Rudy Gay is unquestionably the Toronto Raptors’ best player but his performance in 2012-13 occasionally failed to demonstrate that.

The 6’9’’ forward was traded mid-season from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Raptors and essentially produced at the same rate for both teams. Gay is a tantalizing talent, but he shot a career low 41.6 percent from the field in 2012-13.

That last figure represents his shooting percentage as both a Grizzly and Raptor. In Toronto, he was slightly better, converting 42.5 percent from the field. Gay had more freedom to operate with his new team and consequently was a bit more aggressive in his new surroundings.

Mind you, the issues he faced with his previous team were quite similar to the ones he encountered in Toronto: The offense did not make great use of his skills. It’s worth noting that Dwane Casey did not have a training camp at his disposal to figure out how to best incorporate Gay’s skills.

The forward’s mid-season acquisition forced Casey to look at plays Memphis ran for Gay and emulate them. Some were successful, but for the part Gay was put into a few tough situations.

Gay is a great shot creator, but not necessarily someone that makes jumpers at high rate. In 2012-13, the former Grizzly attempted 411 mid-range jumpers per’s advanced stats tool, ranking him in the top-25 in attempts for these types of shots.

Gay’s 36 percent shooting on mid-range jumpers was the worst mark of any player in the top-25 in attempts at the conclusion of the 2012-13 campaign. The former Husky can make jump shots every now and then, but that’s clearly not his strength.

And yet, the Grizzlies and Raptors ran a multitude of plays designed specifically to get him this shot.

Synergy Sports tells us 15.5 percent of his field goal attempts in 2012-13 came as a result of him handling the ball in the pick-and-roll. The only other setting where he attempted more field goals was in isolation plays.

One can forgive the isolation plays since they typically occur late in the shot clock after a play was run or what have you (Toronto did a run a good dose of them nonetheless and might reduce the amount going forward). But the pick-and-rolls were incredibly damning.

Gay hit 39.1 percent of his field goal attempts as the ball handler in the screen-and-roll action. Defenders were simply judicious here and went underneath screens in an effort to encourage him to shoot. Smart teams also trailed him at the top of the screen and had the big man defending the play retreat a few feet back and concede the jumper.

Watch the video below of Gay attacking Joe Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets:

Brook Lopez backtracks and waits for Gay to rise up for the jumper and contests his shot.

The Raptors ran far too many of these types of sets in the half court with Gay as the primary option on these plays. For the most part these plays are practically throwaway possessions because they fail to capitalize on the athleticism and finishing ability of their best player.

The pick-and-roll with Gay is a terrific option on the secondary break when defenses are scattered and struggling to find their assignments. That’s one of the best ways to get Gay a head of steam against a backpedaling defender.

Glance at the video below. Toronto is in semi-transition and the Connecticut product runs a pick-and-roll and gets matched up against a terrified Steve Novak:

This is a perfect spot for the Raptor swingman because he can use his decent ball handling skills to attack a seemingly unprepared defense and get to the rim where he converted 64.5 percent of his attempts in 2012-13 per Hoopdata.

It stands to reason the Raptors cannot simply feed Gay out in transition or on the secondary break. This is where misdirection is important. The key for Toronto going into 2013-14 is disguising their intentions in the half court.

Opposing players, coaches and fans all know the ball will eventually end up in Gay’s hands. The trick is to make them guess when that will occur. Predictability coupled with poor execution is a recipe for disaster even against bad defensive teams.

However, a little diversity and ball movement are an offense’s two best friends. The Raptors need more sets with early action and quick triggers for their players. This post is heavily focused on Gay, but this might as well apply to DeMar DeRozan as well.

Great offenses get defenses to cover every area of the court and chase the ball from one side of the floor to the next. Hence, it’s counterproductive to put the ball in Gay’s hands in a pick-and-roll against a set defense. Against a rotating defense though?

Now we’re in business.

Have a look below at how the Raptors get Gay the ball against the Charlotte Bobcats and what he does with it afterwards:

The former Grizzly gets to the hoop with relative ease despite the lack of shooters on the floor. The initial action between Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields gets the defense moving. From there, Gay runs a pick-and-roll and gets all the way to the basket despite the poor spacing.

It’s incredibly important to get defenses shifting and then forcing them to cover another set or action on offense. The elite defenses in the league (Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls to name a few) can cover the multiple variations of pick-and-rolls and close out the possession with a contested jumper.

The rest of the NBA however is not that lucky or that great. Heck, the back-to-back champion Miami Heat were exposed on this front in the first five games of the 2013 NBA Finals.

Stars are important as it pertains to winning in the NBA. But they also need a system that highlights their skills and gives them multiple opportunities to play one-on-one basketball.

Tweaking a Raptor offense that scored 101.9 points per 100 possessions after the acquisition of Gay is a must heading into 2013-14. Over the course of an 82-game schedule, that figure would have ranked them in the league’s bottom half.

The addition of Steve Novak certainly helps the Raptors on this front. His long-range shooting ability not only spaces the floor but it could potentially make things easier for Gay when defenses try loading up on him.

Have a look at how J.R. Smith of all people helps create an open shot for Novak during the 2013 playoffs against the Boston Celtics:

The key to the whole possession is the constant offensive movement coupled with the willingness to hit the open man. If the Raptors start running sets resembling the one in the video, Gay will be afforded with wider driving lanes and opportunities at the basket.

Given a training camp with Gay as a member of the Raptors, expect Casey to dial up some plays where his swingman gets a multitude of high percentage shots in 2013-14.

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  • pVo

    Found Waldo: I just spotted maurizio gherardini in the crowd at the U19 USA Serbia game. Now for the love of God could someone go over there and fire him, please…

  • c_bcm

    nice post.

    • onemanweave

      Good post. Informative and interesting.

  • SR

    Many spot-on observations. I just hope Gay is the kind of guy who will buy in. D’Antoni and the Lakers showed Dwight Howard all kinds of data from Orlando and LA (esp. the second half of the season) that showed his numbers were far better coming out of pick and rolls than running straight post-ups, but they couldn’t convince him that these pick and rolls were the better offensive option for him. He’s convinced himself that he’s an iso post-up player.

    I’ve got a feeling that Gay’s convinced he’s a mid-range shooter, and/or he doesn’t care for the contact at the basket – but here’s to hoping he’ll prove me wrong!

    • truth be told

      He is convinced he is that because he doesn’t want to go to the rim consistently.

      He is who he is and for such a price tag, I am shocked there are still fans around these parts eager to see Rudy play a full year in a Raps uniform.

      • Guest

        Nice non sequitur there. As always, you manage to confuse the issue to fit your own narrative.

        • Defensive Rap

          Two schools of thought.

          1. we use Gay and Demar to carry the team to the playoffs.

          2. we tank hoping to get Wiggins or Parker in 2014.

          For you to believe in number 1, you have to believe that Demar and Rudy can improve next year. If they play at the level they have been for the last three years, this team is in big trouble because we will be tanking without meaning to and end up 10-11th in the East. Stats tell me it’s a bad bet.

          For you to believe in number 2 you must lack faith in the roster as currently constructed and think that grabbing a franchise player through the draft is our best chance to chase a title and leap frog over mediocrity.

          I believe number 2 is the best option. Whichever way we go, I prefer having Masai driving the bus and trust in his vision for the team. Go Raps!

  • rapierraptor

    This was a nice post. Easier said than done but finding a way to optimize Gay’s skill set and work him more efficiently into the offense is IMPERATIVE and will be a MAJOR factor in deciding whether Casey’s contract is extended beyond this season.

  • DryDry

    If Rudy could let everybody know on the way up the floor whether he’s going to be a zero-effort, disengaged floating sloth or if he’s going to give ‘er.

    I would suggest grabbing one earlobe would mean YEAH GODDAMNRIGHT I’M GONNA USE MY FECKING ENORMOUS TALENTS RIGHT NOW and grabbing two would mean SCREW IT I’M MAILING IT IN FOR THE NEXT 24 SECONDS

  • Statement

    The raptors analytics team is supportive of the iso-offense. The grantland article a little while back makes mention of that fact.
    If I understood correctly, the idea is that even though Rudy and Demar are bad-below average mid-range shooters and may be relatively poor iso options by themselves, somehow the team is more efficient at scoring when they run the iso-offense (offensive rebounds, open looks that come from isos, etc).

    I’m not sure that the isos for Rudy and Demar are a product of a lack of creativity, or if they are the best offense that the team can manufacture.

  • joe

    The new GM may have a vision for Gay there be no point speculating. I have no idea if he can be a good player, he just got here, out of an unusual situation in Memphis. Maybe there is some reason he gets the money. Maybe he’ll be here long enough to find out. OTOH, we know exactly what DD is, and it isn’t pretty, and surely will be dealt with.

  • Roarque

    The BIG change this upcoming season is JV’s improving influence on the offensive sets and Dwane having the time to set up plays to get Rudy and JV the ball in the right place with various options. Let’s not minimize the new eyes Rudy has purchased over the offseason and his extra muscle being added as we speak.
    The longshot will be that Fields has had the desire and the time to rebuild his jumper so he can be an outside threat and then use his point forward passing skills to feed the rest of the wings. High IQ there – now use it.

    • SR

      JV would have to make a huge leap to be a top 2 offensive piece along with Gay, if that’s what you’re suggesting. In the starting lineup alone, his offensive game is still behind Gay, DeRozan, and Lowry. He’s option #4 out of 5 guys. He’s also still an extremely raw, extremely young big man. I also have high hopes for the guy, but don’t get yourself too worked up about his second year. His development is going to take multiple seasons – year 2 is still early.

  • Defensive Rap

    Gay needs to shoot better or go. If he stays, it might only make sense if he gives up the last year of his contract and resigns for something like 48mil for 4 years. And shoots better.

    Demar needs to go or shoot better too. If this motion offence generates better looks it would mean more if we had better shooters taking those open shots. Sadly up to date, neither Demar or Gay shoots close to an average player at their respective positions.

    • Amigo

      When I read this articles I have convulsion starting all over me. Why on earth a guy making 19 mil a year in his 8th year in NBA should risks his next contract to get to the rim more often when he can chuck as many jumpers as he likes. It is what it is.

      • FLUXLAND

        Booom… that’s what’s up. You can show a guy all the stats you want, but they are not risking their careers; especially for a team that has no shot at anything in the playoffs.

        • Defensive Rap

          Yes Gay and Demar need to go to the hoop more often.
          But they also need to knock down shots to open up the floor for the offence.

          We pay over 25 million a year for these two and neither one shoots at an average NBA level. Not even close from three.

          Neither one is a good passer. Maybe they need to go and we should rebuild the team with Jonas and Wiggins in 2014?

          • ItsAboutFun

            What a novel idea!!!! Maybe we should start such a discussion!

            • Defensive Rap


              Maybe we can go all in and get Hedo to play the four and spread the floor on O.

              And then lock up Gay to fat extension asap

              Boo Yah.

  • Andrius

    I think the biggest problem is that the teams know he’s going to take those shots and miss them. He has a very nice stroke, but it’s a little too casual, I think mentally he’s not always there as well. The pick and rolls could be used as an advantage.

    The problem is that last year there was no spacing. Both JV and Amir would clog up the lane, meanwhile Kyle and DaMar had a tough year knocking down the 3. I think for Gay the key is to get stronger and be always willing to attack the rim ala LeBron James.

    LeBron has a better body, but sure as hell he has put time to look like that. Gay had that potential his whole career to look like that, his frame is phenomenal, he’s a decent ball handler, but needs to look for his teammates and create offense. Because those possesions where he was just dribbling for the 10s of the clock and then pulling up, were a complete waste and happened way too often. If he developed that consistant mid range jumper over defender, gets better at passing and manages to put on good 20 pounds he’ll be an all-star.

    Having Novak, Ross and DeMar knocking down the 3 consistently would be great too, or atleast that they could always be on the move, use cuts to get free, and yea ball movement in general. So many possesion last year were where Rudy when he drives into the paint and two guys jump on him, instead of pulling he could have dished off to JV for easy layup.

    Raptors really need to get a system where, everyone shares the ball. The hero ball that has been played, an for some reason envouraged all these years has given nothing but dissapointment. When your two big men (JV – Amir) are your best duo (even sharing the ball) something is wrong.

    Casey has a handful of things he needs to do to get this team on the right track. First of all a clear system, where players adapt to it, not simply just, here you the star go make something happen, we don’t have LeBron or KD, so team ball has to be finally addressed.

  • SR

    For all of you hoping for significant changes to Gay’s game at this point, please realize that he is Memphis’ Andrea Bargnani. He’s been given all the opportunity in the world to develop (including a massive amount of playing time and plenty of minutes as the #1 option), and he hasn’t changed much at all since being drafted in 2006.

    He’s way overpaid – forget about hoping for him to be a franchise guy because of his athleticism. He’s been in the league 7 years and hasn’t even made an All-Star team.

    He’s essentially Jalen Rose 2.0. Go look up their career stats. Jalen was a better passer who got you a few more assists, and Gay gets you a few more rebounds. Other than that their numbers are remarkably similar. In years when he was given similar minutes and shots to Rudy, Jalen also scored 18-20 ppg while shooting a very similar %. Rose’s scoring dipped to 12-15 ppg when he was actually, you know, on a good team that made him the 2nd or 3rd scoring option. That’s about what Gay should be – Memphis tried to make more out of him because of his youth and athleticism, and now Toronto is trying to make more out of him because of his contract. He’s a good player, but he’s not a #1 guy and his salary is way out of line.

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