The Grizz have been putting out feelers around the NBA about their not-quite All-Star at small forward, Rudy Gay. This is partially contract related – the Grizzlies are about $4 million over the luxury tax line with their current roster, and their top four players – Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay – lock the Grizzlies into luxury tax penalties this season and the next two. For a small market team like Memphis, this could be untenable (why do you think the Thuunder traded James Harden?). But the Grizzlies are currently fourth in a more muddled Western Conference with a faltering Lakers team dropping out of contention, and it behooves Memphis to keep their core in tact to make a run with what they have. So why are the Grizzlies looking to trade Rudy Gay, and — perhaps more importantly — should they? The answer is probably no, and so far they haven’t.
Starting the season with some hot shooting that saw them go 12-1 in November, the Grizzlies were shooting 45 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three-point range in a top 10 offense few could believe would last. It didn’t. In December, they dropped back to earth, shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 31.5 from behind the three-point line. This latter stat continues a trend from the last couple seasons where they were a bottom five shooting team from beyond the arc. They always had poor luck from long range, and the departure of O.J. Mayo to Dallas this offseason did little to shore up that weakness this year. They’re currently next to last in three-point attempts and makes (beating only the grind-it-out Chicago Bulls), and 17th in three-point percentage as a whole. That’s not very efficient in today’s NBA, where three-point shooting teams like the Thunder, Knicks, Spurs and Heat reign supreme.
The Grizzlies have survived this season — like the last two — with their defense, which is giving up 96.2 points per 100 possessions, good for the second-best mark in the league. But like last season, where they ranked 21st in offensive efficiency (primarily due to the dearth of three-pointers), this season, they’re only a little better at 16th in league scoring, averaging 101.1 points per 100 possessions (they’re 19th in the league in pace, so this can partially be attributed to their tendency to slow it down and set up their half-court sets).
There’s one guy the Grizz have needed to shoot well, and Rudy Gay’s place as their go-to individual scorer, who can create his own offense late in games, has been ambushed by his poor shooting. For his career, Gay shoots at better than 45 percent from the floor, but this season he’s down to 41 percent through the 32 games he’s appeared in. For example, last season he shot 45.5 percent from the floor. His three-point shooting has been consistently bad since he almost shot 40 percent during 54 games in 2010-11 before going down with an injury (He’s also not connecting on nearly as many midrange shots this year, his bread and butter offensively.). He’s a below-average three-point shooter barely eclipsing the 30 percent threshold for his career. It’s not that Rudy Gay is a terrible three-point shooter, but with a team featuring Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Gay needs to prevent defenders from hedging into the post. A sub-32 percent mark on the season isn’t going to cut it, even if watching the 6-9 Gay shoot a jumper is a study in smooth.
Besides the issues with the luxury taxes taking effect next year, the Grizzlies desperately need some outside shooting, and the thought is they could pick up enough spot-up shooters to make up for the loss of Gay on the wing. Except, there are very few spot-up shooters capable of creating their own shot in the final minutes when defenses tighten, especially as this happens more frequently in tightly contested playoff games. A lot of people defending the Grizzlies decision to dangle Gay as trade bait point to their stunning run in the 2010-11 Playoffs, where Gay was absent. Our own Sean Sweeney mentions this when he spent time with Gay and Randolph in the summer of 2011. Sweeney says both players were striving to prove they could play and win together, but they were again set back by Randolph’s early season knee injury last year and they never really came together. We all remember Gay’s tepid play in the opening round loss to the Clippers last season, where he shot just 42 percent from the floor and posted a career low 14.6 PER, so perhaps that’s another reason Grizzlies management is shopping him.