It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Rudy Gay is not one of the best players in the league. He takes an irresponsibly high number of his teams possessions while shooting at below average rates from all over the court. He is an incredibly inefficient scorer, a poor playmaker, and an average defensive player. Advanced stats can give you more nuggets to put down Gay, but simply watching him play for sustained periods tells you all you need to know. He occasionally gets hot, but for the most part he is where possessions go to die. He dribbles around, gives some head fakes, then shoots a long, contested two-pointer that doesn’t go in.
By all conventional methods of evaluating a player, he is not worth the max-contract money he currently receives.
But maybe conventional methods don’t capture the true value of Rudy Gay. Maybe his true value is what he can do for your team once he leaves.
Consider: Memphis traded Gay to the Toronto Raptors last season while sporting a 29-15 (0.659) record, but having gone just 17-13 (0.567) since the first month of the season. The Grizzlies went 27-11 (0.711) the rest of the season and were strong contenders in the Western Conference, making it to the Conference finals before losing to the San Antonio Spurs. The benefits of losing Gay included better team defense, better ball movement, and better team chemistry.
Last month, the Raptors became the second team in 2013 to trade Gay, this time to the Sacramento Kings. Toronto was 7-12 (0.368) before the trade, but is 10-5 (0.667) since, including wins over Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Indiana as well as close losses to both Miami and Indiana. The Raps are now leading the Atlantic Division by 3.5 games and could reasonably be considered the third or fourth best team in the Eastern Conference. The benefits of trading Gay? Better team defense, better ball movement, and better team chemistry.
Try this narrative on for size: Toronto started the year with the intention of tanking, but was being out-tanked by the likes of Utah, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. In a terrible Eastern Conference in which only two of fifteen teams were reliably playing over 0.500, the Raptors saw an opportunity for a sustained playoff run through trading Rudy Gay. Sacramento, on the other hand, wants to continue to tank this year. They fully expect Gay to pick up the player option on his contract which pays over $19 million next season. Then, sometime in the future when Boogie Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, and a top draft pick from 2014 are ready to contend, the Kings will trade Gay to another hapless franchise. We can expect that at that point, the Kings will instantly start playing close to 0.700 basketball, with better defense, passing and chemistry.
That is the value of Rudy Gay. As an NBA GM, wouldn’t you be willing to pay someone maximum contract value if you knew as soon as you traded him your team would be one of the best teams in the league? If your team was already bad, wouldn’t you be willing to trade for Gay, knowing you would continue to play badly, keeping alive your chances at a high draft pick, but at some point in the future you could trade him away to another bad team, and instantly improve all the players on your roster? I think the answer is yes, and yes. Picking up Rudy Gay is like picking up a Star in Super Mario, only you get to choose when you go on your invincibility run; all you need to do is find another team looking to take him.
So let’s not use fancy things like “statistics” and “scouting” when talking about Rudy Gay and how much money he deserves to be paid. His real value is in how good your team will be once you get rid of him. And that is worth a lot.