New year, new Gradey: Rookie's late-season breakout earns him a vital role in the Raptors rotation

It wasn't long ago that Gradey Dick was playing for the 905. Three months later, he finds himself as a centrepiece in a depleted Raptors starting lineup.
Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors
Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

It's no secret that the 13th overall pick out of Kansas had an underwhelming start to his rookie season. As a player who was touted as an NBA-ready wing with a picture-perfect jumpshot, it was jarring to watch as Gradey essentially shot himself out of the rotation in his first few months.

In November, Gradey shot a bizarre 20% from three, making only six of his thirty attempts. In addition, his lack of awareness on defense and his inability to create on offense made it impossible to justify heavy rotation minutes for the rookie.

As a result, the front office made the decision to assign Gradey to the Raptors G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905, to allow his feel for the game to develop while the team tried one last time to contend with the duo of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.

Flash forward to the present, where Gradey is back with the Raptors, averaging 10.6 points per game and shooting an improved 40% from three since the beginning of February. This increase in efficiency has resulted in Gradey becoming an important factor on a Raptors team that's desperate to carve out a winning identity.

As shown in the graph above, Gradey's three point shooting has steadily increased each month he's played with the Raptors until March, where his efficiency began declining.

To understand this drop in efficiency, we need to evaluate the context in which Gradey and the team are playing. Since March 2nd, the Raptors have been playing without their all-star forward Scottie Barnes due to a fractured metacarpal. The subsequent loss of RJ Barrett due to personal reasons reshaped the Raptors approach, forcing bench players into starters and ten-day players into rotation minutes.

Thus, Gradey has been playing an increased role, one that he admittedly is not ready to excel at yet. That's not to say he's performing poorly, but his increased priority on opponent's scouting reports has created a tough yet important challenge for the rookie to overcome.

Nevertheless, Gradey has shown remarkable improvement, not just as a shooter, but as an all-around player. At the start of the season, Gradey struggled adjusting to the pace and pressure of the NBA, his shot attempts were rushed and simple defensive reads were complicated by the anxiety of the big stage. Now that the Raptors are nearing the end of the season, Gradey has been playing the best ball of his young career, eliminating many of his early-season vices and playing with the composure of a 10-year veteran.

There's something to be said about the level of professionalism that Gradey has maintained through his journey. From being drafted 13th with sky-high expectations, struggling mightily and being sent to the G-League, to then being hoisted into an increased role due to unfortunate circumstances, Gradey embraced every challenge as an opportunity to learn.

"I’m going in with an open mind and just wanting to work on the things that I need to work on as I’m playing those minutes, and just play my game."

Gradey Dick

As the Raptors season winds down to a close, and the coaching staff prioritizing player development above all else, it will be interesting to see how Gradey's game continues to develop.

One thing is for certain, if Gradey maintains the desire to improve that has redefined his rookie season, the sky is the limit for his development as a key asset with the Raptors.

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