NBA Rookie Report: Rudy Gay

NBA Rookie Report: Rudy Gay
Jan 16, 2007, 12:34 am
Almost nothing has gone right for the Memphis Grizzlies through the first half of this season. The team's star player, Pau Gasol, missed the first 22 games, forcing former head coach Mike Fratello to rely on a largely untested group of players. Subsequently, none of the players stepped up in Gasol's absence, leading to a dismal 5-17 start. One win and seven losses later, Fratello found himself without a job and the Grizzlies had a whole new set of questions to answer.

Rudy Gay found himself in a rather unenviable situation throughout this entire scenario. He had been playing relatively well in an offense that didn't suit his style of play under Fratello, and had struggled to take his game to the next level. When Tony Barone was brought in as the new head coach, it appeared that his new up-tempo style would allow Gay's production to really take off. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. While Gay has by no means been a disappointment, he hasn't had an easy go of things either.

Note: The number in parentheses indicates the change in Rudy Gay's cumulative statistical averages between December 18th and January 15th. Read the first installment of the Rudy_Gay player report here.

23.4 (-0.9) Minutes, 8.6 (-0.5) Points, 4.0 (-0.2) Rebounds, 1.0 (+0.3) Assists, 1.5 Turnovers, 0.8 (-0.1) Blocks, 1.0 Steals, 38.3% (+0.6) FG, 66.4% (+2.6%) FT

What has been most remarkable about Gay's transition into Tony Barone's offense is the surprisingly low impact it has had on his production. While the team's points per game average has sky rocketed under Barone, Gay hasn't been the beneficiary of this increase. In fact, it could be argued that this past month under Barone has been the Gay's worst as a pro in terms of scoring production. While the reasons for his struggles in this new system may not seem clear, they are not all that complicated.

Barone's system is geared toward players like Gay. His physical skills, coupled with his ability to finish around the rim, make him a prototypical player for a fast-paced system. Regrettably, His potential in this system has been severely diminished by the position he has been forced to play.

In Mike Fratello's half-court offense, Gay was often relegated to the perimeter. While he did show some flashes, it became abundantly clear that he was more effective in the post. When Barone took over, it appeared that he would better utilize Gay in his system. Unfortunately for both parties, this hasn't been true. Most of Gay's touches are still coming on the perimeter, sabotaging his ability to contribute immediately.

There is no question that Rudy Gay will be able to play on the perimeter at some point in his career. He has decent range and serviceable ball handling skills for a player his size, but he severely lacks consistency and often appears overwhelmed when forced to initiate his game from outside the three-point arc. He often adjusts his shot when contested, and fails to create good separation off the dribble. In a lot of ways, it appears that he is almost forcing himself to play on the perimeter. One recent game provided an especially good example of this trend.

Gay's best performance under Barone really put his strengths and weaknesses on display. Gay tallied 22 points in 144 -135 Memphis win over the Golden State Warriors on January 3rd on 8 of 15 from the field. Only one of his makes came on the perimeter while only one of his misses came from the post. It is obvious that Gay can contribute immediately in certain situations. This game was an especially telling one for Gay. When he attacked the basket, or received the ball in the post, he looked extremely smooth. On the perimeter, he struggled to find his range. However, that didn't deter him from taking and missing three three-pointers and numerous other long jumpers. This game really made it clear that offensive systems won't be the deciding factor in Gay's production as a rookie. His success this year is dependant on where he receives the ball.

While it would be great to see Gay turn things around on the perimeter during the second half of this season, it would be a lot more reasonable to simply let him show what he can do in the post. He is a great post player offensively because of his incredible vertical and lateral explosiveness. His post game may lack polish, but he is obviously more comfortable around the basket than he is around the perimeter.

Gay's long term position may or may not be determined by his play this season. The way in which Barone has utilized him would indicate that he will likely end up playing on the wing. However, it remains to be seen whether or not Barone will be Memphis's head coach for the long haul, so Gay may find himself down low if Barone isn't retained.

It would be nice to see Gay get more touches on the interior to build his confidence, but it appears that the Grizzlies are just as content to let him work through his struggles on the perimeter. As long as Gay is relegated to the outside, his production won't likely see much fluctuation this season. There should be some subtle increases as he becomes more comfortable, but his impending transition to the perimeter won't take place over night. His skill set would allow him to produce right now if put in the right positions, but Memphis clearly wants him to start diversifying his offensive repertoire for the long-run.

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