December 14, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay (22) during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 99-94. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In Defense of the Rudy Gay Trade

Between Daniel’s piece questioning the Rudy trade, and Kevin’s, analyzing Gay’s development on the Raptors, I figured it was time to just go ahead and wrap up this series and write up a defense of sending Rudy Gay to Toronto.

The main argument pro-Rudy-Gay-on-Memphis seems to be that he was a reliable 18+ points per game scorer who could be counted on to score in iso and clutch situations when the Grizzlies needed a go-to guy.

My problem is, I categorically dislike the “go-to guy” label for a number of reasons: one, a team shouldn’t ever need a go-to guy. Statistically, every team that continues to run their normal floor sets instead of iso plays in crunch time do better in the clutch than teams that try to run iso, ala Rudy Gay.

For examples of teams who run their sets in crunch time, see: the Spurs, Warriors, Celtics. The Nuggets were the number one team in clutch wins/FG% in every major clutch category despite not having a “star.” The Knicks were the opposite, and they shot the worst FG% in the clutch of any team in the playoffs.

So, having a “go-to guy” to run the offense through when necessary can almost be worse than not having one, in the sense that having one also leads to teams playing the iso hero-ball at the end of games out of instinct.  Not always (see, Spurs), but most of the time that’s the case.

And boy, was that the case for Memphis.

In the fourth quarter Rudy Gay took about as many shots as he took in every other quarter, and also shot about the same, if not worse, percentages (went from roughly 40% from the field to 39% in the fourth, 31% from 3 to a horrific 23%). So instead of being particularly clutch he played…almost exactly like he normally did. One important part of statistics is that most players will always regress to approximately career averages eventually, even in the clutch — even Robert Horry’s clutch percentages look almost identical to his career percentages.

The most important part of all of this, though, is how much iso play there was for Memphis in the fourth quarter. Per, in the fourth quarter during the Rudy Gay era, you can see increased indications of iso play from all the major 4th quarter players on the Griz. Z-Bo’s USG went from 22% to roughly 24%, while the assist rate went from 6.8% to 5.7%. Conley’s USG went from 19.8% to 20.4%.  Bayless’ USG went from 18.1% to 15.9% (to defer his play to the stars), but his assist rate went from 30% to 28%.

Rudy’s USG went from 25% to 26.8%, and his assist rate went from 12.3% to 11.7%. You see my point.

The noted exception being Marc Gasol, mostly because he’s a beautiful, large, Spanish, basketball savant.  His assist rate is sky high for a big man (17.3%?!?!?!?!?) and it actually goes up in the fourth quarter, while his USG goes down. He has the highest pure point rating of any front court player I think I’ve seen other than LeBron, and Marc is a center. The guy is a born passer and facilitator, and he knows to move the ball more in the clutch, even if everyone else doesn’t.

Sorry for the tangent, I just can’t help swooning sometimes.

But the upshot here is that towards the end of games when players got the ball, they were using the ball more, but when they were using it, they weren’t passing as often. They were shooting or turning it over.

They were playing iso.

And yes, the differences in the stats are sometimes small, but for most of the fourth quarter players play the same way as in the rest of the game which tampers with the “clutch” sample. The small changes are reflective of large changes occurring at the end of the game.

So: with the Grizzlies’ “go-to guy” in the game, the Grizzlies played inefficient iso ball more often, and thus everyone shot worse.  The team shot 42% eFG% in the fourth, down from 46% for the whole game.

I have a hard time seeing how that would have helped the Grizzlies in down-to-the-wire situations in the playoffs.

But then, even in the context of his added utility to the Grizzlies’ general game, Rudy was just not necessarily as important as some people like to think. His value is mostly attributed to his general scoring output of 18 PPG and his usefulness as a late-clock iso option when the Grizzlies had nothing else.

Unfortunately, he just wan’t really that great as a late clock (or even general) iso performer, and he didn’t do much to pull the Grizz out of offensive holes. In fact, he contributed to them.

So, firstly, Rudy shot 40% for the season with the Grizzlies, a number that borders on irresponsible when it’s coupled with a 32% three point percentage. If he’s only hitting 40% of his shots, he can no longer qualify as “reliable.”  His iso plays, apparently, yielded misses way more often than they yielded success.

Here’s his shot chart, by the way. Note the volume of midrange J’s, and his rate of success on them:

That’s not really a knock on Rudy either (none of this is, really), anyone has a hard time hitting in iso, and he shot better than Monta at least. He’s a good player in a bad system who is occasionally making bad decisions.

But then the other part is that the Griz scored much more efficiently without him on the team, and obviously had greater general success. Without him, the team won 73% of games and shot 48.4% eFG% or 52.5% TS%. With him, the Griz won 64% of their games and shot 46.6% and 50.2% eFG% and TS%, respectively.

It’s not a huge surprise why, in retrospect. Look at this picture of Grizzlies set pieces from the Rudy Gay era:

Look how cramped the spacing is on the bottom left example, where Conley, Marc, and Z-Bo are running a high-low play, as in Kevin’s analysis posted earlier. Rudy, Z-Bo, Marc, and Conley are all bunched in the same space to start the play, and at no point is Rudy expected to move. Any player could, and did, easily help off of Rudy to double Conley or Marc and crash the play without Rudy being able to shoot that three well enough to punish.

Then look at the top left play, and notice that Rudy is stationed in the exact same place as in the play below.

The idea, I’m sure, was to put Rudy in an easily accessible iso location for bailout passes in the case that the play went awry.  This is bad for two reasons: one, it’s terrible spacing for most things basketball related, and two, it creates a self fulfilling prophecy.

Because the spacing is so bad, the play doesn’t work out then the bailout has to happen, which just reinforces the idea that the Grizzlies need Rudy Gay in the case of bailouts being necessary.

Finally, look at the last play, the big one on the right. The fact that this is the only play that features Marc facilitating at the elbow is telling: that’s basically been his main role since the Rudy trade, and he excels at it. But also look at how Rudy has to move to Marc’s position, cramping his spacing and ability to easily spread the floor with a pass.

How many of those plays ended in a dribble handoff to Rudy Gay for a midrange J when they should have gone like this?

The organization’s (Hollins, front office, however) insistence on Rudy’s positioning was really damaging to the team’s ability to run plays the way they really needed to run plays.

Taking Gay out of the equation allowed Marc to really develop his facilitator identity to it’s ideal peak, letting him post up at the elbow and move the ball around from there. Watch Memphis spread the floor around Marc, here, where he finds Bayless in the corner:

With Gay still on the team, this play never happens. Marc never develops his fullest sense of who he is as a playmaker as much as a scorer and inside presence. The Grizzlies don’t flourish the way they did this season.

The Grizzlies didn’t really need him as a late-clock bailout situation, because having that bailout option — which wasn’t ideal to begin with by percentages — hindered the Griz’s ability to find their truest identity.

Now, Rudy is certainly not a bad player. He made bad decisions on Memphis, to be sure, but he’s finding his role and best self over in Toronto. Check out this piece if you want to get a better sense of that. But Rudy was a bad player for Memphis, and that was exposed over the course of the trade.

Tayshaun has not really been the best replacement wing, but the Grizzlies have played better basketball as a result of him being there, and that’s important.

My name is Tim Brown, and I endorse the Rudy Gay trade.





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