NBA Analytics, Not Stat Sheets, Are Rudy Gay's Worst Enemy

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NBA Analytics, Not Stat Sheets, Are Rudy Gay's Worst Enemy
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Rudy Gay tried to shoot the messenger a few weeks ago, which makes sense, considering the fact that he's tried to shoot just about everything else this year.

The messenger, in this case, was a stat sheet, something the Toronto Raptors "star" banned from the locker room on account of its deleterious effects on team chemistry.

Per Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: "Gay sees the scoresheets as an unnecessary barrier to team unity or even a temptation to be more focused on what is best for the individual as opposed to what is best for the team."

Nice cover, Rudy. Everybody knows you're just sick of seeing your own ugly numbers.

The humor of the league's worst high-volume shooter wanting to exclude evidence of his inefficiency wasn't lost on the NBA community:

Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca has recently piled on, damning Gay as "the $19-million shadow of superstar on the roster that is choking out the sun and making the rest of the team ill."

Harsh, huh?

The fact that so many fans and analysts are seeing Gay for what he really is could be viewed as a sign of the rampant cynicism that marks a lot of NBA discourse. But that's not totally accurate. What's really happening is that observers of the Association are simply getting smarter.

It's hard to resist the glut of information that now populates every NBA website, and unless you're actively trying to avoid statistics, you can't really read about or discuss the league without referring to them.

It seems silly to talk about the "rise of analytics" these days; that's an outdated term—mostly because statistics have already risen. It's just that there are some change-resistant holdouts who like to pretend the numbers aren't important.

But as we get smarter, players like Gay become victims of that growing intelligence.

One of the easiest concepts to understand is that low-percentage shots are a sure way to kill a team's offensive productivity. Because Gay is so unabashedly in love with precisely those kinds of shots (long two-pointers and jumpers off the dribble, for instance), he's become a pariah.

In the past, the aesthetic appeal of Gay's pull-up shot would have shrouded its awful inefficiency. His startling length, quickness and athleticism would have defined him.

Now, we know enough to look past that superficial stuff to see that for all of his obvious physical talents, Gay is actually a player who hurts his team.

The numbers bear that out.

This season, the Raptors have scored 100.3 points per 100 possessions with Gay on the court, but have upped that number to 101.7 when he sits, per NBA.com. In addition, Toronto's effective field-goal percentage, true shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio are all better when Gay is on the bench.

None of those splits should be surprising, considering Gay is hitting just 38 percent of his 19.3 field-goal attempts per game. Only LaMarcus Aldridge and Carmelo Anthony fire off more shots per contest, and both of them do so at higher efficiency rates than Gay.

NBA.com
Rudy Gay's 2013-14 Shot Chart

Ugly numbers—and a broader understanding of their damaging effects—have led to growing restlessness in Toronto. Gay's stubborn, selfish play has infected the rest of the roster, killing ball movement and creating me-first players all over the place.

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun wrote: 

Basketball is a pretty simple game. You move the ball around, get opponents scrambling, you generally will get far better opportunities to make baskets. Gay isn't the only one eschewing team basketball, but he's by far the worst offender on this roster. He makes life difficult for himself and he's making his teammates less effective.

This isn't a new concept if you've ever played pickup hoops with a ball hog. When you're standing around, idly watching someone pound the dribble, you're definitely going to be more inclined to shoot it on the rare occasion you get a touch.

The Raptors are doing the same thing.

That's the problem with players like Gay. Not only do they hurt their team with their own individual play, but they also stunt the development of their teammates. Maybe DeMar DeRozan wouldn't be so shot-happy if it weren't for Gay. Maybe Kyle Lowry would look to dish more often on the pick-and-roll. Maybe Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto's best prospect, would get more than scraps on the offensive end.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Gay makes it almost impossible to play good team ball because his presence on the court means the rock invariably stops moving.

As evidence, consider the fact that the Raps register assists on just 50.1 percent of their field-goal attempts. That figure ranks third to last in the league, per NBA.com.

Gay's salary—and the self confidence that has come along with it—only compounds the problem. Because he's paid like a superstar ($19 million this season), it's not feasible for head coach Dwane Casey to demote him. Doing so would undoubtedly ruffle the feathers of his most expensive player, while also making it even harder to eventually trade him.

Grange asked Gay about the possibility of coming off the bench, leading to a response that was predictably resistant.

Gay said: "Me? Would I ever come off the bench? No. I think this team needs me in the starting lineup. Maybe on a different team, maybe in the long run...But here? No."

That's a shame because one of the last bastions for players like Gay is the bench. Guys who can't control themselves on offense still have a place in the NBA, as Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and, until recently, J.R. Smith proved. Placed in a role where all they have to do is score, these conscious-less gunners get to do what they do best without the complicating burden of playing team basketball.

They get to feel like alpha dogs, even though the sixth man role is really just a way to keep them on a leash.

Ten or 15 years ago, Gay's public image would have been vastly different. He would have been lauded as an elite talent, a 20-point-per-game scorer who was doing everything he could to keep his mediocre team afloat. Shooting percentages and net ratings wouldn't have entered the conversation.

Ron Turenne/Getty Images

We know better now.

Gay is the last of a dying breed: the low-percentage, high-volume chucker who quietly kills his team. There aren't many players who still play like he does. And those who do certainly aren't afforded "No. 1 option" status on their teams.

That's not to say a change is impossible. Anthony has gradually honed his game into a more manageable, but still trigger-happy package. And there's enough to like about Gay's skills to hold out hope that, someday, he'll "get it."

Maybe that sounds like a long shot. Maybe the odds of that happening are slim. But if we know anything about Gay, it's that he's eminently comfortable with low percentages.

 

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