LAS VEGAS — For RaiQuan Gray, less pudge means more production.
At least that’s what he and the Nets are hoping. The young big man — a 2021 second-round pick who spent all of last season with G-League Long Island — has been using the offseason to reshape his body and restate his case for a roster spot.
His first statement has been in the work he has put in to get in better shape. The next was a solid outing Friday night in the Nets’ Las Vegas Summer League opener versus the Bucks.
“He’s getting better and better and playing harder for longer,” summer league coach Adam Caporn said. “He was really active defensively. Made some mistakes really working hard. … If he wants to play some small-ball five and be versatile, being in great shape is huge. You want to play with pace when you go small, create opportunities when you get in the gaps and find people and be ready to pass.”
Gray started Friday and logged 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) were his four assists to finish plus-21, which tied the game high.
“[He’s a] positionless guy for sure. His feel for the game, passing, is elite. As he gets in better and better 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 decision 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 he spent all of last season in the G-League, Gray could be competing for one of three training camp spots, or even the single open two-way.
And he agreed with Caporn that he’s impossible to pigeonhole.
“I’m just a basketball player. I feel like you put me on the court, I can impact the game at any position anywhere,” said Gray, who played point guard as a junior and senior in high school. “As long as I’m on the court, I can help my team. … I can play any position, anything.”
Of course, at 6-foot-8 and 268 pounds, those lead guard days are long behind him. But he was listed essentially at the same weight when the Nets drafted him a year ago, and he clearly has lowered his body fat and replaced it with more lean muscle.
“It’s the summertime. Just try to keep grinding and by 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 a short size, shirt size from an XL to a large practice jersey.”
“He’s done a great job with his body,” Caporn said. “He’s in a lot better shape, low body fat, works through it and he’s doing it.”
For Gray, it wasn’t an overnight process. It has meant not just exercise, but also changing his diet and his lifestyle habits.
“What I liked to eat, can’t always eat that. … Just eat more vegetables, more protein,” Gray said.
The toughest thing for him to part with? “Gatorade, honestly. Gatorade’s just a thing that you just naturally drink, has a lot of sugar in it. So just substituting what with electrolytes.”
Gray’s conditioning was held back last season by injuries, particularly a sprained toe that kept him from running and sabotaged his cardio.
“Yeah, didn’t help. There were moments early he could’ve done a better job. But that alone, he was on board for that feedback and learning, as he’s demonstrating now,” Caporn said.
“I couldn’t do as much, be as active, as I wanted to,” Gray said. “It was definitely an up-and-down season. But I learned from it and grew from it so I was grateful for it.”