Is There A Changed Rudy Gay In Sacramento?

Since coming over from Toronto, Rudy Gay has played in two games for the Kings, and they’re 1-1 in those games after last night’s 106-91 victory over the visiting Rockets. Sunday night was Gay’s introduction to the raucous fans in Sacramento, a city that fought tooth and nail to save their NBA team from moving to Seattle. But Gay’s performance in his two Kings outings has been, gulp, really efficient. Will his effectiveness continue, or will he regress back to the median of his time in Toronto?.

The question is whether Gay’s 56.3 percent shooting from the floor since coming over to Sacramento can continue as he moves forward. During the first 18 games in Toronto this season, Gay was shooting a career-low 38.8 percent from the field, and had again fallen in love with the mid-range jumpers that make basketball analytics people curl up in a ball before gently rocking themselves to sleep. The mid-range jumper is the most inefficient shot in basketball and stands in stark contrast to the analytic-heavy trajectory of the NBA with the new SportVU cameras in every arena this season and analytics departments in all the top franchises.

But Gay showed a willingness to attack the rim in Sunday night’s 15-point victory over the visiting Rockets, getting easy buckets in the restricted area, and somewhat neglecting those awful step-back jumpers inside the three-point arc. Watch as he drives to the rim in transition, and takes it to the hole after pump-faking beyond the arc:

Of the 20 field goal attempts Rudy attempted last night, 11 were in the restricted area. That’s an excellent distribution, but it diverges with what he’d done earlier this season in Toronto. Check out the basic zone shot distribution for Rudy in Toronto before he was traded to Sacramento:

And his basic zone shot distribution through two games as a member of the Kings:

Just watch as Gay challenges Dwight Howard after Howard switches on to him following a Boogie pick at the top of the key. The old Rudy might have pulled up for a jumper after getting some seperation from D-12, but this Sacramento incarnation takes it all the way to the bucket for a pretty left-handed scoop.

But Rudy still can’t pass up the mid-range, as you’ll see, it’s just that they’re a tad different in Sacramento.

See how Rudy’s mid-range attempts are different…

While it’s hard to malign a player as smooth as Gay who has the length, the skill and the athleticism to get a solid look against just about anybody in the league, he’s only going to shoot a high percentage from the mid-range, or from beyond the arc, by mixing it up a bit.

The pull-up jumper only works if you’ve shown an opponent you’re capable of going all the way to the rim to finish. Rudy had trouble finishing in the restricted area while with Toronto earlier this season:

But while there’s more red here from his two games in Sacramento, look at Rudy near the hoop:

Gay did connect on two mid-range jumpers, one in each half on Sunday night, and they offer the perfect example and counter-example of good and bad mid-range jumpers. Here is a good jumper by Rudy in the first half:

Notice how he takes what the defense gives him? Rudy prods the Houston D with his dribble, and you can see the entire team collapse to the paint, worried Rudy will get another look from close to the hoop. So he takes a jumper in the flow of the game at the right elbow and knocks it down.

Then there’s this jumper — again from the right side — that’s got vestiges of Toronto hanging all over it:

Rudy again pump-fakes from behind the three-point line, but he only takes one dribble before immediately picking the ball up in a shooting motion. He pump-fakes again and knocks it down from further out than the jumper in the first half, plus there’s a hand in his eye. True, DeMarcus Cousins appears to have inside advantage for an offensive board if Rudy had missed, but there wasn’t any real reason to take this shot with so much defensive pressure. Better to pass it off and get it back to look for something easier or run another set.

Listen, Rudy Gay’s shot is so polished-looking, it’s impossible not to think every jumper has a good chance to go in, regardless of whether it’s a contested 20-footer, or a wide-open look at a corner three. But those contested 20-footers are harder to knock down — even for a player of Gay’s caliber — and they’re what made Gay so inefficient in Toronto.

They’re also why new GM, Masai Ujiri, was so quick to unload Gay’s contract (he has a player option for over $19 million next year and makes close to $18 million this year). But if Gay can go back to the attacking, unhurried athlete he was earlier in his career with Memphis, when his contract still seemed like a good idea, it’ll keep his field goal percentage above the 47 percent mark, and it’ll turn Sacramento into a much better team.

The triumvirate of Boogie, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay combined to score 66 points against Houston with none of the three shooting under 50 percent. Boogie was fantastic too, dropping 21 points (7-of-14 shooting), grabbing 10 boards and passing for five assists. Zeke was again excellent, going 7-for-12 from the field for 19 points and eight dimes.

It’s that type of production from all three that allowed Sacramento to so easily put away a playoff team with title aspirations like Houston. But the onus falls on Gay to keep attacking and never rely on his jumper — particularly the pull-up variety — quite as much as he did in Toronto and in the latter stages of his time in Memphis.

If Gay’s change is more permanent than two games could possibly tell us, all the people maligning coach Mike Malone, GM Pete D’Alessandro, owner Vivek Ranadive and the rest of Sacramento’s brain trust for their decision to trade with Toronto, and the intimidating intelligence of Ujiri, will be as surprised as Gay was last night in Sacramento.

Can Gay keep his efficiency at this level for the rest of the season?

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