Rudy Gay made an appearance on SiruisXM’s NBA Radio earlier this week, and while most of this short interview was inconsequential, he did reveal that George Karl told him that he would be playing "more at the four" next season.
I wish "more at the four" wasn’t so ambiguous, but that’s all we have to work with.
This is something the Kings have been teasing since Gay was acquired two seasons ago. We rarely saw it under Michael Malone, but George Karl used this strategy for one particular stretch in the second half of last season, and the results were decent.
Of course, with Darren Collison missing the entire second half of the season, and DeMarcus Cousins’ overall health forcing him in and out of the lineup, it’s really hard to take any of the following numbers with anything other than a huge grain of salt, but here we go.
From March 20th to March 28th, the Kings went 4-1 with Rudy Gay starting at power forward. Cousins was active for four of those five games, with Thompson getting the start at center in the lone game Cousins missed.
Gay put up 22.4 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game on 44.6% shooting in that stretch.
If you are pro-Rudy Gay at power forward, you probably aren’t going to find a better example of that strategy working, because the rest of the numbers aren’t so hot.
The Ray McCallum, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins lineup appeared in nine total games, posting a horrific 107.4 defensive rating, -4.5 net rating, and a would-be-bottom-of-the-league 48.1 rebound percentage. Any concerns you had about Gay at the four reared its ugly head here. The Kings couldn’t defend, and they struggled on the glass.
These numbers could, and probably would look wildly different if, say, Collison were healthy, or if a more established small forward was starting in Casspi’s place. Don’t get me wrong, I want Casspi to return to Sacramento next season, but if Gay starting at power forward is a long-term plan, I highly doubt Casspi starting next to him is part of it.
The truth is, you can slice up small sample size numbers any way you like, and they would probably tell you more about the success of something than they would about the failure. The Kings failed last season on so many levels, that one particular lineups failure is just par for the course. A success, though, would show something different, something worth examining.
We don’t know enough, that’s the real issue. We’ll know a lot more on June 25th. If the Kings draft a player like Willie Cauley-Stein, or Kristaps Porzingis, the organizations intentions are clear. We might see Gay at power forward here and there, but that is not a long-term solution.
If they take a versatile, strong, defensive minded small forward like Justise Winslow or Stanley Johnson, it could indicate a real movement to start Gay at power forward full time.
I’m not naïve enough to say that small ball doesn’t have its place in today’s NBA, and it is required for certain stretches, but it is not my preferred style, especially when you are laying the success or failure of it on Rudy Gay’s shoulders. Gay has been a borderline All-Star caliber player since arriving in Sacramento, and his size and strength for a small forward is what makes him unique. And to be frank, I just don’t think Rudy Gay is cut out for 82 games in that spot.
We’ll know more in 19 days.