All is not lost: Rudy Gay as the savior

The Rudy Gay deal was the talk of the town throughout the Raptor community, with writers giving their two cents about all conceivable aspects of the trade. 17 games later, the waters have been muddied.

The waters have been muddied.

Brian Boake recently laid the smackdown on Rudy Gay as Toronto’s “savior”. It was a nice piece, but here I am to save the day for any believers left.

Before I start, I should mention that I was among the most enthusiastic proponents of bringing Rudy Gay to Toront, when the deal was but a rumour amongst many. I voiced my enthusiasm wherever I went, and when the deal was finalized I was naturally quite joyous. Rudy Gay is a great talent and I was optimistic that he would blossom into a true star with a change of scenery and a clear-cut leadership role.

Rudy started off his era in Toronto with a bang, hitting two game-winning shots in his first few games.

As Leo Rautins observed, “the swagger he’s brought to this team is undeniable” (yes, Rautins actually said the word “swagger”). He was scoring in the 20′s, the Raptors were winning games and the fans were realizing: something special was happening here.

However, this article is about Rudy Gay’s problems, as he has had his fair share of struggles since those first few electric games, and the internet has been abuzz with statistical complaints about him as a player. The numbers don’t lie: in 16 games as a Raptor, Rudy is shooting just 38% from the field (24% from long distance), and committing 3.1 turnovers per game. His player efficiency rating is 14.8, below the league average (15).

The most sobering thought, though, is that these numbers are not an anomaly but the norm for Rudy Gay. What if he is nothing more than an inefficient and turnover-prone scorer, all style and no substance? Is he worth the millions we’re paying him?

March 4, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Raptors small forward Rudy Gay (22) shoots the ball against Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (11) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Well, not at the moment. However, I will not waver from my believe that Gay has the potential to be the true star that leads the Raps into the playoffs in the coming years. He merely has to make a few adjustments:

1) Shot selection. This is by far the most important adjustment Rudy has to make because it affects all of my subsequent points. Rudy needs to start taking some makeable shots, for god’s sake. I kid you not when I say that after almost every shot that Rudy hits, Matt Devlin will go ballistic: “Ohhh Rudy Gay!!! What a shot!!!”. Now it’s cool that the shot dropped but when you add these instances up you get a clear conclusion: Rudy is making it too hard for himself to score.  The thing is, he has the length, elevation and pure stroke to take and make tight, off-balance jump shots or long, sweeping runners. If the NBA rules were based off of the game “H.O.R.S.E.”, Rudy would be rocking it; there are very few, if any, players that can sink some of the shots he does. However, just because he can make them doesn’t mean he should take them. If Rudy shoots a certain shot at 30% and some generic small forward shoots it at 10%, that’s great for Rudy but 30% is still too low to warrant attempts.

Now, how would Rudy go about getting better looks? After all, he is the star player and defenses are focused on him (which, it should be noted, is why DeMar DeRozan has enjoyed so much success since the trade. This factor cannot be discounted). Well, he needs to cut down on the isolation plays. Get up on the pick and roll, make off-ball cuts to the basket. Isolation stagnates the offense because the ball freezes, which allows the defense to better focus and organize itself. A bad offense is just players standing still and shooting; a better offense is players moving around and shooting. The best offense, though, is players moving around and the ball moving amongst them, and isolation restricts this. And when he does go one-on-one, he needs to take a page out of the Paul Pierce School of Offense – smart use of the body and smart movements, leading to easy looks and trips to the line.

2) Turnovers. Rudy’s turnover rate has been astronomical (again, 3.1 a game) since he came over, as I have mentioned numerous times on this blog. The only small forward to average more cough-ups per game is Kevin Durant, and he handles the ball a ton. What’s worse, many of them have come in critical fourth quarter possessions. How can Rudy cut down on his turnovers? The answer is related to shot selection: he needs to stop trying to do too much. If a double-team comes, pass it. Once you get into the paint, don’t go between the legs or attempt a bounce pass to a cutting Aaron Gray, who’s not even 100% on chest passes around the perimeter. And for goodness sake, Rudy: don’t travel!!! Travelling is indicative of a player trying to do too much. Just settle down.

3) Jump shot.Now, don’t let the numbers 38 and 24 fool you: Rudy Gay can shoot the basketball. If he couldn’t, I wouldn’t be selling him as an elite talent. He’s shooting 87% from the free throw line, and I am not surprised by this at all – poor shot selection is moot when it comes to

March 4, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Raptors small forward Rudy Gay (22) shoots the ball against the Golden State Warriors during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

free throws, because there are no defenders (duh, I know, but it’s an important point to make). So, when people say he’s a mediocre shooter I get irritated and start scowling a la Alan Anderson; he’s a good shooter who takes bad shots.

With that said, Rudy could improve the way he takes jumpers in-game, as I’ve noticed a few things about his shot pattern. First, when he misses, it’s almost exclusively long (especially when he shoots threes). Second, he puts a ton of arc on his shots. Third, he’s tall and gets such massive elevation that he’s releasing the ball from well above the rim. When you combine these three factors you get a ton of high bounces off the back rim, and if you look at a compilation of Rudy Gay missed threes, check how many of them fit this description. Now, Rudy does have the “shooter’s touch” (again, he is a good shooter), but I think some of this is dampened by the fact that he releases from high, shoots it high and shoots it hard. If Rudy started to shoot the ball a little softer but direct it straight towards the basket instead of up towards the ceiling, I think we’d start seeing those numbers climb to low-40′s for field goals and mid-30′s for threes.

Conclusion

With a few adjustments, I think Rudy Gay can become the elite player Bryan Colangelo knew he was destined to be. How will this happen? Coaching, I presume. Or, if Rudy reads this blog. If so, hey Rudy! Don’t mind the haters!

So, what do y’all think? What does Rudy Gay’s future look like when you look into your Raptor crystal balls?

 

Casey Sherman is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

Topics: NBA, Player Analysis, Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

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