PART 4 in a 5-part series on the five key questions about the Raptors heading into training camp.
For a rookie, training camp is the unofficial first day of school.
It may not be your first run with your new team. Being a rookie, you’ve probably been in the gym throughout September with a handful or even most of your new teammates, not to mention the Vegas Summer League and other runs, but training camp has the full coaching staff and the full roster together for really the first time.
For Gradey Dick, the 13th overall pick by the Raptors in June’s NBA draft, it’s one step closer to that NBA debut.
Dick will have plenty of eyes on him at training camp, not that he hasn’t already been under a microscope since the draft.
He was with a handful of his teammates in Los Angeles at the Rico Hines runs at UCLA. Those two-hours-a-day mini-game sessions have been instrumental in propelling Pascal Siakam to all-NBA status and the early indications from this past summer’s runs were Dick raised more than a few eyebrows.
Hines himself picked Dick out as one of the most interesting young guys, as did perennial league MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The praise didn’t stop there, though. The Trail Blazers apparently saw enough from Dick and liked enough that his name was appearing in the potential trade scenarios that have been coming out of Portland.
Unlike, say, the $7 million in salary a Thad Young would add to a deal to make the money work, the Trail Blazers were looking at the asset they would like to recoup in a potential Damian Lillard deal with Dick’s potential inclusion.
In any event, it seems that Dick has had a solid summer which only puts more of a spotlight on him when camps finally open Monday.
The hope would be that Dick is still in a Raptors uniform come Monday. He possesses the one skill this roster has been screaming for since the departures of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry.
Without those marksmen in the lineup, Toronto has been a bottom of the league team in terms of three-point shooting. In fact, the Raptors have been in a steady decline in that department since the 2019-20 season, when they shot 37.4% as a team from three which ranked No. 5 in the NBA.
The following year, 2020-21, the three-point shooting dipped to 36.8% (14th). In 2021-2022, it dipped again to 34.9% (23rd) and last season was all the way down to 33.5% which was the 28th-worst mark in the 30-team league.
Dick by himself isn’t going to fix that trend overnight, but he certainly should help.
In his 36 games at Kansas last season as a freshman, Dick shot 40.3% from behind the arc.
To put that in perspective, Toronto’s best three-point shooter last year — or at least most consistent — was O.G. Anunoby, who was good on 38.7% of his attempts. After that came Gary Trent Jr. at 36.9% and then the newest member of the Houston Rockets, Fred VanVleet, at 34.2%.
So, yes, Dick’s skill set will be in high demand.
The question that camp will answer is how quickly can Dick become a part of the rotation?
As much as the team needs his particular skill set, being good at one thing is rarely enough to keep a player on the floor.
He has to be able to fit with the other elements out there both offensively and defensively.
But in Dick’s case, the bigger factor is going to be how quickly he can get up to speed with the NBA game.
As solid as he was going from high school to his freshman year at Kansas, the jump to the pros is a much bigger one. The NBA game is not just faster and more physical, even the dimensions he’s been playing under have changed. In Dick’s case, the biggest difference will be the 23.9-foot three-point line, the college dimensions of which were 22.175.
It’s just under an extra two feet at the top of the arc and less in the corners, but it’s still a substantial step up.
At 6-foot-8, Dick is not a small man, but his frame remains slight compared to the men he will be facing in the NBA.
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All of which is to say there will be some adapting to do. To Dick’s benefit, he has always been a quicker learner and his basketball IQ is considered high, so finding a comfort level even in a different basketball game than the one he has been playing should not take long.
The Raptors historically have not been afraid to thrust a young player into a big role right away if they thought he could handle it. Pascal Siakam started the first 34 games of his rookie year when Jared Sullinger was injured in training camp. He didn’t remain in the starting rotation and spent a good chunk of the second half of the season in the G-League, but he held his own in those games early in the year and we’ve all seen what he has gone on to become.
No one is suggesting Dick should start, but it’s not out of the question he can get meaningful minutes in his first year and help provide some of that missing three-point shooting that has dogged this team the past four seasons.
A good training camp will go a long way to building that trust with the coaching staff and with management that can get him those meaningful minutes.