Known as an inefficient, overpaid player the last few seasons, Gay is now with the Sacramento Kings and has won over his coach, teammates, fans and even critics with improved play since his departure from Toronto in December in a seven-player trade.
Coming out of the All-Star break, Gay’s perception around the league sure has changed.
With talented new teammates such as DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, Gay is shooting the ball less, scoring more, and has been a good teammate. Rookie coach Mike Malone jokingly gave himself credit for Gay’s success with the Kings, but really it has been Gay who embraced being put in the right situation.
“I give Rudy a lot of credit,” Malone told SheridanHoops. “Everybody wanted to jump on the analytic bandwagon that Rudy is one of the most inefficient players in the NBA.”
That bandwagon was filled to capacity earlier in the season, and Gay was fairly blamed for Toronto’s problems going back to last season when he was acquired from Memphis. The criticism of his inefficient and volume shooting was so vociferously persistent that he banned stat sheets from entering the Toronto locker room.
Gay just didn’t fit well with the pieces first-year general manager Masai Ujiri had assembled in Toronto, and was dealt to the Kings on Dec. 9.
To see the improvement Gay has made in Sacramento is almost unbelievable.
|Gay||Minutes||FG%||3FG%||PPG||RPG||APG||PER||eFG %||O Rate||D Rate||WS/48|
Gay is taking 3.7 fewer shots per game with Sacramento than he did with Toronto, but his field goal percentage is up 11.7 points. He is scoring an amazing 19 points per 100 possessions more with the Kings than he was with the Raptors.
“For the most part, coach has put me in the right situation to be successful and I’ve tried to take advantage of it,” Gay told SheridanHoops.
Malone and Kings management wisely decided to overlook Gay’s struggles in Toronto and focus on the success he had with the Grizzlies.
“We looked at Rudy as a whole picture,” Malone said. “We looked back to his time with Memphis where he played with a very talented front line, and we felt the combination of he and DeMarcus playing inside and out would be a potent combination and has proven to be one so far.”
With Cousins playing the Marc Gasol role and Thomas serving as Mike Conley, Gay’s PER and win share values have skyrocketed in Sacramento. Cousins, Gay and Thomas are the only trio of teammates averaging 20 points per game this season, remarkable when you consider only 18 players in the league have reached that threshold.
“There’s been a bunch of games where he’s been hot and has made big plays for us,” Kings forward Jason Thompson said. “When you see the ball go in and see it in the type of system that we have, then you have more confidence.”
Veteran Carl Landry said that Gay’s comfort level on the Kings is an important part of his success.
“He accepts his role. He’s aggressive,” Landry said. “He’s taking good shots, he’s not taking poor shots. And Isaiah and DeMarcus are doing a good job of drawing a double-team and hitting him for easy, open shots.”
“He’s starting to learn the system with us and we get him the ball a good amount of the time and get him in the spots he wants,” Thompson said.
In January, Gay’s first full month with the Kings, he shot 57.5 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from 3-point range, both blistering numbers. That’s an incredible month for any player. Check out the shot chart below.
But Gay is not just scoring for the Kings. He is attracting defensive help and finding the right guys on the floor to facilitate the team’s other offensive dynamos.
“If a guy is coming at him, he knows how to distribute the ball to his teammates,” Thompson said.
The lineup of Gay, Thomas, Cousins, Thompson and Marcus Thornton has outscored opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions, by far Sacramento’s best lineup among five-man units that have played more than 100 minutes together.
Having Gay in concert with Sacramento’s starters has clearly paid dividends. The trio of Gay, Thomas and Thornton have outscored opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions. Gay, Thompson and Thornton are plus-12.6, and Cousins, Thornton and Gay are plus-11.2.
Thornton pointed out that Gay is still getting familiar with his teammates, so he may even improve his efficiency from his current gaudy numbers.
Thompson said that Gay, Thomas and Cousins know each other’s preferred shooting spots on the court, which is paying dividends.
“For a guy to play the 3 position and shoot almost 53 percent, that’s unheard of,” Landry said. “And hopefully he could continue to do so for the remainder of the season and we could turn some of these losses into wins.”
Sacramento is still in last place in the Western Conference and 13-22 since it traded for Gay, but Malone had only positive things to say about the trade.
“We feel like we’ve gotten a steal from that trade and we only hope that he’s a Sacramento King for many many years to come.”
Teammates love Gay’s upbeat, positive personality and said he was quick to acclimate to the team.
“Off the court, he’s funny, cracks jokes. Good guy to be around,” Thornton said. “On the court, he’s a good player. Any time you get the chance to play with a guy like that, it’s great.”
Gay has a $19.3 million option for next season. He could pick it up. Or he could opt out for a multi-year contract at a lower annual number that would help both him and the Kings.
Regardless of what he does this summer, Gay has been a revelation in Sacramento. He has dramatically changed the perception of many of his critics and turned around his oft-criticized career.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for Sheridan Hoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.