Rudy Gay has been a Toronto Raptor since being traded from the Memphis Grizzlies on January 31. The impact he has had on his new team could hardly be greater. The Raps have won 7 of 10 games following his arrival, and have renewed fans’ hopes of a trip to the post-season for the first time in five years. Speaking of fans, there are more of them – four of the Raps’ last seven home games have been sell-outs. With Rudy in the lineup, can the Raps continue their upswing?
Feb 22, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay (22) celebrates after scoring a basket against the New York Knicks at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Knicks 100-98. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
To win consistently in the NBA requires a balanced attack. The best teams feature a big-small pair (or more) of players who can score. (A few examples: Indiana [Roy Hibbert, Paul George], San Antonio [Tim Duncan, Tony Parker], Los Angeles Clippers [Blake Griffin, Chris Paul]). Our highest-scoring “true” big man is Amir Johnson, who’s a wonderful asset but not a consistent threat on the block, particularly since the departures of Jose Calderon and Ed Davis.
Raps followers like Yours Truly can remember the Dinos having a low-post offense. The late ’90s teams featured Kevin Willis and Antonio Davis, both of whom could score one-on-one against the opponents’ big men. More recently, Andrea Bargnani’s failed stint at the center position saw him trying to back down his man, but AB lacks the strength to push his defender away. With no one else on the roster able to fill the vacuum, the Raps have become a perimeter scoring team.
The Raps’ top scorers are Rudy and DeMar DeRozan. Seeing Rudy take the ball inside against the Knicks was encouraging, but he is primarily a volume shooter from outside. DeMar’s game has improved greatly this year as he consistently attacks the basket and has taken by far the most free throws on the team as a result. While DeMar’s mid-range jumper is effective, his shooting from distance remains a significant weakness. Rudy’s shooting from beyond the arc is likewise far from satisfactory at barely over 30 percent. The Raps’ other scorers of note, Kyle Lowry and Alan Anderson, are solid from distance.
Feb 20, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) battle for position on a free throw at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The most important player for the Raps over the medium to long term is Jonas Valanciunas. He’s the only big man who appears to possess the requisite strength, athletic ability and desire to become an inside scoring force. Should he develop to the degree the Raps hope, it will help our outside shooters enormously by spacing the floor for them. It’s so much easier to drain a jumper when you don’t have an opponent’s hand in your face, at the end of the shot clock.
Can the Raps win with their new and improved lineup featuring Rudy Gay? Yes, if they continue to defend well. Since Rudy’s arrival, the Raps have allowed their opponents to reach a century only twice (and once was a victory, against Denver). Rudy,while average at best on man-to-man coverage, is a solid rebounder for a small forward.
At this moment, there’s neither personnel nor opportunity to build a new offense based on an inside-out game, so unbalanced scoring will be the norm. Our roster matches up well against most teams, save the NBA’s elite squads. With Big Shot Rudy on hand, we can win those tight games we were losing in the early season. The playoffs remain in view.
Brian Boake is a co-editor 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.