Rudy Gay began the season on pace to have the best year of his NBA career.
Through his first 22 games, Gay was averaging 21.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
Gay was scoring and facilitating at career rates, then Michael Malone was fired, and like the rest of the team, Gay’s game suffered.
That’s not to say Gay’s season has been a complete letdown. Gay is on pace to average a career-high 20.5 points, and his numbers have been good of late.
Gay followed a 39-point performance in a loss Friday at Orlando with 27 points in the Kings’ 114-109 overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday at American Airlines Arena.
The question is whether there is more to Gay’s game that hasn’t been seen. New Kings coach George Karl believes Gay has the potential to play many roles.
“I was amazed how long he was, how big and tall he is,” Karl said of his impression of Gay. “He really could play power forward; he’s long, athletic, skilled. I just want to squeeze more out of him.”
That would mean using Gay much like Malone used him to start the season, when Gay was putting up good assist numbers along with scoring. Gay is averaging 3.8 assists, still on pace for a career high.
“I don’t think (Karl) was watching us much earlier,” Gay said with a laugh. “But that’s something I’ve grown to do as a player, getting older and learning new things about the game. That’s something I’ve learned to enjoy, getting my teammates buckets. That’s the next-best thing to scoring.”
More than anything, Gay wants to win, so Saturday was tough to deal with after the Kings blew a 16-point lead.
Gay missed a driving layup with 2.6 seconds left in regulation, and DeMarcus Cousins’ putback didn’t fall.
That the Kings lost wasn’t easy to accept, even with another big scoring night.
“It’s probably the easiest shot I got all day and I missed it,” Gay said. “I don’t know, maybe it’s something where I’ve got to look at myself; maybe I’ve got to get in the gym more. It’s something I practice every day, but maybe I need to practice more because the end of the game is usually my game.”
Karl was happy with the shot and the follow by Cousins.
“You can’t get any better shot than that,” Karl said.
Karl believes the Kings are making progress, despite blowing the big lead Saturday. The Kings are 3-6 under Karl.
If his last two games are signs, Gay will fit just fine in Karl’s system.
But Gay said it’s hard to take solace in statistics, given the season the Kings have had.
He’s part of the Kings’ long-term plans, having signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension last fall. But knowing the playoffs aren’t a possibility is frustrating.
“I’m just trying to focus on basketball,” Gay said. “Numbers don’t mean nothing when you’re at home in April. It feels good to get out there and improve as a player, but I’d rather see the team improve.”
Karl has ideas for how he’d like to use Gay. He plans to put more responsibility on Gay to make the most of his talents.
Gay came to Sacramento with the reputation of being a scorer, but Malone and Karl see more than that in Gay.
“I want him to be more involved in playmaking, more involved in being a versatile player from being a point forward to a four man, a stretch four, a scoring wing,” Karl said. “He has a lot of personalities. I don’t think he’s expanded them very much in his career, even though he’s been in the league eight years.”
Gay said there is always more to improve on and that he is not content.
“I’m going to get better every year,” Gay said. “I’m going to bring something else next year and something that I’ll get better at and be better at.”