When the Kings acquired Rudy Gay in a seven-player deal with Toronto in December, coach Michael Malone says he was well aware of the attention being paid to Gays brief and largely forgettable tenure with the Raptors.
Gay spent less than a year in Toronto before the Raptors opted to part ways with him and a contract due to pay the forward more than $17 million this season. In 18 games with Toronto to start this season, Gay averaged 19.4 points but shot just 38.8 percent from the field, leaving some to question his fit in the Raptors offensive system.
Malone, though, was more intrigued by Gays early career in Memphis, where Gay had played alongside low-post presences Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol while establishing his reputation as one of the leagues more prolific scorers.
You look at Torontos roster, and no disrespect to (big men) Jonas (Valanciunas) or Amir (Johnson), but they dont have a true low-post presence, Malone said. We just thought the idea of putting (Gay) on the perimeter, and pairing that with the inside presence of DeMarcus (Cousins), could really allow him to showcase his abilities.
When Gay met his new coaches in Sacramento shortly after the Dec. 8 trade, the Kings staff posed a simple question to the forward.
The first thing (assistant coach Micah Nori) and coach Malone did was they asked me where I wanted the ball, recalled Gay, who faces his former team tonight at Sleep Train Arena. You cant ask anything better than that.
I just told them where I think Id be the most effective, and he took that and ran with it, designed a couple plays for me. And the rest is history.
In 25 games since joining the Kings, Gay has been more efficient on offense. He is averaging 20.7 points but doing so on 53 percent shooting a mark that over a whole season would be by far the highest of his career and on nearly four fewer shots per game (14.9) than he was taking in Toronto (18.6).
While Gay has averaged at least 18 points since his rookie season, Malone said he also has been pleasantly surprised with other aspects of Gays play, such as his 3.2 assists per game as a King (Gays career high for a season is 2.8).
If hes not scoring, he can make plays for everybody else, and hes done that, Malone said. Hes been a willing passer at times.
Still, Gays main value is as a scorer. And Jalen Rose, the former player and now-NBA analyst for ESPN, said Gays resurgence in Sacramento is largely because of what Malone and the Kings anticipated before his arrival.
The difference is hes playing with bigs that can score down low, Rose said. Thats what he had in Memphis, (teammates who could) occupy the baseline, occupy the bigs, and it gave him lanes to drive and finish or pull up over the top.
In addition, Rose said, the Grizzlies big men were stout rebounders, and once you clear, you can get out and run.
The Kings under Malone also make a point of pushing the ball in transition, where Gay has thrived.
In this case, though, the trade has seemed beneficial for both sides. The Raptors, who were 6-12 before trading Gay, are 20-10 since and lead the Easts Atlantic Division. Team-wide, their efficiency has gone up as well. Before the deal, Toronto was scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions but allowing an average of 101.7, per NBA.com. Since, those averages have improved to 105.8 and 99.7, respectively.
Rose said one explanation is Gays departure opened up opportunities for some of the Raptors other perimeter players, such as point guard Kyle Lowry and forward DeMar DeRozan, who like Gay are effective when creating shots off the dribble.
Another reason, said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, is the addition of players such as John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson all of whom had started for the Kings to Torontos bench. They bought in quickly. Theyre veteran players who know how to play, Casey said. They give us a defensive edge that we need.
Gay said there would be no added incentive for him facing the Raptors tonight. Asked what has changed for him since the trade, he said he has been trying to play off of guys, pick my spots and get everybody involved, but added thats not to say thats anything different than what I did before.
Up there, for whatever reason, DeMar and Rudy on the court maybe wasnt a mesh there wasnt enough shots to go around, Malone said. Im not sure what it was. But all I can tell you is in the games that weve had Rudy, hes been a great fit.
Call The Bees Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.