Sacramento Kings vs New Orleans Pelicans: Rudy Gay proves his worth?
By Ryan Rodriguez
The Kings exhibited great ball movement last night, as they pushed the pace and found open shooters and cutters for a 114-97 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. With the ball moving around the court with such crispness (2:1 assist to turnover ratio for the game), the Kings were able to score with ease, and no one else exhibited this better than Rudy Gay.
The Kings’ prize acquisition in the November trade was hot all night, dropping 41 points on 16-25 shooting (5-8 on threes), while chipping in 8 boards and 5 assists as well. This was by far Gay’s best game since the trade, as he showed his full arsenal of skills, especially in the passing department, where he did not serve as stagnant black hole, but rather making quick decisions in both the open court and the half court.
When the trade went down, I was pretty skeptical that Gay was going to come in and turn his game around from his days in Toronto, where he was shooting a ghastly 39% and seemingly having a new article come out by stat heads on how he was proving their evaluations correct. To be honest, I was right there with them, seeing a black hole who jacked up useless mid-range jumpers while completely halting the Raptors offense, a player who used over 30% of the possessions while on the court as inefficiently as possible (usage rate is calculated by how many possessions a player ends in a shot, foul drawn, or turnover). Most importantly, I was worried he was going to take opportunities away from Boogie and Isaiah.
Tom Ziller of SB Nation wrote a good article on Rudy the day of the trade about his correlation between usage rate and shooting percentage, showing how a usage rate of 25% seemed to be Gay’s magic number. Anything lower and he was relatively efficient, higher and he basically dropped off a cliff to his Raptor levels. As the first two months have played out, I couldn’t deny that Rudy was playing much better, from an efficiency standpoint, and then last week, Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry wrote an article on the study of Rudy Gay since the trade, and lo and behold, Gay was right at 25% usage rate and scoring at an efficient rate.
This leads me into last night, where Gay was the best player on the floor because he rarely forced the action with standstill, stop-the-offense mid range jumpers, and it was pretty sweet to watch. He started the game with a classic dribble, head bob 18-footer that he knocked down, and I had a small pit in my stomach going, “Here we go again.” However, Gay might have forced two or three more shots the rest of the game, as he chose to shoot the rest of his shots in the rhythm of the offense. He was decisive on each catch, whether it was on the perimeter or in the post, never letting the ball stick, being in constant attack mode and passing the ball when he saw cutters or sensed double teams.
A great example was at the start of the second quarter, when he shared the court with Jimmer,Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Quincy Acy and did not morph into ‘inefficient Rudy’. He started off with a quick catch and drive, attacking the Pelicans defense before they were able to set up, then on the next possession, he caught the ball in the left post, quickly scanned the defense and hit Jimmer at the top of the key for a wide open three.
He then got a put back off a Jimmer miss, before missing a three pointer off a catch and shoot look. In these 5 minutes, he played exactly like Rudy needs to play to be effective, and he used this spurt to propel his scoring the rest of the game. His jumpers all came within 2 seconds of him catching the ball the rest of the game, and the lack of hesitation served both him and the Kings well. Even when he had defenders close to him, the quickness with which he made his decision allowed him to shoot unaffected.
Lastly, I would like to touch on Rudy’s passing from last night. He did a great job, especially in transition, of finding cutters, by using pace to draw the defense in and then hitting people under the hoop for dunks. I know this doesn’t touch on his biggest flaw of holding the ball in the half court, but he just as easily could have used this pace to set up an OK mid range pull up; instead, he found even better shots for his teammates.
It is still early for an ultimate conclusion to be made on Rudy. It’s going to be tough for him to consistently shoot the 52% he currently is shooting, but it is encouraging that he has made it through 20 games so far without reverting to the ‘bad Rudy’ I thought the team was getting. Maybe the magic number is a 25% usage rate for Gay, and if so, he needs to be commended on adjusting his game on the fly. But at the very least, he is making the Kings think a little bit harder about signing him to a long term deal. (If I was the team, I wouldn’t ink him long term because it still stands that the Raptors and Grizzlies got better once he left, and I’d rather draft another big building block in this draft and roll with Player X and Boogie as the future of the Kings.)
Next game is tonight at Houston.