When the Raptors acquired Rudy Gay last week, some people were still under the impression that he’s a poor defender. I came to his defense, but mostly just in passing on the Podcast or on Twitter. I had promised to dive in a little deeper sometime this week, and I’ll do that now.

To reiterate my stance at the time of the trade, Gay is not an elite wing defender, nor is he a poor one. He is, however, slightly above-average and also immediately becomes the Raptors’ best wing defender.

In Memphis, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol get a great deal of attention for their defensive contributions, but Gay played a “stay-at-home” kind of role, playing tight man defense on the opposing team’s best wing player. This allowed Allen more freedom to freelance off the ball, an area where he excels. Now, Allen is still a better wing defender than Gay, but the sum of Gay-on-ball + Allen-freelance was greater than Gay-freelance + Allen-on-ball. At least this is what I gather from the video I’ve looked at and from applying logic to having Gay on the opposition’s best weapon if Allen is, in fact, the better defender. Gay got the toughest assignment, in particular, at the end of games, which will be a key role for him in Toronto.

The Raptors don’t have a big as strong defensively as Gasol or another wing defender as strong as Allen, so Gay’s defense becomes even more important here in Toronto (I know Amir is a great help defender, but Gasol is getting Defensive Player of the Year love, so chill). Before we get into some situation-specific information, let’s compare Gay’s defensive metrics with other Raptors. Now, advanced defensive statistics can be flawed, but if we look at enough of them over a large enough sample, we might be able to paint a clear picture. (Note: This table is color-scaled to this group, not to league average.)
raptor wing d stats
The first thing to note is that Gay is 14th in the NBA this year in Defensive Win Shares. Part of this is due to Memphis’ strong defense and Gay’s heavy minutes load, but it’s still extremely impressive.

It really doesn’t take a “stats geek” to see that using these two advanced metrics, Gay is head and shoulders above his new teammates. Again though, these are general stats, and some people may not love the methodology the sites use to determine them.

Let’s look to Synergy, then, to identify particular situations.
raps wing d synergyA few caveats are necessary here, mainly that we’re dealing with a relatively small sample of games and I can’t go back any further than this year (because Synergy STILL doesn’t have registration open, so I just get the “basics”). Perhaps most importantly, though, is that these stats don’t control for the quality of the opponent being guarded. In addition, the logging/tracking of defenders and plays is somewhat in question, and a lot of “stats people” I trust don’t love it outside of post-ups and isolations, where the primary defender is obvious.

We can still see some interesting things though, such as the fact that all the Raptor wings seem to be better handling the pick-and-roll than Gay. This could be a scheme-dependent anomaly, I’m not really sure. In addition we see that DeRozan has done better than Anderson and Gay in isolation, which we can all agree is DEFINITELY because of quality of opposing players. We also see that Terrence Ross, likely because of his length and quickness, is excellent guarding spot-up shooters.

If you’ve ever accused me of cherry-picking stats to prove my point, hopefully the fact that Gay’s overall opponent point per possession here is the worst of the bunch puts that to rest. I am almost positive this is because Gay guards tougher players than any one particular Raptor has been tasked with, in concert with some curious classification by Synergy for non one-on-one situations.

To try and dig deeper, Jared Dubin, a true O.G. from HoopChalk, Hardwood Paroxysm and more, pulled Gay’s 2011-12 numbers for me.
gay 201112 synergy dNow, beyond all of these stats, I wanted to clip some video to show as well. Of course, that would be cherry-picking, but so would any videos showing him as a poor defender. I also didn’t want to take any Synergy video, and am not exactly tech-savvy in terms of creating videos (please trust me that I watched a bunch of Grizzlies end-game situations via my League Pass account in the past week, and I’m not blowing smoke up your butts).

Below, however, is a good example of Gay’s isolation defense. Amir Johnson is coming to help but never needs to, as Gay manages to force James wide and elevates for a block. You can see he’s quick laterally, but James probably could have driven by him into help if he so chose. Still, the lateral quickness and quick elevation allow him to stay with James and block the shot.

Again, that’s just one example. There are more out there, but people tend not to put “siiiiick defensive play” on YouTube too often.

If you prefer more basic “blocks” and “steals” as your defensive stat of choice (I recommend against this, though they certainly matter), Gay is also 14th in the NBA in steals since he entered the league with 644 in 481 games. Of the top-20 players in that span in terms of steals, he is fourth in blocks with 422. Only 38 players have ever tallied 600 steals and 400 blocks in their first seven seasons, and Gay has done it in fewer games than all but seven of them. He’s fairly elite when it comes to those two stats. Further to more “normal” box score stats, he’s roughly an average defensive rebounder for his position.

Anecdotally, his athleticism and quickness also allow him to recover quickly. Matt Moore from CBS has watched more Grizz video than probably anyone, and he directed me to the November 14 game between Oklahoma City and Memphis. I watched the full game on League Pass again last night and came away impressed, not just at Gay’s defense but how relatively unnoticed it goes. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Gay’s reputation hasn’t caught up with his ability on that end since, as Matt put it to me, “He’s the “stable” defender on Memphis. So while Tony’s reaching and gambling, and Marc’s extending to attack, Rudy’s staying home.” I also noticed a couple of times where, when he did make a mistake, he was vocal about it and took accountability with his teammates, which is important, I think, in cultivating a strong defensive culture, which is obviously a Coach Casey goal.

I’m not telling you to accept my word, accept the stats, or even accept Matt’s word. If you have Synergy or League Pass access, go watch some of Gay’s work with the Grizzlies, specifically against elite players and at the end of games. If you don’t have access to these resources, just keep an eye on it in the coming games. Gay is likely to draw the tough assignments with the Raptors, and while nobody on earth can help keep LeBron James in check for a full game, Gay has shown the ability to be a key cog in a highly effective defensive system.

In basketball, especially on defense, reputations are sometimes slow to catch up to reality. Hopefully this article and the coming weeks will help to highlight Rudy Gay as more than just a one-way player. Again, he’s not elite, but he appears to be average at worst and potentially very good in the right environment. Hopefully he can carry that over from the league’s second best defensive team to its 26th best.

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  • Nilanka15

    Yup, I never understood all the “he’s a poor defender” nonsense.  Some disgruntled Grizz fan probably tweeted it somewhere, and it spread like wildfire…and some Raps fans were foolish enough to believe it.

  • robertparrish00

    I thought the knock on him wasn’t that he was a bad defender, rather a disinterested defender.  Right now he seems motivated.

  • vino

    A few points regarding this article:

    Tony Allen is a better wing defender than Gay.
    This general statement is accurate; however, you carried on saying that Gay was
    tasked on most nights to guard the opposing team’s best player. This sentence
    is incorrect. Yeah, Gay himself proclaimed that during his introduction press
    conference but in general, if you’ve watched many Grizz games, you’d notice
    that Allen actually guarded opposing wing best played the majority of games. Of
    course, it all depends on match-ups and Allen is only 6’4’’ to Gay’s 6’8’’… but
    your general approach here is inaccurate. Also, I do not buy this Tony Allen “freelancing”
    off the ball. This is bull. Allen is an awesome lock-down defender; I’d say he’s
    the best in the business.

     “Amir is
    a great help defender” – don’t know about that… he’s average-to-good in my
    book; definitely not “great” but this is entire different topic.

    “I am almost positive this is because Gay guards
    tougher players than any one particular Raptor has been tasked with, in concert
    with some curious classification by Synergy for non one-on-one situations.” –
    where is the logic here?! How can any player is the league guard tougher
    players than ANY one particular Raptor has been tasked with?! Aren’t these Raps
    guard the same players as Grizz were?? Weren’t we playing the same Lebrons or

    I may have taken a few points out
    of the context; didn’t mean to put you on spot here. I just do not like
    advanced stats in general, cause most times these are subject to subjective
    interpretation, or “cherry picking” as you refer to it. I believe my own eyes
    when I watch games and Gay is an above average defender, in that we agree. I
    was highly impressed with his Lebron covering and that block one-on-one was a
    highlight real!

    • BlakeMurphy

      #1 – this is also from watching some video and talking to Grizz writers. Perhaps Durant was a poor example to use given the size difference. But if you dive in to League Pass, I promise you’ll see Gay guarding the “better” player as often as Allen.

      #2 – definitely a different topic. It’s possibly due to the scheme.

      #3 – Yes, but what I meant is that if Gay plays Wing #1 most of the time, and DD/AA share Wing #1 duties and sometimes check Wing #2, if you averaged out, say, Opponent PER over the course of the season, Gay will have faced a more difficult schedule.

      • BlakeMurphy

        Hope that answered some of your questions!

      • vino

         So what you are trying to say in point #3 here is while in Memphis, Gay was guarding the opposing #1 wing threat more often than any of our top defensive wings – DD or AA because they were sharing their duties. I do not buy that since you’ve already came down to “as often as Allen” in point #1 – so Gay was also sharing his defensive responsibilities in one-on-one coverage. And I still believe what I originally said regarding #1 is more accurate than “as often as”. Regardless, at this point this is a moot argument…

        We do agree on one thing – good thing Gay is with us now. From a defensive stand point, I can’t wait to see Ross’s progress, cause him and Gay together could be very similar to Allen-Gay combo in Memphis.

        • BlakeMurphy

          Yeah, I mean, we can quibble about the definitions and the classification, but if Gay plays 40min including the end of the game, and 20min of that is against the top guy, while DD plays 40min but only 10min against a top guy, and AA just 25min but all against a top guy…I’m just saying, if you could somehow average out each player’s Opponent PER, I’d bet Gay comes out on top. There’s no way to do this, so we’re left to kind of argue about classification/definitions.

          So let’s just agree it’s nice to have him, and the Raps could be pretty dynamic defensively with the athleticism they can throw at teams.

  • FAQ

    Too many confusing numbers… proving nothing much.

    • BlakeMurphy

      What’s confusing? I can try and help explain with some of them. (Also, it’s why I tried to include anecdotal/testimonial/video too)

      • iCanadian

        Holistic… be HOLISTIC… NOT statistic which is historic … or thinking backwards..!


    • Destro

      Too many useless numbers actually…..

      • BlakeMurphy

        Very well-argued point.

        • onemanweave

           The thing with my friends  Faq1, Faq2 and Destro is that they are geniuses in the arena of free thought but do not de-cipher well. Blake, please type more slowly and avoid numbers. The boys often get knots in their Nike laces if the numbers get too high. Velcro, boys, velcro.

  • IC

    Gay has looked motivated to play in his first two games as a Raptor, but the real test will be whether or not he continues to play this way. I hope we don’t end up with a Carter-like lack of effort in the future, given the criticism he’s received for being disinterested defensively from Grizz fans.

    • Nilanka15

      I think it’s all perception.  Gay just looks like he isn’t going at 100% intensity. 

      But that appears to be his game (not too herky-jerky, but smooth and controlled).

      • Hound

        I agree. I am not sure I have seen someone who comes in and plays so smooth. It is like when a senior moves down to the JV team for a game. I definitely don’t see disinterested, just not panicking. I am accustomed to Raps being doubled and panicking, but just when I think Gay is going to do something questionable (ala Lowry, Demar, AA) he pulls off the perfect play, be it pass or drive etc.

        He is certainly in the game and engaged.

    • ckh26

       Nothing  but nothing gets an all effort like winning games. If we begin to win games than we lose I wouldn’t worry about Gay’s or anyone else’s “compete index”. If we begin to suck out loud.. look for more than Gay to call in the dogs.. whiz on the fire and pack up for next year.

  • Daniel

    It’s so easy to be a GM in Toronto. Just sell stories to a gullible ownership, media and fanbase and results be damned. This article is a perfect example: take one good defensive play against Lebron (who then ate him alive), cherry-pick some stats embelished in a false logic and voila, Gay is a “better-than-average defender”! It is sickening. Gay played on a team with strong defenders at all positions and he got away with “riding along Allen, Gasol and Randolph”. On our team he will be mightily exposed as what type of defender he actually is. Colangelo can get away with murder in this city: he brought an inefficient high usage wing player in a lineup full of inefficient high usage players and he’s a genius! To paraphrase: “Gay and Derozan may not be at Wade and Lebron level however they are pretty darn close”. That’s OK, in the end we all get what we deserve.

    • ezz_bee



      Says the guy that sells us Jose stories, using stats. Mmmyeahokay, Danno.

      In the end we do get what we deserve – Jose in Detroit, I guess?

      But I won’t take away from you the absurd delusion that goes on with some around these parts. I believe I just read in the forums DeLoser and Gay are Jordan and Pips…all they need is Jax because DC focuses “too much” on D.   No doubt, sickening how BC fleeces the fans year and year out. 

      • Daniel

        Jose, like anybody else, will get what he deserves. I’m not concerned at all about him.

        • FLUXLAND

          Safe to say, we’ll both be following intently.  I do see it as a NashLight type career – the illusion, not the real deal. 

          Just don’t toss your cookies over someone writing an opinion piece (right or wrong) while interpreting stats, when you have showered the comments sections with much of the same about your boy.  Just a tad hypocritical, no? 

    • BlakeMurphy

      Cool story, bro.

    • Hound

      Lebron did not have his way with Gay the whole. Watch the fucking game man.

  • gradgrind101

    Statistics are a tool. Nothing more and nothing less…One should never take statistics out of context. That’s why often times you need consider several metrics that contribute to an overall view.

    Anyone can analyze a single play and conclude good defense or bad defense. For that single play we do not need to rely on statistics. 

    Don’t lose me here…Statistics becomes very useful when you are concerned about a trend or a valuation against peers over a significant number of events. In other words…Rudy Gay makes  a great block on LBJ. So what. If that was the only time he blocked anyone it means nothing. But what matters is that Gay has over 6oo steals and 400 blocks in his first 7 seasons and that only 7 other players have done it in fewer games. Unless I have an incredible memory recall and I am able to mentally account for each of his blocks and steals then I need to rely on statistics. The author does a good job using stats to illustrate his point.

    Statistics will group and summarize data in a way my brain cannot. When you take several defensive metrics and apply to it what your eye has observed you must conclude that Rudy Gay is a better than average defender. What remains to be seen is whether that trend continues with different surroundings.

    • BCBargnaniFieldsCaseyGots2Go!

      Poli-Sci 101: Stats are another way to lie, mislead.

      • Destro

        Worst thing in basketball is the introduction of sabermetrics by these nerd bloggers…waters the game down to stats instead of proper observation and critique…

        • Tee

          Its always been around.  There was just a lot less access from the public.
          I think this article is good and puts them in decent context.But I agree with you if used too much, or if used as gospel it becomes very tiresome.

        • Sig

          Hm, interesting. What in your opinion is “proper observation and critique”? Is it the eye test?

          • CJT

            He means HIS observations and critiques.  Those are the proper ones.

        • gradgrind101

          I get your opinion. I would never say anything demeaning to someone who is capable of making astute observations or recommendations with respect to a players skill set.

          Some of us on the other hand are very analytical by nature and as such we use tools to help players develop their game. I can speak from personal experience how data analysis helped an elite player identify a weaknesses they didn’t know existed. This player had 3 point percentage of 22% off the dribble and 43% spotting up. After he was shown the proper footwork and some extra gym time he went from 22% to 33%.

          If Sabermetrics shows a player he shoots say 30% off the dribble with a left crossover and 45% with a right crossover then what’s wrong with using that for a basis of improvement?

          …And oh yeah Miami Heat uses it big time.

        • EmarErozan

          I observed a sweet block on the greatest player on the planet. The stats confirmed that it was a block. Don’t worry Destro, the math club has your back.

        • morons

          you were just using PER the other day dipshit. you want proper observation and critique? you’re a dumbass, how’s that?

        • BlakeMurphy

          Dude…I watched a tonne of video and spoke to other bloggers/writers from the Grizz…I also used stats, sure, but I made it very clear and wrote at length about the other methods I used to analyze it as well. The stats didn’t even help my point in some cases….so I don’t understand your issue.

          • CJT

            He failed to observe the things you listed.

          • Ihatehaters

            You know the saying about arguing with an idiot…

        • Ihatehaters

          “Statistics are a tool.” No – statistics are a means to measure performance. BCBargnani and Destro are tools. 

  • nba_socrates

    Drummond is still a beast. Shame on all off you

  • 511

    For all the sports channels available there isn’t nearly enough basketball on tv these days. Sure do miss that Direct TV dish at times … 

  • Minsoon Roger Choi

    Just get Bargnani to play SOME team defense and rebound and we’ll be fine..  so BC can trade him away.