Former KU wing Gradey Dick impresses at end of ‘crazy’ rookie season with Raptors

One of the bright spots of the Toronto Raptors’ just-completed 25-57 season had to be the emergence of lottery pick Gradey Dick as a promising, bonafide NBA player.

“He’s progressed the most as a rookie — easily — on the court, as anyone I’ve seen,” 14-year NBA veteran Garrett Temple of the Raptors told in a recent interview. “His game play, his ability to accept coaching and put it into play, the defensive things that he’s able to do now versus what he was able to do to begin his season. ...

“On court, he’s been even more impressive than just off-court in my opinion because he progressed so much and I’m really proud of him for that. He’s going to be a player in this league, no question. He’ll be fine in this league for a long time.”

Wichita native Dick was selected by Toronto with the No. 13 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft after a one-and-done season at Kansas. He had so-so stats (8.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists per game) in his rookie season, which ended Sunday.

However, he came on strong for the Raptors in the season’s final month, scoring in double figures in 10 of their last 12 games and 15 of their final 22.

Dick, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound, 20-year-old shooting guard, played in seven games in April. In that span, he averaged 15.4 points and 4.6 rebounds on 44.8% shooting from the field (and 41.2% from 3-point range).

He scored a career-high 24 points against former KU teammate Jalen Wilson’s Brooklyn Nets in the Raptors’ final home game of the season on April 10. He hit nine of his 20 shots and drained a season-best six 3-pointers in 14 attempts.

That fantastic finish to his first NBA season helped Dick erase the memory of a slow start as a professional basketball player.

Dick — he hit 36.5% of his 3s on the season — was 11-of-44 (25%) from beyond the arc at the start of the new year. He’d played in 21 of the team’s first 42 games, logging 20 minutes or more just five times. He spent a lot of time in the G League during those first couple months of his rookie campaign.

Dick has played in every game for the Raptors since Jan. 20 and started 13 of their final 15 games.

“It was definitely crazy. It feels like it was a flash,” Dick said of his rookie year in his season-ending exit interview with reporters on Monday. “The season was a blast. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It had its ups and downs, like any season does. I’m thankful that I’m here.”

He took his early struggles in stride. Remember, he doesn’t turn 21 until Nov. 20.

“I think it was just coming into a new thing. Honestly that’s probably the most I’ve dealt with and struggled with in one season,” Dick said. “I think it taught me a lot about myself. I always go back to the coolest thing my parents said, was, ‘Without struggle your story is not being told. If you can’t fight through that and be resilient then what makes a good story?’ Kind of going through that and being resilient, getting comfortable out there taught me a lot about myself,” Dick added.

Dick actually was prepared mentally for the slow start to his pro career.

“I thought it was going to be hard pretty much the whole time,” said Dick, who was a teammate of former KU wing Ochai Agbaji through the last several weeks of the season (Agbaji was traded from Utah to Toronto on Feb. 9).

“I keep saying (it was a matter of) getting comfortable with it,” Dick continued. “I think it’s repetitions, being in game situations. I’m so thankful Darko (Rajakovic, Raptors coach) gave me the opportunity to be in those situations. When I had those opportunities I wanted to make the most of it and stick with the rotation. I feel I did a solid job at that. Obviously I will have better knowledge of what to do in the next season,” Dick noted.

Rajakovic, who just completed his first season as coach of the Raptors, has told Dick what he must work on between now and the start of the Kansan’s second season in the league.

“Besides the obvious one that he needs to work on his body,” Rajakovic said earlier this week in his own exit interview with Raptors media. “He’s 20. At the beginning of the season I said he looks like he’s 16. Then he looked like he was 16 1/2. Now he looks like he’s 17.

“There’s a natural thing that’s going to happen just him getting older. His body is going to fill in,” Rajakovic said. “There’s a lot of work to be done for him to get stronger to withhold the contact better and to be more physical on the defensive end, as well.

“I think that’s the No. 1 thing for him. I felt his progression in playing from corners, getting shots, the reads and cuts, driving from that area of the floor is something he did a really good job of. In the offseason we’ll look to put him in different situations he can play out of and continue to grow in that aspect as well,” he added of driving to the goal for buckets.”

Dick is looking forward to spending a lot of time this offseason in Canada, where he has remained a fan favorite all season long. In fact, Dick was the player the Raptors chose to grab the microphone and speak to their fans before that final home game of the 2023-24 campaign.

He is a symbol of hope for the future for a team that dropped 23 of its final 26 games.

“It means everything,” Dick said of the support. “I don’t think I’d get as much love anywhere else than here, in Toronto. The people welcomed me and my family from day one.

“I remember coming in and seeing my big picture on the arena. I think that was the coolest thing. It was genuine. I walk out and people are not begging for pictures, but are like, ‘If you have time, can we take one?’ It was my first look at the Canadian love and support. I wouldn’t want to be in any other city than this.”