Memphis Grizzlies v Toronto Raptors

With the Grizzlies booking the franchise’s first trip to the Conference Finals on Wednesday night, much of the talk was about how obviously improved the team is in a post-Rudy Gay world.

Gay’s supporters and Raptors diehards can point to the fact that the Thunder would have been the favoured team in the West semifinal series had Russell Westbrook been healthy, but the fact remains that the Grizzlies have a better record since trading Rudy and that the team’s two most successful post-seasons came with Gay either injured or long gone.

Had Gay taken advantage of his talents more in Memphis, there’s no doubt that a team focusing on the frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with an inside-out game that included Gay and Mike Conley as weapons could have been better than the current edition of the Grizz. Unfortunately, Gay seemed content with being an inefficient chucker on too many nights in Memphis and Lionel Hollins seemed content with living and usually dying by that ill advised Rudy Gay hero ball instead of structuring the team’s offence the right way.

So yes, the Memphis Grizzlies are better and are playing smarter since the Rudy Gay trade, and they are an overall better team without the presence of an inefficient, ball stopping perimeter player. That should no longer be up for debate, but the fact that the Grizzlies are better without Gay doesn’t mean that the Raptors have to be doomed with him in the fold, and too many people assume that’s the case.

I’m not going to defend Gay’s ridiculous contract and I’m certainly not going to excuse his inefficiency in a lot of games for the Raptors last season, but when looking at Rudy’s body of work as a whole after the trade, you can make a compelling argument for him as a very productive player for the Raps going forward and even a potential All-Star in the Eastern Conference.

In his final 16 games of the season, Gay averaged 19.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting over 48 per cent from the field and over 44 per cent from three-point territory. In that stretch, he took almost five shots per game less than he did over his first 17 games as a Raptor, got to the rim more often and made better decisions with the ball in his hands. Now that level of shooting accuracy is unsustainable for Gay long term, but so is the putrid shooting we saw from him in the first chunk of the season.

In addition, Gay posted a solid Player Efficiency Rating of 17.6 in his 33 games as a Raptor, and his APER (Adjusted Player Efficiency Rating is a more in-depth form of PER, via HoopData) of 18.29 ranked fifth among small forwards, behind only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce. It also ranked in the top-15 among all forwards (small and power), whereas his APER of 15.2 through 42 games with the Grizzlies this season didn’t even rank in the top-15 among small forwards alone.

On the defensive end, Gay played with a focus that few of us expected to see from a guy whose lackadaisical effort was often criticized in Memphis, and his defensive play in Toronto was a big part of a five-man unit that finished with the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA and the fifth-best net rating.

All in all from a Raptors perspective, we saw some ugly nights from Gay, but we also saw plenty of good in his game and there’s enough statistical data out there to suggest that he can be the most productive player on a playoff caliber team next season.

There’s no doubt right now that the Grizzlies made a great move. After all, they shed a max contract, saved a ton of money long term and got a promising young big man in the process without taking a step back in the short term but actually taking a big step forward. In addition, I was hesitant and remain uneasy about the Raptors moving Ed Davis, and no one can be sure at this point that the acquisition of Gay will go down as a good move for Toronto.

But I do know that Memphis’ success without Gay should not be the measuring stick by which the Raptors’ end of this blockbuster trade is judged. That should be left to the future success or failure of Gay and the Raptors themselves.

If anything, Raptors fans shouldn’t be so concerned with how the Grizzlies are doing without Rudy Gay, but rather they should be reflecting on how the once sad sack franchise that entered the league at the same time as the Raptors has now easily surpassed them in overall success and relevancy. That’s the real concerning part. I mean, who’s next, the Bobcats?!