LAS VEGAS — For RaiQuan Gray, less pudge means more production.
At least that’s what he and the Nets are hoping for. The young big man — a 2021 second-round pick who spent all of last season with G-League Long Island — has used the offseason to reshape his body and reframe his case for a spot on the roster.
His first statement was in the work he did to get in better shape. The next was a solid Friday night outing in the Nets’ Summer League opener in Las Vegas against the Bucks.
“He’s getting better and better and playing harder for longer,” summer league coach Adam Caporn said. “He was very active defensively. I made mistakes working really hard. … If he wants to play small five and be versatile, being in top form is huge. You want to play with the rhythm when you’re small, create opportunities when you step into gaps, and find people and be ready to pass.
Gray started Friday and recorded 23:17, scoring eight points on 3-for-4 shooting, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range. He had seven rebounds, two turnovers and a steal. Perhaps most auspicious (other than the more toned frame) was his four assists to finish plus-21, which tied the game.
“[He’s a] guy out of position for sure. His sense of the game, the pass, is elitist. As he gets in shape and continues to improve his shooting, he becomes a totally legitimate NBA prospect,” Caporn said. “[If] you can make a 3, you can make plays for others and make good decisions and because you can see the game he can really grow as a defender, really solve some problems defensively.
Technically one of seven rookies on the Nets’ summer league roster since spending all of last season in the G-League, Gray could compete for one of three training camp spots, or even the only two-way open.
And he agreed with Caporn that he is unclassifiable.
“I’m just a basketball player. I feel like you put me on the pitch, I can impact the game at any position anywhere,” said Gray, who played playmaker as a junior and senior in high school. “As long as I’m on the pitch, I can help my team. … I can play any position, anything.
Of course, at 6-foot-8 and 268 pounds, those head-guarding days are long behind him. But he was basically at the same weight when the Nets drafted him a year ago, and he’s clearly reduced his body fat and replaced it with more lean muscle.
” It’s summer. Just try to keep grinding and in training camp I want to feel good. My body has improved since Long Island. I feel good moving, I think I look good, so just try to build on that,” Gray said. “I went down from a size short, a shirt size of an XL to a large training shirt.”
“He did a great job with his body,” Caporn said. “He’s in much better shape, low body fat, he’s doing it and he’s doing it.”
For Gray, this was not an overnight process. This meant not only exercising, but also changing her diet and lifestyle.
“What I liked to eat, I can’t always eat that. … Just eat more vegetables, more protein,” Gray said.
The most difficult thing for him to separate? “Gatorade, honestly. Gatorade is just something you drink naturally, it’s high in sugar. So just replace what with electrolytes.
Gray’s conditioning was hampered last season by injuries, particularly a sprained toe that kept him out of running and sabotaged his cardio.
“Yeah, that didn’t help. There were times early on he could have done a better job. But that alone, he was on board for that feedback and learning, as he demonstrates now,” Caporn said.
“I couldn’t do as much, be as active as I wanted to be,” Gray said. “It was definitely a season of ups and downs. But I learned from it and grew, so I was grateful for that.