With two starts under his rookie belt, Gradey Dick needs extended minutes

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With nothing to gain other than moving up one slot in the draft order — which would assure the Raptors of keeping their top-six lottery pick — there’s absolutely no reason why Gradey Dick should not start every game for the balance of this lost season.

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The rookie made his second start on Saturday night in Portland, when RJ Barrett was a late scratch, an evening that pretty much summed up the plight of this depleted unit.

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When Toronto tipped off its road trip in Phoenix on Thursday night, it started the game horribly before beginning to compete.
Against the host Trail Blazers, a similar pattern unfolded, only this time the game required overtime.

Still, a loss is a loss and Toronto’s 128-118 setback to a Portland team that had dropped nine straight at home represented the Raptors’ third defeat in a row.

Heading into Monday’s meeting in Denver against the reigning champion Nuggets, the Raptors have lost five of their past six games.
More losses will follow, which may not be so bad considering the Raptors find themselves one game up on Memphis in the draft order.

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The Raptors need to finish with a worse record than the Grizzlies to keep their top-six pick. If Toronto ends up with the NBA’s seventh-worst record, the pick goes to the San Antonio Spurs.

The consensus, according to many draft experts, is that this year’s class is not deep, but some unheralded prospect always seems to emerge.

The Raptors used their first-round selection (13th overall) last June on Dick, a freshman sharpshooter out of Kansas.

To say Dick’s rookie season in the NBA has been uneven would be to state the obvious. The proverbial deer in the headlight description would best apply to Dick, who mostly has looked overwhelmed and physically overmatched.

Recently, though, some encouraging signs have emerged. No longer does Dick look lost on an NBA court, or endure stretches when he isn’t making an impact.

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But it’s now incumbent on the Raptors to let the kid play as many minutes as possible and allow him to get off as many shots as he can within the flow of an offence.

The Raptors, after all, have nothing to lose, even though losing games will improve the team’s draft position.

By now, it’s abundantly clear this edition is not good and only against equally inferior competition can the Raptors win.
At 23-41, the team’s next defeat, likely to arrive as early as Monday, will officially guarantee the Raptors a losing record.

This isn’t exactly the Tampa Tank, which saw the Raptors end the 2020-21 season by going 2-10 and finishing with the seventh-best lottery odds. Courtesy of some ping-pong balls dropping the right way, the Raptors moved up to the No. 4 draft slot — and Scottie Barnes.
No one envisions a Barnes-like asset being available this June, but only time will tell.

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When Dick was selected, the Raptors felt they were addressing a need on a team short of long-distance shooting.
Shooting remains an issue, but the club must now find out what they have in Dick. It’s why he needs minutes, preferably playing alongside the likes of point guard Immanuel Quickley for extended stretches.

In Toronto’s loss to the Trail Blazers, who led by as many as 20 points, Dick played with energy, going 3-for-10 from the field, including 2-for-7 from beyond the three-point arc.

When the Raptors made their late-game push, it was Dick and Chris Boucher bringing that necessary edge.

The rookie relished the challenge, particularly late in regulation when he played fearlessly and confidently. He finished with eight points, five boards and two assists but made zero turnovers.

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Dick played a season-high 39 minutes, a number the Raptors should be aiming at, if not exceeding, for the remaining 18 games.

His shot was off, but he wasn’t alone as the Raptors began the night by missing their first nine heaves from distance.

The Raptors did not lose because of Dick’s play. They lost because their start was so bad and they had no answer for Deandre Ayton, who posted a 30-point, 19-rebound effort in his return from a five-game injury absence.

When overtime began, Dick was on the bench when he should have been on the floor. When he did re-enter the game, there was 2:10 remaining as the Raptors did not make their first shot until there were 30 seconds to play.

Play Dick and allow the chips to fall where they may.

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[email protected]

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