Gradey Dick is the perfect bridge between Siakam and Barnes

Gradey Dick is joining a team that desperately needs his skillset. How will he bridge the abilities of the two most important players?

Last year, the Toronto Raptors did not lack for talent. However, the relationships between those talented players were, in some ways, partially responsible for Toronto’s underperformance in 2022-23. While players like Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl all have some skills and abilities that complement one another, the fact that all three are non-shooting bigs means they require extremely specific contexts if they’re going to succeed together. Toronto failed to provide that situation -- until now.

Gradey Dick is the first step in the right direction. Selected 13th overall, he is an enormous shooter who moves incredibly well without the ball in his hands. He is the exact type of player Toronto needs to improve the situation around their most important players. 

So how will Dick look alongside Siakam and Barnes? What types of plays will they run together? How did Dick perform in those sets in college? 

Perhaps the most important component that Dick will provide is the simplest: He is a brilliant shooter. He has a high, fast release, and he doesn’t need any space to get off his shot. Toronto formerly employed three great shooters, and two are short, while the other needs a fair amount of space to get off his shot. Dick could be Toronto’s best shooter from jump street, particularly if Fred VanVleet’s catch-and-shoot accuracy remains good, rather than elite. He just doesn’t need any space at all; he's a zone-buster all on his own, even if the team has done nothing to shift the defense or create advantages.

Dick will offer that extra room to all his teammates simply by existing on the court. When he’s standing in the corner, the action in the middle of the floor will have more juice. When he lifts or sinks, it will force defenders to pay attention. Because his release is so damn high and fast, when he curls around a pindown, it will shift the defense a little bit more than when anyone else on Toronto’s roster does the same. That will all mean good things. Barnes and Siakam will have more space in the post, more room on the drives, and more time for their shots. It will be fractional, of course, but it will be real.

Those effects are broad and passive. There’s more, of course; the interactions between Dick and his star teammates will become extremely specific and active. 

Dick is an elite off-ball mover. He sets up like a wide receiver, chopping his steps -- it's very theatrical. He has terrific footwork setting up his shots, keeping his feet on balance during helter-skelter cuts so that his defender will still be moving when he’s set and catching. And even though he’s slow in terms of straight lines, with the slowest three-quarter sprint measured at the combine, he also recorded the fastest shuttle run. He doesn’t stop moving.

One of Dick’s pet plays is to use an off-ball screen to catch above the screen and pivot immediately into a one-dribble pull-up -- turning an off-ball screen into an on-ball screen. To twist the knife, he can do it moving to his left or his right.

If that screener is Barnes, it would annihilate the concept of a defender dropping against Barnes to clog up the paint. Dick would create a wide-open one-dribble triple at will as soon as a center started sagging off Barnes. Furthermore, he scored a ridiculous 1.18 points per shot on jumpers off the dribble, according to Synergy. That ranked 6th in PPS among 494 players with at least 80 jumpers off the dribble last year; of the five with higher PPS off the dribble, the second-tallest was 6-foot-2, while Dick is 6-foot-8. He’s another level of pull-up shooter, more or less incomparable to anyone in college. Dick’s presence alone should mean Barnes has to draw real defensive attention whenever he doesn’t have the ball.

And yet the Jayhawks did not score particularly effectively with Dick cutting with or without a screen. He didn’t play alongside any scorer as dynamic as his Raptor teammates, although teammate Jalen Wilson was selected 51st in the 2023 draft. Barnes and Siakam’s movement and scoring ability will give Dick more space. But some of the blame must lie on Dick’s own shoulders.