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Kings’ Rudy Gay still struggling to find comfort zone

Kings forward Rudy Gay had two points on Friday against Minnesota after scoring a season-high 36 on Wednesday.
Kings forward Rudy Gay had two points on Friday against Minnesota after scoring a season-high 36 on Wednesday. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The NBA is all about matchup advantages, which seemingly benefits Rudy Gay.

Coach George Karl sees the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Gay as someone who can play small forward, power forward and even shooting guard.

But the plan to make Gay a jack-of-all-trades hasn’t gone smoothly. Gay has struggled shooting and looked out of sorts when teams have made him defend traditional power forwards or chase smaller players.

The past week summed up Gay’s inconsistency this season. He scored a season-high 36 points on Wednesday in a win at Milwaukee. On Friday, he scored two points on 1-of-13 shooting in a loss to Minnesota.

Gay had 20 points and seven rebounds in Saturday night’s 120-101 loss to the host Golden State Warriors.

Gay’s resolve that the season will be far more positive than negative has not wavered.

“Part of it is just being out there on the floor and things happen,” Gay said. “When you have a certain amount of talent, something’s going to happen. Things are going to come your way as long as you keep playing hard.”

Karl is waiting for things to click for Gay this season.

“Rudy hasn’t had a good start to the season,” Karl said. “I think once he gets to playing well, playing the way he’s capable of playing, he’ll be happy. And I can’t really even predict if it’ll be at three (small forward) or at four (power forward). I hope it makes him happy, period.”

Alternating between the forward spots has been tricky during Gay’s career. He bulked up in the weight room before the 2013-14 season with Toronto to play more power forward but struggled and was traded to Sacramento after appearing in 18 games.

Gay departed from that approach before last season. Karl experimented with Gay at power forward last season, but the Kings added more big men in the offseason, notably Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein.

Still, Karl wants to use Gay as a power forward.

“I think he’s more comfortable at three (small forward), but it’s not necessarily a position. It’s more I’m going to play my best players at the end of a game,” Karl said. “If that means he’s playing three, he plays three. If it means he’s playing four ... and a lot of time when we play small, it’s not by position; it’s basketball players on the court making basketball decisions. (They’re) finding shots for each other and helping each other space the court and enjoy the game, play basketball.”

Gay could do without much of the talk about his position.

“I’m definitely tired of it,” Gay said. “When I’m out there, I’m a basketball player, and I think that’s the thing about it. That’s what they preach – be a basketball player, be an effective basketball player. Whenever I’m out there and whatever position you think I’m playing, I have to be effective.”

Gay’s statistics actually aren’t far off his career numbers. He entered Saturday’s game averaging 18.3 points, just below his career average of 18.5.

Gay was shooting 45.3 percent, slightly above his career average of 45.1 percent. His 6.7 rebounds per game exceeded his career average of 5.8.

But Gay’s numbers have tailed off from last season, when he averaged career highs of 21.1 points and 3.7 assists. Gay was averaging 2.3 assists per game this season entering Saturday.

Karl said Gay must adjust to not having the ball as much when he’s at power forward. At small forward, Gay has the ball more and doesn’t rely on someone to get it to him.

“(Playing small forward is) something I’ve been doing for 10 years, and having to set screens and have people make plays for me is different,” Gay said.

Still, Gay said it’s his responsibility to become comfortable with his role.

“That’s the learning process for everybody,” Gay said. “Everybody at a point ends up playing a position they haven’t played before. D.C. (Darren Collison) is playing the two, Omri’s (Casspi) playing the four, sometimes the five. It’s a learning process.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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