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?!

Comments (24)

  1. Charlotte has no fans move the team to Seattle

  2. Memphis is more coachable without Gay. I’m worried about that in TO with Gay and Lowry next year. I don’t think they’re bad guys, but they have trouble doing anything other than playing their own style/game. Lowry had a lot of trouble adjusting to what the team needed him to do this year.

    I respect Memphis’ game, but the much bigger story from that series is that a) Westbrook didn’t play, and b) OKC could have had a core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Jeff Green (at least for this season)!!!!!!!! That lineup would have been much, much, much, much, much, much better than what they’ve got now. They’re looking more and more like they’re on a Phoenix Suns path to failure – a not-quite-there team who made changes to their core in an attempt to get over the hump, only to have those changes completely backfire. A lot of stars can only take so much mismanagement before they start looking for the exit door. Even though they’re so young, OKC’s clock is now ticking….

    • I disagree with what you are saying about Memphis, specifically that I believe they now have the personnel that allows them to concentrate more of their offence towards the inside out play. The trade was much more of a addition by subtraction, since physically Gay and Prince are about the same size, both are pretty good defenders although Prince is a better 3pt shooter. The only thing is they now don’t have to worry about giving Prince touches.

      Lowry’s game throughout this season, good or bad, morphed significantly from shoot first to pretty much pass only. I’m not nearly as worried about him as you are as towards the end of the season he seems to have found a better balance. They also look like now they have a better idea of what to do with Gay but I suppose the judge will be how they play next season.

      OKC definitely mishandled the Harden situation and I think it is less about them trying to get over the hump (you don’t dump Harden if you believe that) and more of them cheaping out and refusing to pay Harden. Westbrook’s absence is understated and their demise is overstated. This IS Sam Presti we’re talking about.

      • Good points.

        Sam Presti is a good GM, but he’s about to become the next Danny Ainge/Joe Dumars. A couple nice moves where everything comes together beautifully, followed by an inability to maintain that level of excellence.

        Which leads me to this thought – the GM that doesn’t get nearly enough credit is RC Buford. The ability that he and Pops have shown to sustain that level of excellence is unparalleled in the NBA (understatement alert). Yes, they’ve managed to keep their stars together (which is a credit to them, not happenstance), but plenty of franchises failed to maintain excellence in spite of keeping core stars throughout their rise and fall (Mavs-Nowitzki, Suns-Nash, Lakers-Bryant). A lot of teams luck into their stars through the draft or a fortuitous trade – it’s the endless cycle of role players who are seamlessly integrated into the Spurs system that I find so amazing, as well as the franchise’s ability to completely re-tool their systems to fit their core players as they age, all while maintaining their on-the-floor success.

        • I completely agree with you. So many people are talking about how teams should replicate OKC or Houston. Forget them, the Spurs are definitely the model franchise. Especially with where they always pick in the draft and how effective those players are for them. What will be most interesting is when Duncan finally retires. What are they going to do and more importantly how are they going to do it?

    • OKC went to the Finals last year.

      OKC won the West this year and were the favorites to represent the West in the Finals befpre Westbrook got hurt. I don’t think their situation is as dire as you make it out to be.

      • They went to the Finals last year with Harden. The injury to Westbrook shows how fragile this team’s prospects for success are without Harden and now that Perkins appears to be totally done. They lost their 2nd best player to injury and were EASILY dismantled in the 2nd round. Their situation is not nearly as good as it was a year ago.

        • They did go to the Finals with Hrden last year, with him coming off the bench, but still playing a significant role.

          Without him this year they still won 60 games and won the West.

          Their 2nd best player got hurt as you mentioned and they lost in the 2nd round.

          Which other team in this playoffs survives their 2nd best player (and Westbrook is more a 1a to Durants 1, than he is a 2) getting hurt?

          They had a solid year and fell short. They are incredibly young and eager to get better. I would argue they are in a great position, but had some poor luck in the playoffs.

  3. Interesting article on Rudy Gay but where is the blog about how MLSE still hasn’t decided what’s going on with BC. If you want them to pick up his option for this year or move in another direction I decision should have been made by now. Hasn’t it been over a week since BC made his pitch to the board. Shouldn’t they have had an idea on if they want to keep him or not before the season ended? This is just classic MLSE with no real game plan on what to do with their franchises. The rest of the league has started making moves on their open positions. What quality GM seeing how MLSE has handled the BC situation would wanna come work here!?!?!?

    • I agree, has taken way too long. They owe him some respect instead of leaving him hanging to feel like a ‘last resort or non-main option’. However, I now fear its taking so long because they’re working out a long extension for BC. In terms of bringing BC back, this shouldn’t be a surprise, there is no point in picking up just the option. You dump him or you believe he has done a great job in the last 3 years (post bosh). Simple as that.

      The fact that Phil Jackson hasn’t said ‘no’ is a good thing, however, the raptors have not yet said ‘no’ to Colangelo either.

      I’m skeptical about Phil, brings credibility/great basketball mind/highly successful, may help Casey or any coach develop but BC was brought in for similar reasons. BC has only attracted mid range free agents (somewhat not his fault, unbelievable ignorance south of the border) and he is a solid drafter. I’m skeptical about Phil because he’s unknown, he is inexperienced, he is not a fully established commodity in the GM/President world.

  4. I love watching the Grizzlies play now without Gay. I don’t mean that against Gay as a player or person, but they look far more cohesive than before.

    I’m eager to see what’s going to happen with the Raps in the offseason. As the article mentioned, they started to click towards the end.

    Any news on BC?

    I think it was sportsnet that was saying how with a longer decision time means BC is less wanted and may simply step down.

  5. There’s no doubt that the Gay trade forced the Grizzlies to finally structure their offense to play to their strengths but as others have already pointed out, their playoff success has more to do with factors out of their control (Griffin being hobbled towards the end of the Clippers series, Westbrook injury, etc.) than it does with anything they themselves did.

    This is one of those weird years in the West (like 2007) where the combination of all the key injuries (Lakers, Westbrook, Lee, etc.) or an early upset (Golden State over Denver) would lead to a team sneaking through to the Conference finals that you generally would not expect to.

    As for Gay himself, I’m excited about his prospects heading into next season, he got his vision problem finally addressed and there is NO WAY he can be as thoroughly inefficient as he was last season given his career track record. Like Joseph mentioned, we already saw signs of him returning to his career mean down the stretch.

  6. You would think that after Bargnani people would know better than to cherry pick a dozen or so games when their guy was actually worthwhile. Stuff like that is a complete waste of time unless someone is playing with an eyepatch or something.

    Gay isn’t some massive anchor on the team like Bargs, but a MVP contract for a never all star player pretty much makes it impossible to assemble a winning team under a cap system. (and that’s if we didn’t have any other bad contracts)

  7. I agree that comparing the Grizzlies success without Gay is almost useless. But the Raptors were also only a .500% team since trading for Rudy Gay.

    Maybe they aren’t “doomed” since making the playoffs appears to be the only goal of the team, but with this core, the future isn’t exactly bright either.

    • Keep in mind, the Raptors were only .500 with Gay because they finished the season winning 7 of 8 against teams either injured or had stopped caring about the regular season.

      And I don’t think any play, whether by a team or a player, in the last month of the season should ever be looked at. Jerryd Bayless had a 23 ppg and 5.6 apg April, a couple of years ago. Lots of players and teams have anomalies at the end of the season.

  8. If the raptors kept sam mitchell till now we would probly be a contender at least. The raptors has too many coach over the years which meant a new system and new teammates every year. If they fire both bryan and dwane casey i think the raptors future is gone we still have a good core but cmon new coach every fucking year thats a joke lionel holllins was a bad coach before too but then he got better and everybody understood his system i say keep dwane casey and bryan

  9. I think numerous people are underestimating the internal growth. Torontos starters had the third highest defensive rating this season they need to work on offensive cohesiveness it’s way too much ISO.

    But lets not act like Lowry DeRozan Gay Amir and Valanciunas played as well as they could all year they have a deep starting unit there bench is weak though

  10. Which naturally begs the question, how do you build around Gay? Pairing him with a wing who can actually knock down a shot beyond 15 feet would be a good start but beyond that I truly don’t know.

    • The fact is they dont breed Gay to dominate the possessions. He can be a 19-22 point 6-7 rebound 2.5-3.5 assist 1.5+ steal and just under a block guy. He for his career shots 45%FG and 34%3FG and his percentages improved each game in Toronto.

      He can be a solid main contributor then we have Valanciunas a 10-13 point 7-8 rebound
      2 block guy next year, Amir is always a double
      double threat, DeRozan just needs to keep
      being the 18-20 point 5 rebound and 2-3 assist guy, and if Liwry contributes his 14 points 5-6 rebounds 7-8 assists and 1.5 steals guy.

      Raptors issue is bench no denying that Rudy’s and Barganis contracts are bad as us Kleizas and Fields. Raptors need to amnesty Kleiza and shop Bargnani a lot even if it means him
      playing a lot to improve his stock

  11. The Grizzlies still struggle to score and are fortunate to have played teams with injuries. Back to Gay, the grizzlies didn’t play to his strengths. Dribbling the ball and passing it around until five seconds left and hoping Gay bail you out wasn’t a smart move. I feel with the right uptempo system Gay can be an all star. I like how he and DeRozan play together.

  12. All the hate for the Grizzlies, I don’t understand it. In my opinion they would’ve beaten the thunder even with Westbrook. Remember 2011 playoffs when they played the thunder to 7 games, that series basically came down to a game 4 that went 2 OT’s. Grizz are better now, emergance of Gasol (near superstar level, esp. his defence), ZBO playing at the level he was 2 years ago, Mike Conley (my fav. point guard) improved his finishing layups at the rim, Tony Allen pound for pound toughest player in the league and the most competive player in the league. If you don’t believe me, just watch how he fights over screens and never gives the attcking player any easy screens.

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