Rudy Gay got into town just in time to see his new team play their best game of the season as the Kings blew the Dallas Mavericks out Monday night by a score of 112-97. Gay and the other former Raptors/new Kings Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy even made their way to the Kings bench late in the fourth quarter to a loud ovation.
Was this Kings performance a mirage, or a sign of things to come? Well, a little of both probably.
The Kings were fueled last night by the best game of Derrick Williams’ career so far – 31 points on 12-16 shooting to go with five rebounds and five steals. Minus Grevis Vasquez, Patrick Paterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes slogging them down, the Kings played more athletically than they have all season. A starting lineup with Williams, rookie Ben McLemore and Isaiah Thomas add a level of speed to their perimeter that they just isn’t possible with Vasquez or Salmons on the court, and allow for fast breaks that end like this.
Williams numbers, however, are unsustainable. He shot 3-5 on three-pointers, after coming into the game 2-25 on threes for the entire season.
But that’s where the Kings new $20 million man comes in handy.
Gay will only add to the Kings new-found athleticism, and with his length and athleticism he has the tools, like Williams, to be a competent defender when he’s engaged. Also, for all of the long two-point shots that have become Gay’s forte, he has rebounded at a career high 7.4 per game this year and shot above league average from the three-point line.
He also will alleviate Williams’ need to produce that amount of points on a nightly basis, because while Rudy is often inefficient, he does score at a decent clip. How he scores, and how many shots he takes to do that is what will be a signifier of the Kings success.
Thomas, who also had a career night notching his career high 12 assists, is the key going forward with Gay and Williams, two players who struggle to create points off the dribble. Like Williams’ point total, a dozen assists per night is unsustainable for Thomas. But with starter minutes and the ball in his hands more than ever he could tally higher assist totals than his career average of just 4.1 per game and splitting the difference and dishing out eight assists a night would be a sign of a huge improvement in effectiveness of the Kings offense. The Kings will need him to distribute the ball effectively to not only manage the touches of so many players who crave the ball and shots, but to balance the offense between Gay’s long jump shots and DeMarcus Cousins inside scoring.
Speaking of Boogie, he is quietly having a All Star season, and that was the case before he dropped 32 points and 19 rebounds last night. Cousins will get his touches and shots each night, and rightfully so. But, he is a decent passer for his position and Gay has shown in the past that he can be successful working alongside bruising bigs who attract the type of attention that Cousins does.
With all that said, the Kings may have taken advantage of a team looking past them. The Mavericks came into town just two days after dramatically beating the Blazers in Portland with a Monta Ellis buzzer-beater, and two days before facing Steph Curry and the Warriors. The Mavs were sluggish throughout and shot just under 39% for the game. They were a step slow and the Kings had a pep in their step all night, evidenced by the fact that the Kings scored nearly five times as many fast break points as the Mavs and grabbed 12 more rebounds.
There will be growing pains when Gay is added to the rotation, as first year head coach Mike Malone figures how to use him and mesh him with the identity already established for his team. But if the athletic brand of basketball we saw last night is what the Kings are hoping to play from here on out, Gay may fit more than assumed initially.
Will their be terribly inefficient nights from this team of mostly inefficient players? Of course, but Gay entering the lineup Tuesday against one of the worst teams in the league, the Utah Jazz, means we’ll probably have to wait to see one.
Just remember, the Kings owe a first round pick to the Cavs from the JJ Hickson trade a few years back. This year it’s top 12 protected, so even if there is a significant improvement for the Kings with Gay, at some point they will pack it in and get ready for the draft.
You would hate to be 2003 Jerry West at this draft lottery, just because you have Rudy Gay.