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Rudy Gay just wasn't the right fit in Memphis.
It should come as no surprise that the man who invented the popular PER metric ranks highly on this list.
John Hollinger was hired into the Memphis Grizzlies' front office not four months ago, but he’s already made one of the best moves of the NBA season in trading Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors. And while the deal was financially motivated at its center, you can be sure that analytics played a big role, too.
Honestly, it’s hard to overstate how much trading Gay helped Memphis. Not only did getting Gay’s contract off the books allow the Grizz to avoid a brutal luxury-tax bill, but it also helped to provide the Grizzlies offense with some much-needed spacing.
Though Gay has a star’s reputation, his production with the Grizzlies this season never came close to living up to that. He posted just a 14.2 PER during his time with the Grizzlies (you can bet Hollinger was paying attention to that one) and was one of the least efficient offensive players in the league.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Gay was the league's 281st-most efficient offensive player when he was with the Grizzlies this season, averaging just 0.85 points per possession (PPP).
To put that in perspective, if a team posted that kind of efficiency, they would easily be the worst offensive squad in NBA history, shattering the pace set by the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets and 1976-77 New Jersey Nets by over seven points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
The problem was that Gay, a woeful outside shooter, was taking a ton of deep twos and three-pointers for the Grizzlies (via HoopData). Memphis needed someone to space the floor for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but Gay certainly wasn’t the player to do it.
The newly added Tayshaun Prince, however, is a career 37-percent shooter from deep and a much more attractive option for a team as space-challenged as Memphis.
Throw in the fact that Memphis got a productive young big in Ed Davis, and the deal becomes an absolute robbery. But if you look at Gay as some more traditional thinkers would, the trade doesn't look all that good for Memphis.
After all, Gay is relatively young, scores a lot of points and has the size and athleticism to match up with players like Kevin Durant. Why would you want to trade a guy like that? Clearly Hollinger, one of the first to dive into analytics, didn't see it like that, but you can bet that a lot of other front office guys would have.
Hollinger told NBA.com’s John Schuhmann:
Rudy was a very good player but Tayshaun’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins certainly didn’t love the deal, but his team has gone 18-7 since then, and the long-term benefits speak for themselves.