Rudy Gay is now defined by the advanced stats cloud that follows him, apparently. The continued battle waged in Gay's name drew out some comments from the man himself, and NBA.com's Jeff Caplan framed it up. I just wish Caplan hadn't framed it in a way that makes the whole thing as antagonistic as possible.
No player is caught in the cross hairs of the NBA's analytics revolution quite like Rudy Gay. The 6-foot-8 slashing small forward is the enemy of the computer. It doesn't value his game and it makes no apologies.
Look, this isn't a Terminator movie. "The computer" does not have enemies. If it had the capacity for compassion, it wouldn't owe Gay an apology, because "the computer" has done nothing to Gay. The computer takes input and spits out results.
One of the things totally ignored most of the time when Gay is the subject is that even advanced stats find value in his game. Just not $18 million salary value. Just not All-Star value. He's an above-average player. Just because data-driven analysis indicates he's nowhere near as valuable as the "stars" of the game, that doesn't mean the computer believes he has no value.
That framing has made this a problem because Gay can clearly play basketball. He's got talent, size and skills in varying levels. He's a good basketball player. Our eyes know that much. But folks assume that because Gay is not an advanced stats darling, the advanced stats believe him to be a scrub. That's not the case. Many advanced stats would place Gay as an above-average player, a good starter. That's nothing to shrug at. (There's also the matter of "advanced stats" not being a single number or set of numbers.)
All we're really quibbling about is how much value Gay provides. Gay and his backers say he provides a lot of value, maybe an All-Star level of value. Those more in tune with advanced stats would disagree. This debate is not singular or even infrequent: we make the judgments on just about every other player. The reason Gay is at the forefront is two-fold: he makes superstar money and Memphis traded him in the middle of a title run.
When statheads took over the Grizzlies' front office and then jettisoned Gay to Toronto in midseason, one of the biggest basketball writers on the planet accused Memphis of choosing money over wins. The response to that became a sort of Gay backlash. As it turns out, the Grizzlies were better without Gay and got further into the playoffs than ever before. The Grizzlies' move was validated and now it's Gay who is ready to respond.
"Honestly, how I view it, a computer can't tell talent, it just can't," Gay told NBA.com [...]. "When it comes down to it, it's all about winning, and however you get the win. According to analytics, you either [have] to shoot a 3 or get to the foul line, and it's not good for people like me that live in that mid-range area."
Here's the disconnect: data has shown us that there are certain ways that make getting the win a lot more feasible. Shooting more three-pointers and getting to the line are two of those ways. A three is worth one more point than a two. So if you shoot 4-10 on 18-footers, you get eight points on those 10 shots. If you shoot 3-10 on corner threes, you get nine points on those 10 shots. Nine points is better than eight points. That extra point gets you closer to a win. Last season, Gay shot .329 on long two-pointers and .323 on three-pointers. Taking 100 of those long twos and turning them into 100 three-pointers without adjusting the percentages is a swing of 30 points. That's a big deal.
Gay is a damned good free throw shooter. For every trip to the line for a pair, he earns about 1.6 points. To earn 1.6 points per shot on two-pointers, Gay would need to shoot a field goal percentage of 80 percent. Which is not possible. To earn 1.6 points per shot on three-pointers, Gay would need to shoot 53 percent on them. Not even Stephen Curry shoots 53 percent on threes. Ergo, if Gay gets free throws, history shows he'll convert them at a rate better than he or anyone can dream of converting shots into points from the field.
This isn't to say Gay needs to abandon his game to draw more free throws. This is to show why other scorers are ranked over Gay. For his career, Gay averages four free-throw attempts per game. Carmelo Anthony averages almost eight. Kevin Durant averages eight. Dwyane Wade averages 8.6. Like Gay, those guys all live in the mid-range area. But the ability to draw fouls is a big reason as to why those guys are a cut above Gay as a scorer. (In addition, they all are more efficient on the two-pointers they do take.)
This isn't some weird magic: it's largely basic math. Each team gets a limited number of possessions per game, and the intent on offense is to squeeze as many points as possible out of them.
By more conventional measures, Gay can be deemed a super-athletic wing, a valuable weapon with size, a good handle and the ability to create his own shot - -at times bandied as a borderline All-Star. Analytic computations conversely box in Gay, a top-six usage player among small forwards in the league, as a highly inefficient player, an offensive black hole who impedes ball movement, is ultimately detrimental to the team concept and is lucky to be in the league.
Again, Caplan's framing suggests that only one side -- the conventional backers, which we'll assume represent scouts in this old canard of a battle, or the statheads -- can be correct. But every specific assessment mentioned is true, and we can measure it. Super-athletic? Athletic tests from when he was drafted bore that out. Size? Yes, the measuring tape agrees. A good handle? Absolutely: Gay has a really low turnover rate, which is valuable. Highly inefficient? Yep. An offensive black hole? His assist rate is painfully low.
The "lucky to be in the league" crap is, well, crap; no one with any level of respect in or around the league has ever said that or believes it, to my knowledge. Gay neither deserves to be MVP or to be in the D-League: he's an above-average NBA player. We're quibbling over how above-average using data. There really is no controversy here.
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We'll dig into the Raptors' future more later this week as SB Nation NBA's preview series begins, but these words from Toronto GM Masai Ujiri are too interesting to pass up. In Cathal Kelly's Toronto Sun column from Friday, Ujiri -- who won the league's top executive award last season in Denver -- reveals a sort of timetable for the team's rise.
In the wider view, every army on the move needs a destination. It's put to Ujiri that the 2016 all-star game - a moment MLSE hopes to use in order to re-announce the franchise to the league - is an obvious target.
"I think it has to be around that time that you at least see what the picture is going to look like. Listen, we're not trying to buy time here. We have to see what we have and advance from there. But yes, I like that timeframe, where you should at least know that your team is emerging."
2016. That's seems like a long time, but it's only two offseasons away. That, to me, indicates two things: Ujiri and his bosses intend to be patient, and Ujiri is not optimistic about what he currently has in Toronto. The latter is easy to suss out: he wants to see what the picture is going to look like by 2015-16. That indicates that he does not currently see the picture of what this team will be. Which means that picture needs to be redrawn.
On patience: he wants to know that the team is emerging by 2015-16. As far as GM stated goals go, that's remarkably soft. He's not even saying "we want to be in the playoffs by 2016." He's saying he wants to know that the team is emerging by then. Assuming Ujiri also shared this position with the folks who hired him, that shows some great restraint among everyone involved.
And while that means the potential for another couple of rough seasons for Toronto fans, at least there's a sensible plan. After to Bryan Colangelo era, that's a big step up.
It may seem like a standard training camp entry, but Jason Jones's interview with newly-extended DeMarcus Cousins in the Sacramento Bee goes straight into the Boogie canon. It's a revealing look as to what made Cousins put faith into his new bosses, which in a way shows you what Cousins values.