Welcome to our offseason series “Immediate Impacts.” Most rookies don’t provide positive value to their teams right out of the gate. But as we saw last season with guys like Jalen Williams, Walker Kessler and Keegan Murray, some rookies can help their teams from Day 1. We’re breaking down ways that members of this incoming class can have that very impact.
After failing to make it past their first play-in game against the Chicago Bulls and losing one of their best players, Fred VanVleet, to the Houston Raptors, the Toronto Raptors look poised to be the next team to blow it all up – a Raptor Rebuild, if you will.
But the Raptors don’t technically have to do all of that. Even though they lost “Freddy All-Star,” and the Pascal Siakam trade rumors keep swirling, they still have a talented nucleus that includes Siakam, OG Anunoby, Jakob Poeltl and Scottie Barnes. They have the top-end personnel necessary to compete in a questionable Eastern Conference. They just need to surround them with players that cover their weaknesses.
That’s where first-round draft pick Gradey Dick enters the equation. As someone who hasn’t even lived for two decades yet (he’ll be 19 at the start of the season), Dick can’t reasonably be expected to hit his ceiling as a player in his rookie campaign.
But that’s not what the Raptors need him to do. They need him to help fill in the gaps left by their core four. Which leads us to ask: Can Dick be an immediate impact player for Toronto next season?
Chief among the aforementioned gaps/weaknesses we hinted at above is outside shooting. Outside of Anunoby (38.7%), none of the four Raptors we name-dropped earlier shot over 35% from 3 last season. In fact, as a team, Toronto finished 28th in 3-point percentage.
Arguably, even more than past subjects of our series like Jordan Hawkins or Brandon Miller, Dick can straight up stroke it from downtown. Last season, Dick shot a higher 3-point percentage than both those snipers, canning 40.3% of his triples (5.7 attempts per game).
Dick is also equipped with a lightning-quick release. The kind that enables him to launch catch-and-shoot 3s off at a moment’s notice (he gets the ball in and out of his hands in .4 seconds in the clip below), which will make him the perfect conduit for punctuating on easy looks created by Siakam (much like Zion Williamson will do for Hawkins in New Orleans).
Oh, and there’s a reason why Dick’s 3-point volume was lower than Hawkins (7.7 3s per game) and Miller (7.5). When facing Dick, opposing teams were given a no-fly order by their coaches. And we’re not talking about the airport. We’re talking about teams being specifically instructed not to allow Dick to let it fly from downtown.
For what my money is worth, no player selected in the 2023 NBA Draft possesses more shooting gravity than Dick. And as the short video below demonstrates, that ability to warp defenses created more efficient shots for his teammates – something he can hopefully continue doing north of the border (because he is still allowed to fly on planes).
(Sidebar: While Hawkins and Miller both had their fair share of shooting gravity, I don’t think it matched the level to which teams tried to prevent Dick from shooting 3s).
With all that said, if you watched the Kansas Jayhawks last season with the volume up on your television, you undoubtedly heard the broadcast crew imploring listeners to understand that Dick was far more than just a marksman. And we’re here to tell you that those statements were facts.
Another thing Toronto’s fearsome foursome is deficient in (especially without VanVleet) is off-the-dribble creation (although that could change if Barnes takes a leap).
According to AutoStats tracking data, Kansas was in the 89th percentile in scoring efficiency last season on ball screens in which Dick was the ball handler. Now, considering the limitations in his dribbling skills, it isn’t wise to expect him to carry a high on-ball load right out of the gate. However, this number should serve as a promising sign of his ability to contribute offensively in areas other than shooting.
At this point in time, Dick can’t initiate offense at the NBA level in ball screens or via straight-line drives. What he can do is utilize his shooting prowess to induce the defense into hard closeouts that he can use to attack downhill. From there, he becomes a real-life Crash Bandicoot, aggressively driving closeouts to either finish at the rim (with either hand), pull up for a midrange jumper, or find an open teammate.
What makes Dick an even cleaner fit with this iteration of Toronto basketball is that he mitigates some of its flaws while also fitting in with its strengths. For as long as he’s been in charge, Raptors president Masai Ujiri has been fixated on the idea of lengthy athletic wings/forwards who can wreak havoc on defense.
Well, what do you know, Dick checks most of those boxes. While there are some questions about his athleticism, Dick has great size (measuring in with a nearly 6-foot-9 wingspan) and loves to use his God-given physical gift to disrupt the flow of his adversaries’ offense (just like God intended).
Dick finished seventh in the Big 12 last season with 52 steals and second in steals-to-turnover ratio at 1.16. On top of that, he’s not an obsessive gambler who compromises possessions while hunting for steals. He’s a fundamentally sound defender who understands team concepts and communicates well with his colleagues.
Take this seemingly mundane defensive possession we clipped below. In a matter of eight seconds, he navigates a ball screen, switches onto a bigger player, and scram switches with a teammate to avoid a mismatch in the paint.
He might not be a superb lateral athlete or a viable on-ball offensive creator (yet). But Dick knows how to leverage his length (and indefatigable motor) and defend within a team concept. And on top of that, he’s got one hell of an outside shot.
Those skills, along with the other attributes we’ve touched on during this examination, give him a chance to be a meaningful contributor to Toronto in 2023-24.
And if he can have one of the best immediate impacts of his class, it may be enough to derail or completely forego the plans for a Raptor Rebuild.