How newest NBA Jayhawks Dick and Wilson fared in their rookie year

photo by: AP Photo/Matt Kelley

Brooklyn Nets forward Jalen Wilson (22) drives to the basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C.

Toronto Raptors rookie wing Gradey Dick mustered his best scoring performance of the season in its final days, as he went off for 24 points — including six 3-pointers — last Wednesday.

That game happened to come against the Brooklyn Nets and Dick’s former Kansas teammate Jalen Wilson, who played 20 minutes that night.

It was the third and final NBA meeting between the two during the 2023-24 campaign, and the pair of former Jayhawks saw their rookie season come to a close over the weekend.

Both Dick, who entered with high expectations as a lottery pick, and Wilson, whom Brooklyn selected with one of the draft’s final picks, spent time in the NBA G League and took time to ease into the pros. But by the final month of the season Dick was averaging 30 minutes per game for his NBA club and Wilson 24, his highest single-month average on the year.

By Christmas, Wilson had played just 59 total minutes with the Nets, and by Feb. 6 he would muster only 47 more. But in one 30-minute appearance in a home loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 27 he showed what he could do given extended time, racking up a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double, despite shooting just 5-for-13 from the field, thanks to an 11-for-11 mark at the free-throw line.

Wilson, who was on a two-way contract, spent much of the winter playing for the Long Island Nets of the G League, at one point averaging 21 points over a seven-game stretch. After he tallied 17 points and 16 rebounds on Feb. 5, he was done with the lower league for the rest of the year. Three days later he played 40 minutes in his first career NBA start, a loss to Cleveland.

“I give him an extreme amount of credit for using his minutes wisely and putting it in my mind as somehow, some way I gotta put him on the floor,” then-head coach Jacque Vaughn said that day of Wilson, per the New York Post. “That’s what he’s supposed to do as a player, is put that in the coach’s mind.”

Wilson became more and more a part of the Nets’ rotation, even after Vaughn was fired in late February. On March 1, Brooklyn converted his two-way deal into a regular contract.

“Emotions were kind of all over the place,” Wilson said, per the New York Daily News. “This is something I’ve been working really hard for… It means a lot. This is the birthplace of my professional career, so it’s pretty cool to see how valuable people feel I am. Just a blessing to be here.”

Wilson scored in double digits in three of the Nets’ final five games, as many times as he had done so the remainder of the year.

As for Dick, the start of the season was a bit of a struggle. While shooting was the primary asset he was expected to provide early on, he was 11-for-44 (25%) from deep by the end of December, and had been uneven when playing for Raptors 905 in the G League. By the time the new year came around, Toronto had him on “a special program with his weights and conditioning.”

“He is going to be back with us and is going to be in the rotation playing,” Raptors coach Darko Rajaković said, per a USA Today article on Jan. 2. “He is the future of this organization, but he needs to check a couple of points before we really unleash him on the court.”

Dick described his physical growth to The Athletic in February.

“It’s just feeling right in your body and just being able to move well and have good energy and stuff like that,” he told The Athletic. “It’s not only just all being strong, it’s actually taking care of your diet and feeling energized out there. I think those are little things that I’m trying to lock in on — a lot of things I’m learning now that I probably didn’t know as much in the past.”

If not yet fully unleashed, the Raptors certainly had Dick on a longer leash by later that month, when he scored a career-high 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting in 30 minutes against the Pelicans. By the end of the month he had begun to catch fire, posting 18 points on three separate occasions despite playing 22, 22 and 23 minutes. During that month, he also managed to recapture his shooting touch and connected on 48% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

“I think that he went through all the phases that a rookie needs to go through, from being overwhelmed to really putting a lot of work in,” Rajaković said after one of those 18-point games, per Sportsnet, “to be able to play with 905 and he had extended minutes, find the rhythm there, but also stepping on the court for us and being able to see that all the work that he put in is actually paying off.”

While still inconsistent, Dick continued on the upward trajectory in the final months of the season, up until he averaged 14.1 points per game in seven games in April, including that career-best 24 point showing last Wednesday.

This year’s NBA Draft, slated for June 26-27, will bring in a new group of rookies. KU could have more players leap to the professional ranks, but freshman guard Johnny Furphy and senior center Hunter Dickinson have not yet announced their draft decisions.

photo by: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Toronto Raptors guard Gradey Dick (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2024, in Denver.


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