When the Kings traded for Rudy Gay this past year, there was a hope that his performance in Toronto was an aberration and that he would bounce back in a new environment. He had been shooting a paltry 38.8% from the field over the first 18 games of the season despite taking almost 19 shots a game.
Rudy not only bounced back in Sacramento, but he actually ended up shooting better than ever. His 48.2% from the field and 51.6% on two-point field goals were the highest of the career, and he even flirted with a month or two of being above the 50% marker overall, a rarity for wing players.
Of course, this last year with Sacramento has so far been the exception and not the rule. What changed when he came to Sacramento?
For starters, he was not being asked to be the primary option. By far his worst years in the NBA came in Toronto where he was asked to be the face of the franchise and star. He was much better as a secondary or even third option in Memphis, although even there he was labeled as inefficient due to his penchant for shooting long range jumpers and inability to hit a three pointer with any consistency.
Gay still struggled to be a consistent three point shooter in Sacramento, hitting just 31.2% of his long-range attempts, but he was better about his shot selection. According to basketball-reference.com, just 17.8% of Rudy Gay's field goal attempts in Sacramento came from 16 feet to the 3 point line, aka the least efficient shot in basketball (it requires the most effort with the least reward). That is down from his career rate of 21.5% from that area. He also increased his attempts from 3-10 feet to 23.8%, well above his career rate of 16.8%. Combined with the 24.9% of his attempts that came at the rim, almost half of Rudy's shots came within 10 feet of the basket, a good thing considering his high rate of conversion in those areas. Gay's decision to attack the rim more also meant more trips to the line. He had a career-high Free Throw Attempts per 36 minutes of 5.7 last year in Sacramento.
Rudy also benefited from the fact that he held court with two other excellent offensive players that the defense had to key on in DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. Now Thomas is gone, leaving Gay as the clear cut secondary option to DeMarcus Cousins. Thomas's offense will have to be replaced from somewhere. Will it be Gay taking more shots, or will other players (Collison, Sessions, McLemore, Stauskas) pick up the slack? One of my many fears regarding the decision to not retain Thomas is that those shots will instead come from inferior options.
We also have some cause to think that Rudy Gay's shooting efficiency isn't sustainable given the drop-off that occurred from month to month while he was in Sacramento. Here are his shooting splits:
There's one clear outlier in that group and that's his supremely efficient January. That month was extremely out of the ordinary and not likely to be repeated soon. If you take that month out, his shooting looks far more like his career averages.
I don't think we'll be seeing another career year in terms of efficiency from Rudy, but as long as he can continue to be productive and not inefficient, he's still an incredibly valuable player to this team, both now and in the future.