Statistically, last season was the best of Rudy Gay’s career.
But the Kings forward didn’t relish his personal success, which was easily overlooked amid turmoil that included three head coaches and the franchise’s ninth consecutive losing season.
If anything, Gay’s best season left him unfulfilled.
“Later in the season, I felt like I played better, but I still don’t think I’ve reached where I can be or reached my max potential,” he said. “I’m still fighting. I’m still trying to get better.”
The Kings are counting on Gay, 29, to be even better this season, his 10th in the league and third in Sacramento.
So as the Kings began the preseason Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, Gay wants to put up impressive numbers for a winning team.
“I hope (Gay is) excited because I think he’s a guy who can have a great year,” Kings coach George Karl said. “I think he has a forum now, that we have enough talent that we can win games and he can be one of the top two or three players on that team.”
Last season, Gay averaged career highs of 21.1 points and 3.7 assists to go with 5.9 rebounds. Karl said his offensive strategy should benefit Gay.
“I’m a coach that likes the players to flow,” Karl said, “and I’m hoping with two point guards like (Rajon) Rondo and (Darren) Collison, we can just play basketball and he can find easy baskets through the flow.”
On Monday, Gay started at small forward, but Karl figures to use him in various spots on the floor. Karl will play Gay at power forward, allowing him to use his post game against smaller defenders.
Gay looks forward to displaying his versatility this season. He arrived in Sacramento with a reputation of being basically an isolation player. First under Michael Malone and then Karl, Gay has demonstrated that his offensive game involves more than simply holding the ball to get his own shot.
Gay believes his broad skill set fits Karl’s strategy.
“I think I can guard multiple positions and I can play multiple positions,” he said. “The fact you don’t have an emphasis on positions (from Karl) plays into my strengths. There are some nights where I’m going to have to play the five (center), but then again I know where to be and what to do out there.”
Karl will put a lot of responsibility on Gay. Last year, before Malone was fired and there was a change at general manager, Gay signed a three-year contract extension that begins this season.
“I think Rudy’s got to be one of our top scorers,” Karl said. “And of course he’s a great fourth-quarter player. In close games, he’s going to be called on to make some shots.”
Being overlooked for his play last season didn’t bother Gay. Missing the playoffs did trouble him. Now, Gay wants to show he can live up to the expectations of Karl and the organization regardless of where he is on the floor.
“To be able to go out there and do whatever the coach asks of you, that’s what makes you a good player,” Gay said. “I want to use my versatility. I want to become a better player. And playing one (point guard) through five, that’s just something I can put on my résumé.”