When the Memphis Grizzlies decided to pull the trigger on a Rudy Gay trade and ship him off to the Toronto Raptors, there was a fair bit of concern.
Gay was their leading scorer and had been the face of the franchise since Pau Gasol was traded in 2008. He was undeniably one of the main parts of the Grizzlies. How would they be able to survive without his contributions? Surely the thought of the Grizzlies being a dark-horse contender was a thing of the past.
Well, after a brief adjustment period, the Grizzlies appear to have worked things out and right now, they look like one of the top teams in the league again. They’ve won four consecutive games, including a 105-91 victory of the Detroit Pistons Wednesday, Feb. 20, which was nowhere near as close as the final score might have you believe. The Grizzlies lineup has gelled nicely and Gay’s absence doesn’t appear to be hurting the team one bit.
While Gay is known for scoring, by the time he left Memphis, he was actually starting to be a drag on the offensive end. His player efficiency rating (PER) was a mere 14.2 and the league average is 15. More egregiously, his offensive rating (which measures how many points a player scores per 100 possessions) was a lowly 97. His total offensive win shares was just 0.1, meaning his offensive production had almost no bearing whatsoever on the Grizzlies win total. Admittedly, this is like more due to a lengthy shooting slump than to Gay’s general limitations as a player. Still, after giving Gay a max contract, the Grizzlies weren’t getting anything close to their money’s worth.
But with Gay gone, who was going to put the points on the board? So far, it’s been a little bit of everyone. Mike Conley has taken more shots lately, while Tony Allen has been willing to drive to the basket for layups when the situation calls for it. The presence of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post gives the Grizzlies two huge weapons, and creates quite a quandary for defenders–who do you put your best big man on when both of them can do damage? The bench has come through as well, with Quincy Pondexter‘s 3-point shooting skills returning to the lineup and Austin Daye doing a lot more than most would have guessed when he arrived in Gay deal. With everyone chipping in, no one in Memphis is missing Gay’s jumpers all that much.
Most important of all is that team just seems to makes more sense without Gay in the lineup. Let’s keep a few things in mind; first of all, the Grizzlies’ best playoff run came when Gay was sidelined with a shoulder injury in 2011. They solidified without him and briefly looked like they might challenge for a title as an eighth seed. The following year, with Gay healthy, they lost to the Clippers in the first round.
Granted, last year’s team struggled due to Randolph not fully recovering from a torn knee ligament that sidelined him for much of the 2011-12 season. Still, Gay could have grabbed the conch and established himself as the leader and it never happened. More importantly, the team chemistry seemed to suffer with him around. Gay is a shoot-first type player on a team that thrives out strong, physical defense and winning ugly, low-scoring games. His style never meshed with what the Grizzlies were trying to do. When he was more efficient on offense, this wasn’t a huge problem, but when his jump shots stopped going, it became a lot more noticeable.
Admittedly, I was against trading Gay in the weeks before it happened, but I was wrong. Watching the team play more cohesively and win games without him has made it clear that he’s not as important to this team as I thought earlier. He’s still a good player and it wouldn’t be shocking if Toronto was a better fit for him. He just no longer made sense in the Grizzlies system, and right now, Memphis is thriving without him.
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