a win in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament against Utah in 2020, to the Feb. 10 opener for the Raptors 905 against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In that first game, he suited up against Great Falls native Josh Huestis who plays for the Vipers.
So now, Tinkle and his peers are fully entrenched at the bubble in Florida. And for Tinkle, it signaled a new start after standout careers in high school and college.
"You’ve got to start over, low man on the totem pole but you’ve just got to keep that chip on your shoulder," Tinkle said. "Come to work every single day, that’s obviously something I’ve done my entire life and my parents instilled in me. Nothing is going to be handed to me. I have to earn everything and do whatever I can to make my impression stand out.
"I was just happy I was going to be playing basketball again."
Tinkle signed with the Raptors organization back in December after being initially signed and subsequently waived by the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto waived him immediately after signing Tinkle, therefore holding his rights if he signed a G League contract, which he did, allowing him to join the Raptors 905 when the G League officially found a date to begin the season.
It was a whirlwind from there. Tinkle stayed prepared in Oregon, but once he traveled to Florida, Tinkle was required to quarantine for one week in Tampa before traveling to Orlando, where the G League bubble is located on the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort.
There, Tinkle was required to quarantine for four more days before officially gaining clearance for the activities within the bubble. He said he killed time by reading and doing push-ups and sit-ups to get some form of activity in. A typical day for Tinkle in the bubble includes breakfast, film study, practice, shoot-around, lunch, a nap, then getting ready for a game if there is one that night followed by rest and recovery. A common leisure activity for players has been fishing when time allows.
On the court, minutes were hard to come by for Tinkle at the start of the season. The Raptors 905 were deep and featured Toronto first-round pick Malachi Flynn, as well as NBA veteran Nik Stauskas along with Tinkle's former OSU teammate, Gary Payton II. Forwards Henry Ellenson and Alize Johnson have also played well, so the team never lacked any depth.
Plus, there was the new experience of playing against older players as opposed to the college talent Tinkle matched up against on a nightly basis for five years at OSU.
Recently, Tinkle's playing time has increased drastically as the coaching staff has turned to the bench for more production. In turn, Tinkle took advantage of the extended opportunity and in three of the past four games has scored in double figures for the Raptors 905, including a 20-point performance on Wednesday against the Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers) and a 13-point game on Saturday against the Westchester Knicks (New York Knicks).
"I just stayed ready and then when my opportunity came, (I was) just trying to focus on the little things," Tinkle said. "That’s just one thing our coach and our staff are harping on to get minutes here but what the next level is looking at. They talk about two-thirds of call-ups come from winning teams. More times than not, it’s the guys who do the little things that get called up versus the guys who have all the points. You're not going to get called up at this league to go score 30, they've got guys doing that.
"I'm just using my basketball IQ and trying to play off others and see their game and where I can put myself in the game and in a position to succeed."
The Raptors 905 are currently 8-3 as one of the best teams in the G League. Tinkle has played in 10 of those games, averaging 14.3 minutes, 6.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1 steal per game. He's shooting the ball at a 44% clip from the field.
During his recent run of four games, Tinkle is averaging 26 minutes, 12.8 points, 6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Tinkle knows that there are still many trials to come if he wants to make the jump to the NBA. It's all about improving in every aspect of his game and continuing to take advantage of his opportunities in order to make that goal a reality.
"Just running guys off the (3-point) line, get in my gaps, diving on the ground," Tinkle explained. "Just trying to make winning plays and that’s really where I think I’m going to have the most success and I think that’s something I’ve done in college, is do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s going to be knocking down a shot, making a play, doing the dirty work. That’s really where I feel like I’ve excelled and it’s something I love doing.
"It's been fun and a little surreal for me but I'm starting to figure out we're here for a reason. Everyone that's in this bubble belongs here and everyone's got the same goal, so it's been fun to learn (from the older players). It's been great."