NBA Rookie Progress Report: Rudy Gay

NBA Rookie Progress Report: Rudy Gay
Dec 18, 2006, 03:40 pm
24.3 Minutes, 9.1 Points, 4.2 Rebounds, 0.7 Assists
1.5 Turnovers, 0.9 Blocks, 1.0 Steals, 37.7% FG, 63.8% FT

Rudy Gay's potential to be great is undeniable. Few players can match his combination of length, athleticism, and skill. Though he hasn't produced at a consistent clip, he has shown flashes of greatness when playing in the right atmosphere. His best performances this season have come against the Miami Heat, the New York Knicks, and the Dallas Mavericks respectively. The one common quality of all of these teams is their up-tempo offensive style. Gay's November 18th game against the Dallas Mavericks is an especially good example of how he can flourish in more fast paced games.

Gay played nearly three quarters of the contest and looked extremely good attacking from the mid range. When he was in, it appeared that the Grizzlies were running a play to get him isolated on the block against his defender. Though he forced the issue at times, Gay looked extremely comfortable with the ball in his hands. On one memorable play, he used a nifty spin move to go right by Dirk Nowitzki and finished at the rim with a left-handed finger roll. At times, Gay's quickness was just too much for his defender to handle in the paint. Gay also showed good range on his jump shot knocking down the one three-pointer he attempted and showing good touch on all of his outside shots.

Though Gay looked good in the Grizzlies' half court offense, he looked even better in transition. On one specific play, he contested a Jason Terry lay-up and proceeded to beat everyone back down the floor where Kyle Lowry hit him with a pass for a left-handed lay-up in traffic. This wasn't the only time Gay got to display his end to end speed. There were three other occasions where essentially the same thing happened. Gay would contest a shot on defense and proceed to beat his man down the floor for easy buckets. Gay also played well defensively, using his length and quickness to deny passing lanes. He finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals.

The irony of this stat line is that Gay put up only one point against this same Maverick team just a day earlier. This begs the question: what accounted for such a large discrepancy in production? Simply put, Gay's production is entirely dependant on where he receives the ball in the Memphis offense. During his one point performance, Gay did not receive the ball on the block or in transition at all. While Gay's production in the Grizzlies' half court offense has been sporadic, it is clear that he can already be an effective when given the ball in an area where he is comfortable. When the Memphis offensive forces Gay to receive the ball around the three-point line, he isn't an efficient scorer. He is a serviceable ball handler, but he can't effectively use his athleticism to beat his man off the dribble. One of the things that makes Gay effective is his ability to use his athleticism to score when defenders don't give him space. On the perimeter, he struggles to create open looks for himself, but has seemingly no problem doing so in the post.

The most glaring weakness in Gay's game right now is visible in his shooting percentages. Through 24 games, Gay's field goal percentage is only 37.7%. The consistency on Gay's mid range shot is questionable at best, but his shooting has noticeably improved as the season has progressed. Early in the year, he was forcing a lot of shots from the perimeter, which accounted for his markedly poor shooting. He has gotten more comfortable playing on the perimeter, and has already improved his shot selection. However, it will take some time before he can put up consistent scoring numbers from the outside.

In the long run, Gay's offensive production will be dependant on where Mike Fratello plays him. Although his perimeter game is developing, Gay is already a solid option on the interior. If Fratello could incorporate Gay's post and transition skills into his gameplan, things could turn around quickly for the rookie. With Pau Gasol returning to the lineup, Gay could be able to play more minutes at the forward, since Gasol is more imposing interior presence than Stromile Swift who had been starting at center in his absence. The emergence of Alexander Johnson will make it more difficult for Gay to earn these minutes, so we'll be monitoring where Gay's minutes are coming from as the season continues.

Gay appears more comfortable playing the perimeter on defense than he does on offense. His uses his length and foot speed to play passing lanes and deny dribble penetration. In the post, he struggles to stay on his feet when faked, but always contests his man's shot. He sometimes gets caught up in help-side rotations, but his athleticism and vertical leap allow him to effectively recover to ball handlers and challenge shots. As Gay adds strength and learns to adjust to pump fakes, he could become one of the more versatile defenders on the Memphis roster.

It will be interesting to see how Mike Fratello chooses to use Rudy Gay as the season progresses. The positions he plays and the areas in which he receives the ball in the offense will be indicative of where Fratello feels Gay will be most effective. As Gay's consistency on the perimeter improves, he should see increased minutes, but it he won't be entirely comfortable there for a while. If he continues to struggle, he can only hope that he'll see more opportunities in the post and in transition. Next month, we'll take an in depth look at which positions Gay is logging minutes at and how he is effecting the Grizzlies production from those positions.

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