LAS VEGAS — Once you get past the ruby tribute to his home state’s most notable cultural export on draft night, and once you get past the dorky/viral TikTok videos, Gradey Dick is a bit of a basketball nerd.
Both at his introductory press conference and when the Raptors opened their NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas, Dick mentioned that he needed to work on his “pace.” Dick is primarily a shooter, not a guard or much of a secondary playmaker for others. Other than running out to the wings in transition, Dick isn’t really responsible for how fast the Raptors move.
That’s not what Dick meant, though.
“Maybe that’s what I’m talking about right now,” said Dick Athletics on Thursday, the day before the Raptors opened the Las Vegas Summer League, “it’s just the pace of getting away from the screen. I go to an open place where I can slow down and slow the game down for me and just make it easier.”
For a guy who doesn’t turn 20 until November, that’s a pretty advanced understanding of his craft: You have to speed up to get open, so you can slow down to find your balance as a shooter.
It didn’t pay off in summer league with his top skill, the one the Raptors dealt him for at the end of the lottery in June. Dick struggled to get free and many of his jumpers were wayward. The shooter was as advertised, but the clean look was in short supply. Dick is shooting just 8-for-25 through two games in Vegas and 3-for-12 from deep. Dick admitted his 5-on-5 conditioning needs work after going through so many 1-on-0 practices heading into the draft.
However, the reasons experts said the Kansas kid is more than just a shooter were clear.
Dick has a knack for being in the right place. He is very active on the offensive glass, with a special ability to follow up on his own misses. He had a tip-in against the Bulls on Friday, and created second chances on his own foul shots twice against Cleveland. He also uses his gravity in several ways: as a cutter and with his pump fake. Let’s just say that the summer league version against the Raptors, like many recent versions of the club, lacks the spacing to fully exploit it often.
His cuts resulted in a lot of turnovers where the Raptors’ spacing wasn’t ideal. He used his pump fake, something teammate Markquis Nowell encouraged him to implement, to get teammate DJ Hogg an open 3 against the Cavs. While he won’t be asked to create much with the real Raptors, it’s good to know the instincts and skills are there to become a secondary playmaker eventually. He led the Raptors with eight rebounds and four assists against the Cavaliers.
“He has an all-around game. I know he came in as a shooter.” Raptors assistant coach and summer league coach Pat Delany said Sunday. “That’s what he does. That’s his strength. But I also think there are other things he does offensively as well – the passing, the cutting, the movement without the ball.”
He is also defensively aware, if not ready for the physicality that will necessitate. He’s going to get beat up on the glass and in one-on-one matchups as he’s just not strong enough yet to hang with pros. He is notably smaller in build than even similarly shooting-focused players such as Chicago’s Nate Darling and Toronto’s Joe Wieskamp. But it would be surprising if he often looks lost. He even blew up a play against the Cavaliers that stayed connected when his man cut across the court and the pass was eventually thrown out of bounds.
“I mean, that’s what I do,” Dick said Friday. “‘I try to bring 110 percent, so I’ll find my way on the floor with random things, either just trying to make a layup or diving to the floor for a loose ball. But it’s not really too much of a change. But I I think what’s beneficial for me was playing in the Big 12 last season where I went above that level of competition. And I just know there’s going to be a whole step up with grown men out here.”
Dick will need to contribute in other ways to keep earning opportunities on the floor, though it’s fair to expect this year’s coaching staff to allow young players to make a few more mistakes than last year’s. But Dick obviously needs to make sure his money skills translate more often than not for the Raptors. That’s the biggest reason the Raptors picked him.
He is promisingly not easily deterred.
In fact, he followed up a wayward foul on Friday by drilling one in transition and did something similar Sunday. After taking a hard 3 off a screen at the top of the key, he moved to get an elbow 3 off the offensive rebound.
He will need that this year. He made just three 3-pointers in 24 minutes against Cleveland, and he needs to pick up his shooting frequency. Dick said he takes a lot of practice with heavy competition on his shots, and it’s easy to imagine the volume going up.
“I want to take the challenge head-on first,” Dick said of showing other facets of his game instead of waiting for the coaching staff to ask him to diversify his game. “And I’m glad I have those kinds of responsibilities coming in as a new guy.”
(Photo: Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)