It is being commented on message boards and chat rooms that follow the NBA that Rudy Gay is a good scorer but not a great player. People point out that he isnt a great defender, rebounder, dribbler or passer as proof that he is not every going to be a great NBA player. Is it a fair statement afterthree seasons andfour coaches to say Rudy will never be great?
Is it fair to assume that at 22 years of age (Rudy won’t turn 23 until August) that Rudy has developed as much as possible and Memphis fans should just accept that he is what he is and look elsewhere for a player who will assume the mantle of best palyer on the team?
It’s an interesting question and one that has a big impact on his future in Memphis. What sort of contract will the notoriously frugal owner Michael Heisley offer the player he wouldn’t give up to acquire Amare Stoudamire?
Lets take a look at each area he is viewed as deficient to see if there reallly is a deficiency issue and if so if it is likely that it can be improved.
According to Chris Wallace, Rudy Gay is never going to “lead the league in assists” but he can become a better facilitator. Assists are a vague number that are misleading at best. The best passer on a poor shooting team won’t get a lot of assists and a bad passer on a great shooting team will pile up assists. Rudy can keep the ball moving in the offense and give teammates open looks.
Rudy is what he is. The fact that he isn’t a great assist man has as much to do with 4 coaches in three seasons and his being on a poor shooting team as it does his lack of skill. Hollins believes in ball movement and working with Rudy and the rest of the team over the summer and with a full training camp should help Rudy become better at swinging the ball around the court. Maybe that will result in more assists but that isn’t the end goal for a pass from Rudy. Keeping the ball moving in the offense is the goal. Rudy’s ability to improve in that regard will make the team’s offense function at a higher level.
If you look at the entire team you will notice that no one, not Mike Conley, not O J Mayo not Kyle Lowry, Marco Jaric or anyone else had a large number of assists last season. Poor offensive structure, poor perimeter shooting and poor passing all contributed to this deficiency. It is unlikely that Rudy will ever average more than 3-4 assists a game but for a shoot first combo forward those numbers are respectable. Rudy Gay ranks 13th in the league among Small Forwards for assists per game so he is actually above average on a team that ranked last in the league in assists.
Can Rudy improve? Absolutely he can. Two assists more per game can be easily attained by a quality spot up shooter being added to the team and more offensive movement. That means the team has to improve their shooting and offensive execution not that Rudy has to become a better passer. Just adding two more assists per game would propel Rudy into the top 5 of small forwards for assists. He isnt challenging LeBron James lead of 7.2 apg but then again LeBron doesnt have Mike Conley and O J Mayo in the backcourt either.
The issue with rebounding has always been desire. Great rebounders are not the most physically dominating. It comes from the person who wants the ball the most. Sure you can be a Superman like Dwight Howard and grab a ton of rebounds but it isnt required to be that way. Look at Dennis Rodman and Tyson Chandler. Neither of these players were dominating physical specimens but both led the league in rebounding. Troy Murphy was 2nd in the NBA in rebounding in 2008-09 and he isnt physically imposing.
However it could be more of an issue with perspective rather desire for Rudy when it comes to rebounding. The reality is that Rudy plays a dominant amount of time at the Small Forward position. When judged against the Small Forwards in the league Rudys 5.5 rpg is actually among the leaders. Gerald Wallace averaged 7.8 rpg followed by LeBron James (7.6) and Kevin Durant (6.5). Is Rudy truly a poor rebounder or is it just the perspective of him being a poor rebounder? Rudy was the 7th best rebounder among small forwards in the league last season.
So is Rudy that weak of a rebounder or is the perception of Rudy being weak incorrect? People may say that Rudy should get more rebounds because he plays so many minutes. That has some more credibility since Rudy drops to 18th in the league among small forwards in rebounds per 48 minutes (basically a system to level the playing field for minutes played). However Rudys totals put him just behind Paul Pierce (17th) and ahead of Hedo Turkoglu (21) and Richard Jefferson (24) in rebounds per 48 minutes. That is pretty elite company.
What is disturbing is that Rudys rebounds actually declined under Lionel Hollins. In February Rudy averaged 6.2 rpg. In March that number dropped to 5.5 rpg and in April he averaged a mere 4.7 rpg. This is a trend that needs to be watched closely but it is curious that the teams rebounds were actually improving during this time frame. Is it that Rudy isnt rebounding as well under Hollins or that Hollins scheme calls for Rudy to be in position to rebound less often?
Defense is very difficult to quantify. After all Rudy ranks 5th among Small Forwards in steals at 1.24 per game. Rudy is 6th among small forwards for blocks per game. Does this sound like a player unable to play defense?
Well in fact it could. Steals and blocks are impressive but often times come from floating around in passing lanes and not actually defending your man. The reality is obvious when you watch a game. Rudy doesnt defend his man very well. Unfortunately there isnt a stat that shows how many points your defensive assignment scores on average.
Using 82games.com for a look at Rudy individually you see an interesting statistic. Rudy was the leading scorer on the Grizzlies team this season but when Rudy was on the court the team was outscored by their opponents over 70% of the time. The net effect of that scoring differential over 48 minutes was -7.1 pts. So Rudys presence definitely had an adverse affect to the teams defense. Whats more is the Grizzlies were outscored by 5 pts a game on average over the entire season. When you consider that Rudy played 64% of the minutes of the minutes available this season the difference is even greater from when he was on the court compared to when he was off the court.
Can all of the difference be deposited on Rudys doorstep? No. That wouldnt be fair but you cant discount the implications so easily either. There is some correlation to the teams poor defensive play and Rudys presence on the court. How much someone would want to blame on Rudy is subjective.
So can Rudy improve his defense? Defense is a lot like rebounding. A strong mental focus on playing defense can overcome many physical shortcomings. With a proper defensive scheme and a more focused effort from Rudy individually he can become a decent NBA defender. Rudy will likely never be an All-NBA defensive performer but he could become a solid defender just the same. All it takes is a commitment to playing better defense.
So yes I believe Rudy can become a more effective defensive player. Conditioning has to play a huge part of this too. Rudy has to be in excellent physical condition to continue to be a major force on offense while maintaining a consistent defensive effort. Many great NBA players are not great defenders by themselves. What makes them appear great is that the wear out opponents when the Grizzlies have the ball making them more likely to rest on the defensive end. Hollins made a strong point when he became coach that the team wasnt in good enough shape. If that changes next year we may find that Rudy has magically become a better defender in the process.
How to you quantify a players ability to handle the ball? Do you simply look at turnovers? Most people would say that Dwayne Wade is an excellent ball-handler but he finished the season with the 2nd most turnovers in the league. Does this make him a poor ball-handler? I dont think so.
Still one cant ignore that Rudy was 8th in the league in turnovers among small forwards last season. The players ahead of him were Stephen Jackson, Caron Butler, Kevin Durant, Carmello Anthony, LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Hedo Turkoglu. That is a rather distinguished list of names.
The problem is that all of the players listed above played on teams that played a faster tempo during a game. Memphis had the fewest possessions per game of any team in the league. Turnovers per possession therefore would probably make Rudy look worse.
If you look at assists to turnovers Rudy drops to 67th among small forwards in the league. Since there are only 29 other teams in the league that mean Rudy is commits more turnovers per assist than most teams second best small forward. Rudy was only the third or fourth best SF on the Grizzlies team since Darius Miles, Marco Jaric and Quinton Ross had more assists per turnover than Rudy and all were rated as SF eligible by ESPN. The seven players rated ahead of Rudy in turnovers show an interesting picture. Stephen Jackson (20), Caron Butler (31), Kevin Durant (53), Carmello Anthony (45), LeBron James (4), Paul Pierce (35) and Hedo Turkoglu (10) all had better assists to turnover ratios. Most of the players are significantly better than Rudy.
Rudy was also rated 49th in the league for steals to turnovers. This shows a player who struggles to maintain control of the ball far more than he is capable of creating easy baskets or opponent turnovers.That is not the mark of a great NBA player.
So can that be improved? That is the million dollar question andone that the team will need to determine relatively quickly as Rudy is eligible for a new contract this summer.