He needed just over a month to make history with the Sacramento Kings.
The eighth-year veteran pumped in a season-high 41 points (on 16-of-25 shooting, 5-of-8 from distance) to go along with eight rebounds and five assists in Sacramento's 114-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. He joined Chris Webber as the only players in franchise history to record at least 40 points, eight boards and five assists in the same game (Webber did it twice during the 2000-01 season).
It might have been his "Mona Lisa" box score, but the truth is Gay's been putting together works of art throughout his Sacramento stay.
Things may only get better from here.
Gay's played the villain role for the analytical crowd long enough. He's finally in the right setting to rewrite his hoops story the way he wants to tell it.
Out of the Spotlight
Admittedly, the lights of the basketball world don't shine the brightest in any of Gay's basketball homes.
But the bulk of attention available in Memphis and Toronto fell on his shoulders.
Gay shared the spotlight with Zach Randolph in Memphis, although both missed significant stretches with injury. His teammates in Toronto either weren't ready for a starring role (Jonas Valanciunas) or didn't show the consistency needed to man that spot (DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry).
Not only did Gay need to carry the torch, but opposing defenses also knew he'd be the one picked for the job. True double teams didn't always come his way, but the full attention of the defense did.
He's no longer the first name to show up on an opponent's scouting report and might not even be the second. He hasn't found many wins in Sacramento (yet), but he has found a productive pair of teammates unlike any he'd had before.
Since Gay joined the fold on Dec. 13, the Kings have unleashed one of the most potent three-headed monsters in the business, via NBA.com.
|Talented Trio: Sacramento's Big Three By The Numbers|
Not only do the Kings have three top-shelf scorers, but all three players bring something completely different to the floor.
DeMarcus Cousins is the best back-to-the-basket scorer in today's game. He's unfairly coordinated for having 270 pounds to throw around, throwing a ferocious blend of force and finesse at the defense.
He's comfortable living on the low block, but just as dangerous out to the elbow. He has the vision to find help from anywhere and the handles to run his own fast breaks if he needs to.
Gay is a tweener in the best sense of the word. He's built to handle either forward spot and can score from anywhere inside of 30 feet.
The former stat-sheet-banning gunner has shown a selective restraint his detractors didn't think he had. But he was forced into some bad spots during his previous NBA stops that he's no longer forced to approach. He's welcomed the extra help and in turn produced a shooting slash built to pass any advanced statistics test: .525/.370/.853 in 20 games with the Kings.
Isaiah Thomas has the microwave upside of a spark plug, but the control needed to effectively run an offense. He's poured in at least 20 points 22 times this season, and has only coughed up four or more turnovers in 11 games. For reference, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry averages 4.2 giveaways.
The Kings have multiple points of attack and all of their top guns have shown a willingness (eagerness even) to play off of each other.
"When we play that type of basketball, we're a tough team to beat," Cousins said, via Brett Martel of the Associated Press, per NBA.com.
Gay has teammates who will support him and actually generate offense on their own. Not to mention, a coach who understands how to maximize his potential.
Calling the Right Shots
Kings coach Michael Malone is known for his defensive savvy, but credit him and his staff for crafting an offensive role that perfectly suits Gay's skills.
There is never a dull moment with this offense.
This roster is littered with athletic specimens, leading to some speed/strength advantages to be exploited. Since Gay's debut, the Kings have run the league's 11th-most efficient offense (106.1 points per 100 possessions) at the ninth-fastest speed (98.08 possessions per 48 minutes).
The ball doesn't stop in Sacramento the way it did in Toronto.
Nearly one-quarter of Gay's offensive possessions (24.3 percent to be exact) with the Raptors were isolations, via Synergy Sports (subscription required). This despite a production on these players outside the top 75 (0.77 points per possession, 78th overall) and a conversion rate under 40 percent (39.8 field-goal percentage).
He's seen almost a 10-point drop in his isolation chances with the Kings (15.8 percent), leading to a more efficient result (0.89 points per possession, 43.1 field-goal percentage) when that card is played.
Malone has placed a much greater emphasis on Gay's post-up game.
Cousins' ability to survive and thrive away from the basket, along with the shooters flanking the perimeter, opens the floor for Gay to operate where he does his best work. His post-up touches account for 17 percent of his offensive plays in Sacramento (up from 13.3 with Toronto) and he's turned them into 0.93 points per possession (31st overall).
In addition to using his length, Malone's also looked to maximize Gay's athletic gifts by getting him out in the open floor.
With speed, quickness and hops, he's quickly become one of the league's premier fast-break finishers. More than 12 percent of his offensive plays have come in transition, where he's converting chances with top-10 efficiency (1.43 points per possession, ninth) on 72.2 percent shooting.
Malone always knew the kind of player the Kings were getting, even as the rest of the basketball world doubted their new arrival. Even while Gay's proving those critics wrong with stat-sheet-stuffing efforts like his 41-point performance, his coach won't let him forget what people said about him, via Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:
Every time he does that, I get a smile because there were so many of these so-called analytic experts that called him one of the most inefficient players in the NBA. And every game he’s been with us, he’s been one of the most efficient players I’ve been around.
The Next Step
It isn't hard to buy the sustainability of this relationship.
If Gay made a checklist of his desires for the perfect franchise during his lean years, this Kings group might have had everything on that list.
Teammates that perfectly complement his talents. A coach that knows how to use him and keep him motivated. A pressure-free environment where the franchise wants to save him rather than the other way around.
But, there's still one thing missing. Success.
The Kings haven't had much of it, with or without Gay. This team is exciting, energetic and a joy to watch. But it doesn't win many games, thanks in no small part to a dangerously leaky defense (107.1 points allowed per 100 possessions with Gay, 26th overall).
In order for this redemption story to have the kind of ending it should, there needs to be some type of achievement to celebrate.
Maybe it's snapping Sacramento's current seven-year playoff drought. Maybe there's something even sweeter down the line.
Whatever it is, it isn't here yet. But a real deal Rudy resurgence certainly gets Sacramento closer to enjoying whatever it might be.
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