When the Memphis Grizzlies traded away Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors, it was perceived to be a cost-saving measure which would result in their offensive demise. Rather, the opposite has occurred and the Grizz have actually improved on the offensive end of the court.
Part of the reason is that Gay, while he has the ability to create his own shot, is also inefficient offensively. With Memphis, Gay had a paltry effective field-goal percentage of .438, and that has fallen to .406 with Toronto. His true shooting percentage was a diminutive .478.
Sometimes that can be forgiven if, in the process of taking those shots, a player also opens up looks for his teammates and shares the ball. However Gay’s 12.1 percent assist rate, along with the fact that his teammates shot better when he sat on the bench, indicate that Gay wasn’t doing that.
Throw in that he had a usage percentage of 25.5, and you come to the conclusion that he was perilous to Memphis’s offense.
Inefficient scoring on a quarter of the team’s plays while on the court, coupled with ball-hoggery, is a dangerous combination. It means Memphis was effectively wasting a lot of possessions.
Now, in the wake of his departure the Grizzlies have been leaning more heavily on their big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (as well as the newly acquired Ed Davis while Randolph has been injured).
The results have made it apparent that the Grizz are actually a better offensive team without the player formerly considered to be their best weapon.
Comparing their splits before and after the trade is telling. Per NBA.com/STATS, prior to the trade, the Grizzlies had an offensive rating of 100.4, with an effective field-goal percentage of 46.6 and a true shooting percentage of just 50.8.
Since the trade, they have an offensive rating of 103.2 with an effective field-goal percentage of 48.7 percent and a true shooting percentage of 52.4 percent.
Clearly, they are a more efficient team without Gay. So the question then is why?
A big part of that answer, both literally and figuratively, is Marc Gasol, who has seen a jump in scoring since Gay’s departure. He’s gone from scoring 13.7 points per game before the trade to 15.3 points per game since the trade, and in so doing has made himself the front-runner for first-team All-NBA center.
His scoring, passing, defense and rebounding are apparent in the video below.
Randolph, while sputtering at first without Gay, and having been injured for the last few games, has been playing better as well, averaging 16.9 points per game over his last 11 compared to 15.8 prior to the Gay trade.
The Grizzlies are relying more on their efficient big-man tandem, and that's having telling effects. But that’s not the whole picture.
The Grizzlies added two key players when they traded Gay: Davis and Tayshaun Prince.
Davis has been quietly effective. His effective field-goal percentage has been .587, the best of any player on the team.
Prince’s numbers aren’t any better than Gay’s, as he has an effective field-goal percentage of just .447 and a true shooting percentage of only .451, but his usage is significantly lower at just 15.7 and he has an assist percentage of 14.5.
This suggests that, unlike Gay, Prince is aware of his inefficacy, and is therefore looking to pass first, rather than take the shot first.
Prince isn’t using possessions any more effectively than Gay did, but at least he’s not wasting as many.
In effect, the trade means Memphis traded away bad possessions for good possessions. Shots formerly taken by Gay are now being taken by the more efficient Randolph and Gasol, and to a lesser degree, Davis.
The Grizzlies have been more effective as a result, and that is indicative in wins and losses as well. They are the hottest team in the NBA this side of Miami, having won 12 of their last 13 games.
Whether that will hold up in the postseason, when they may be pressed at times to get the ball inside to their big men remains to be seen, but at the moment it looks like the Grizzlies got a far better deal than just trading away money.