The Rudy Gay Bias

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Photo: csaveanu/Flickr

Let’s play pretend for a moment by imagining that I’m an employee at any old office or place of business. Say that I’m making $8 dollars an hour but I tend to disappear for stretches of the work day, get careless with my work now and then, and check my phone way too much. Oh, and I ask for too much time off. Yet, despite these bad habits, I at least show up and still get my required work done by days end, albeit slower than anyone else under the age of 65. It’s not likely that unless I steal or start no-call/no-showing frequently that I’ll get fired, so I’m more of an annoyance than a real problem. Besides, none of my coworkers or supervisors really care too much since I’m making so little, and therefore not really costing the company too much.

Now, let’s change the scenario up just a little bit. Let’s say that now I make about $18 an hour and still have the same irritating habits that I had making ten dollars less per hour. My coworkers might start to resent me a little more and may have a few more heart-to-hearts with upper management. With an increased salary comes heightened expectations, including better habits, work ethic and production. Needless to say that I would most likely not be long for that company if I were underperforming for my pay scale like that.

This brings us to new Sacramento King, Rudy Gay. For the second time in almost exactly one year’s time, Gay has found himself shipped out to a new city by a team looking to get out from his cumbersome contract. The wide-held perception on Gay is that he’s overrated and the conversation steers more towards the end of being a ball-stopping scrub. Yet, just a couple of years ago he was viewed as a useful wing player for the Memphis Grizzlies, and then in the summer of 2011 he received his maximum contract from him and everything changed. Suddenly the bar was raised as he went from making $3.2 million per year to $13.6 million per year and more in the subsequent seasons to come.

There is no disputing the fact that Gay has struggled since the 2012-’13 season. The perception of Gay has changed dramatically since he signed the extension although he had performed well in the seasons before and up to his rookie season. In the first season of his extension, Gay shot .455 percent on his way to averages of 19 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on a talented Grizzlies team. Yet, it was last year, the second year of his extension when his shooting began to slip and the criticisms escalated as he was dealt north to Toronto. Even through today he has continued to struggle with his shot, the real lone blemish on some otherwise respectable numbers. Clearly, Gay must be just another overpaid ball-stopper now and for eternity, right? Maybe, but it’s also very likely he isn’t a lost cause.

The disparity in his efficiency over the past 1 1/4 seasons makes you wonder what has changed so much from the rest of his career. Well, the first thing that stands out is his field goal goal attempts per game. From his sophomore season on Gay had always averaged between 16.1 and 16.7 shots per game, with his field goal percentage being higher the closer he stayed to the low-16’s. For what it’s worth, his True Shooting Percentage stayed above average in this time even though his three point percentage fluctuated, but he’s never been a knockdown shooter from that range anyway.

Though, when he was dealt from the Grizzlies he was taking 16.7 per game, which may seem negligible, but there was another trend that arose around that time: his Usage Rate also climbed. In Gay’s entire career he had never used more than 25.1 percent of the team’s possessions, but now he was up to 27 percent and would continue to climb up to 30.4 with the Raptors before he was dealt yesterday. To put that in perspective, LeBron James uses 30 percent of the Heat’s possessions and Kevin Durant uses 30.6 of the Thunder’s. Rudy Gay is a good player, but probably shouldn’t be using up the same amount of possessions as the game’s two best players. And the more possessions that Gay has used in his career, he has shot worse, especially these last two seasons. 

Lowering Gay’s usage may be the key to boosting his efficiency once again, and he will really have to in Sacramento to make this a mutually beneficial pairing. After all, DeMarcus Cousins is the league leader in Usage Rate and Isaiah Thomas is tenth. Only one other team has two players in the top-10 — the Thunder with Durant and Russell Westbrook — and no team has three. This pair Gay will be joining in Sacramento will arguably be the best that he has played with since Memphis, so maybe he will be able to take a step back and help the Kings strike that harmonious balance that will allow them to take that next step. If not, they just created a cluster lineup of high-usage players that will also include Derrick Williams and Ben McLemore, who has predominantly played on the ball as well this season.

If the Kings can find a way to balance out the touches for Gay back to levels of his 2011 production they can better the team and their new forward simultaneously. Really, it’s Gay’s efficiency that is holding him back from having a strong season. He’s averaging 19 points already, but also a career high 7. 4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. No one is going to sit here and tell you that 19 points on 18.5 shots is  good, but it’s stands to reason that he is capable of better shooting based on the sample we have of the majority of his career. If he can boost his efficiency by lowering his usage and he’s suddenly averaging over 20 points per game to go with his rebounding and assist averages, he immediately looks like a different player.

There’s no denying that Gay has struggled so far this season after a down year last year, which makes this even more concerning. However, Gay is just 27 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to rebound. It’s not as if he never has shot above 41 percent because he has for the majority of his career. It’s not even wrong to say that a player making almost $18 million per year should be shooting better than 38 percent because he should, but let’s not forget that based on the rest of his career that the last 93 games of his career vary drastically from the other 427. Sure, Gay struggled in Toronto shooting just 41.1 percent, but remember that he was a 47.7 percent shooter over five seasons in Memphis. A player needs to be used in right and the larger role in Toronto was not beneficial to him in that regard.

Nobody knows how well Gay will do as a King, but who knows how well anything will go? Look at the Knicks, Nets and every other disappointing team that we all thought would be better. There may be a lot of reasons that things could go wrong in Sacramento, but there are also a lot of reasons this could go right because Gay has shown to be a typical player. It’s just that when your perception is changed and expectations are raised or lowered we tend to see things as we think they should be and not what they are. Now, we are viewing Gay as a player not worthy of his pay grade because of his shooting (Although his other numbers are very good) and allowing that to skew our thoughts from underachieving to overrated. If Gay were to return to form, we would see him differently than we have since the beginning of last season. As humans, it’s doesn’t make this wrong, but it’s important to push passed that bias and keep things in their proper context. Don’t forget: Rudy Gay has been a good employee for just about the rest of his career.


Derek James

In addition to writing for Hardwood Paroxysm, Derek James covers the Minnesota Timberwolves for 1500ESPN in Minneapolis. Derek is also a co-editor for SB Nation's At the Hive-- the best Charlotte Hornets blog around. He often finds himself writing too many words on irrelevant players. Unrelated to LeBron James, but taught him everything he knows.

  • Kyle

    Great article. I really feel like Gay has been blasted – granted, probably a little fairly – by some high profile analysis/pundits and it has really hurt the public perseption of him. I think nearly any player moving off a Casey coached Raptors team should be expected to at a minimum regress back to his career mean. I think Gay has heard all of the criticisms put on him and will really focus on becoming a better team player with this new assignment.