Earlier this month, Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry wrote a piece about Rudy Gay, in which he argued that his resurgence in Sacramento has been a function of the Peter Principle—a theory which, with respect to Gay, states that his increased efficiency is due to his decreased volume as a scorer.
In basketball terms, Rudy Gay of the Toronto Raptors simply had the ball in his hands too much. While he's certainly an above-average NBA player, he's not nearly good enough to carry an entire offense. As the alpha dog in Toronto, the scoring burden knocked his efficiency numbers down significantly.
Since the move to Sacramento, his minutes and shot attempts have decreased, and his field-goal percentage has shot up from 39 to right around 52 percent. While the statistics certainly reveal the same truth as the eye test, it isn't simply a function of more of Gay's shots going in the basket. As Goldsberry notes, Gay's finishing rate at the rim and in the mid-range have skyrocketed.
More specifically, Gay isn't generating as much of his offense through pure isolation. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), isolations accounted for 24.3 percent of his offense in Toronto—the third-highest rate in the entire NBA.
Since being traded to Sacramento, Gay's isolation percentage has dropped to 15.9 percent. Although this is still a relatively high rate for a non-elite isolator, it's more manageable in the flow of an offense.
We can dig even deeper if we look specifically at these isolations in the context of the Sacramento offense. Although there are no particular statistics quantifying this notion, it would appear that Gay's isolations are coming under less pressure.
Whereas 12.6 percent of Gay's jump shots with Toronto this season came with less than four seconds left on the shot clock, per Synergy Sports, only 8.1 percent of his jump shots in Sacramento have been attempted under this scenario.
One simple theory emerges from this data: Gay is not being fed the ball as much in late-clock situations, where's he's under immense pressure to generate a high-quality shot in a short amount of time. These situations, therefore, often lead to many poor-quality shots and a subsequent negative impact on efficiency—in Gay's case, a lower-overall field-goal percentage.
That's not to say that Gay wasn't also breaking the offense to isolate in Toronto, because he certainly was. But far too often he was caught in situations like this:
Kyle Lowry tries to take Ty Lawson one-on-one, but can't; Jonas Valanciunas uses a series of ball fakes and jabs to get to his right hook, but loses balance and throws the ball wildly out to Gay. And now with five seconds left on the shot clock, it's up to him to create something.
But there's barely any time to get to the rim, and Valanciunas' rim pressure isn't enough to draw any help. Gay can't attack an overzealous closeout and must instead beat a defender who's squared, balanced and ready to lock up for four seconds.
In Sacramento, the Kings have two other players capable of creating their own shot: DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. That is not to say that they'll always generate high-quality looks in isolation; it's just that defenses can't key on one particular guy when the shot clock starts approaching zero.
There's also something to be said for fresh starts and fitting in with new teams. Gay, by no means, would walk into Sacramento as the immediate leader and ball-dominator. Any player hoping to fit well into a new situation would, at the very least, try to ease in somewhat.
This means learning the offense and not breaking its flow for isolation, over-passing to gain teammates' trust and earning opportunities with the ball through better shot selection.
More importantly, the inclusion of multiple creators on the roster has allowed Gay to work in his most effective spot: off the ball. Whether it's spotting up for jumpers or attacking defenders with a quick burst on the catch, he's able to be more decisive and have an easier time finding looks for himself.
Take a look at this pick-and-roll below, in which Gay, on the left wing, lifts to the top as the play develops. This is a common tactic in weak-side pick-and-roll action, as the player's defender often gets sucked into coverage. The lift, then, is to create further space and a passing angle, as well as force the defender to choose between helping on the pick-and-roll or staying with the shooter.
That's what happens here with Gay. As Jimmer Fredette starts to dribble at the defending big, Gay curls along the top and receives the pass. Al-Farouq Aminu, Gay's defender, has drifted inside and must scramble back to Gay. But Gay capitalizes with a quick first-step jab, throwing Aminu off-balance and blowing by. He ends the play with a strong finish at the rim.
Here it is again, this time with an even greater lift. Gay is stationed in the corner as a spot-up shooter, as two pick-setters approach Thomas for what is known as a double-drag. In this instance, Gay isn't involved in the play design whatsoever.
As the two Sacramento bigs roll, Gay's defender, James Harden, gets drawn into the action. This gives Gay plenty of space to catch and drive by Harden before he can gain his momentum and slide his feet.
Pure isolation is one of the least efficient ways to score in the NBA, but oftentimes teams don't have players that can make appropriate passes off of pick-and-rolls or other types of actions. In Sacramento, the talent is certainly there for that.
Given time, the core of Thomas, Gay and Cousins will begin to mesh more and become more of a factor in the Western Conference. While they might not be a contender or even a playoff team for a while, the nucleus is stronger with Gay in the role for which he was meant to play.