When the news broke that Rudy Gay was traded to Toronto as part of a three-team trade, Grizzlies fans weren’t sure what to expect. Many celebrated the addition-by-subtraction loss of what was perceived as a “black hole” on offense (myself included, but that’s beside the point), but many others were upset over losing one of the few athletic small forwards in the NBA that could be counted on for almost 20 points per game.
Whether or not Gay’s departure was a good thing for the Grizzlies, they went 27-10 (0.730) after trading him as opposed to 29-16 (0.644) with him. This doesn’t necessarily have a direct correlation to Gay’s presence/absence, but it is interesting. Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye were shipped into Memphis in exchange for Gay, and Prince was slotted into the starting small forward role previously held by Gay.
Memphis went on to go 8-3 en route to the Western Conference Finals, before being ungraciously swept by the San Antonio Spurs. In spite of the sweep, however, it wasn’t an end result to bemoan by any means–the Grizzlies had a good season.
But, how did Rudy Gay do north of the border? Was he either of the black hole or the athletic scorer that Grizzlies fans believed him to be for the Toronto Raptors?
Prior to adding Gay, the Raptors were 16-30 (0.348). After shipping out Jose Calderon and Ed Davis to acquire him, they went 18-18 (0.500)–a much more respectable record. It’s hard to dispute that Gay wasn’t a factor in the improvement given that he was one of the clear standout players on that Raptors team.
With the Raptors, Rudy Gay averaged 19.5 points (leading his team) on 42.5% shooting. The percentage wasn’t great and predictably, Gay was a heavy dosage of below average with his jumper. In spite of that, the points were points for a team whose closest thing to a go-to scorer before Gay had been a combination of DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. Efficient or not, the Raptors were just happy to get points.
Gay filled out his season averages with 6.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks–not outstanding in any field but definitely sturdy all-around numbers, particularly for a small forward.
Interestingly, Gay’s production immediately after the trade was mostly a result of hot shooting. There were a lot of pull-up jumpers that were made, which were the cause for a lot of his struggles in Toronto. Predictably, the percentage of those shots reverted closer to the mean. However, as that happened, the Toronto Raptors found a new way to deploy Rudy Gay in their offense–as an off-ball threat.
It wasn’t a sudden and effective transition. Gay continued to throw in stinkers here and there, and while lingering injuries were a factor, it was the inconsistency in Gay’s long jumper more than anything. It was the same inconsistency that Grizzlies fans had become all too familiar with for the better part of a decade.
And yet, Toronto found that Gay was well suited in moving off of the ball. The Raptors ran Gay off screens, and this got Gay open shots that he could convert, whether at the rim or from long range. Many of his threes with the Raptors came as catch-and-shoot shots and many of his shots at the rim came as the result of off-ball cuts. Watch the following examples:
Both plays see the use of screens to get Gay open. In the three-pointer clip, Gay doesn’t get the originally intended shot due to a good defensive deny from Corey Brewer. However, the point guard Kyle Lowry calls for a secondary screen, and this one gets Gay open quickly.
As an off-ball scorer, Gay looked much more effective than he did when creating for himself. Additionally, while he has begun to develop an identity as an off-ball player, it hasn’t completely taken hold yet. Toronto ran plenty of off-ball scoring plays for Gay, but it wasn’t the clear primary option for him. He played well with the Raptors for the most part, but he could easily revert to his old “black hole” ways next season, sucking up offensive possessions with low-percentage pull-up jumpers.
If one man’s opinion means anything, however, I felt that Rudy Gay looked natural as an off-ball player, and combined with a strikingly similar player in DeMar DeRozan, this new role could suit him well. When Gay left for Toronto, I was one of the ones who cheered to see his back. However, having watched Gay with the Raptors, I have to say that he does look to be a better player with a team that suits him well.
All in all, Gay looked like a pretty good fit with his new team. Both the Grizzlies and the Raptors have been better off so far since the trade, and time will tell if it will continue to be a trend. With a new GM, the well respected Masai Ujiri, the offseason could bear more change for the Raptors. If I were Rudy Gay, I’d be sure to consider what would be in my own best interests as a player with a new start in Toronto.