What an original idea! It’s an article regarding Rudy Gay and his shot selection.

We get it. The cat is out of the bag. It’s literally the worst kept secret in the NBA. The players, coaches, general managers all know, and the media definitely knows.

Rudy Gay shoots an awful lot for someone who isn’t very efficient.

All the numbers back it up. He shot 41.6%/32.3%/81.4% from field goal, three-point range and free throws last season. Those three numbers translate into a true-shooting percentage of 49.4% (league average small forward: 54.8%). He somehow shot worse than Monta Ellis!

Gay compounds his poor shooting with over-shooting. His usage rate (% of possessions that Gay uses while he’s on the court) last season was 27.2%, which was just a smidgen behind Paul Pierce last season for 19th highest in the NBA. To put that into perspective. he used up a higher percentage of possessions than both LaMarcus Aldridge and Stephen Curry. Out of the top-50 usage rate leaders in the NBA, Rudy Gay posted the second worst true-shooting percentage.

When the Memphis Grizzlies signed Gay to a massive $82 million-5 year extension in 2010, the message was clear; it was his team, and for better or worse, he was the leader of the franchise.

That whole dynamic changed when he went down with a shoulder injury in the spring of 2011. The injury kept him out of the playoffs, and Gay was forced to sit on the sideslines as the Grizzlies found their true calling as a defensively-oriented grind-and-grind team. The offense adapted to running things through Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post and they never looked back.

When Gay returned the following season, things were different. Somehow, the highest-paid player on the team had become an afterthought in the offense. He wasn’t as effective; his shooting numbers dipped (54.8% to 52.1% TS%), and people started to take notice.

Things took a turn for the worse last season when the team was sold to Robert Perra. He appointed Jason Levien as the CEO and brought in John Hollinger to serve as assistant general manager. Suddenly, the Grizzlies management team  became much more analytically-focused.

The change in management, along with his burdensome contract, spelled the end for Rudy Gay’s time in Memphis. Less than two months into Hollinger’s tenure, Gay was shipped to the Raptors.

Many people criticized Bryan Colangelo for making the deal to acquire Gay, and rightly so. Not only was Gay owed a tonne of money, he was also in the midst of a terrible season shooting the ball (47.4 TS%). In defense of Gay, his supporters put out a popular narrative regarding why his shooting numbers were so low; with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph clogging the paint, Gay was forced to shoot more from the outside, which deflated his shooting percentages.

Is this claim true? Is there any hope for Gay to return to shooting at a league-average rate once again? Let’s find out.

Presented below is the distribution of his shot attempts across the span of his career to-date. Rim refers to shots at the rim, short corresponds to shots from 3-9 feet out, mid (10-15 feet), long (16-23 feet) and three refers to three-point attempts. Year refers to the final year of that season (ie: 2007 refers to the 2006-2007 season).

shot attempts

We can spot one trend right away. Gay’s three-point attempts have steadily increased since 2010. Is this evidence of Memphis’ offense pushing Gay away from the hoop? Maybe, or maybe not. His career high in attempts at the rim per game came in 2010 and 2012, which suggests that he was still getting to the hoop, but those attempts dipped in 2011 and 2013. It’s hard to say based on this graphic alone.

What we can also look at is the percentage assisted on each of the shots. In theory, if Memphis was trying to push him out to the perimeter, he should have been assisted on a higher percentage of his shots from “long” and “three”. His %assisted values are below:


Uh-oh. The numbers are a mess, but there is one clear trend; he was assisted on less and less of his three-pointers as the years went on, so maybe the claim is false? Well, not so fast. His %assisted on mid and long shots also increased 2012 and 2013 (in Memphis) as compared to 2011, suggesting that the offense did try to push Gay to the perimeter.

Overall, based on his %assisted and shot attempt data, we cannot make any firm conclusions. Maybe Gasol-Randolph pushed Gay away from the rim, or maybe they didn’t.

What’s more interesting is that Gay’s percentages have stayed pretty constant over the last two seasons. However, his overall field goal percentage has declined. This suggests that his shooting woes were in large part a result of his shot-selection.

shot loc

If it is a simple matter of shot selection with Gay, his shooting problem should be correctable with proper coaching. Whether he complies with said directives and makes changes to improve is another matter, but given that he’s roundly denounced as one of most overpaid players in the league, I hope Gay does everything within his power to improve.

In order to improve his shooting percentage, Gay should really focus on getting to the rim more often. He should also stop shooting so many long-two’s. As you can see from the chart below, Gay certainly does have some skills, notably in finishing from mid and short-range.


So there you have it. Based off the data that is available to us, we cannot accurately say for certain whether Memphis’ offense did, or did not affect his shooting percentages. However, it appears that the decline in his numbers is in large part due to changes in his shot-selection which suggests that with if he were to correct this, Gay could return to being a league-average shooter.

Fingers crossed.

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  • m

    Colangelo was criticized not critiqued.That is merely a pretentious misuse of the word. Look it up.

    • DDayLewis


      “Critique has been used as a verb meaning “to review or discuss critically” since the 18th century”

      • SR

        *Nerd alert. Don’t read this if you’re not interested in writing/grammar.

        I think m is right.

        You critique a film when you watch it and then review it and discuss it critically. Critically = passing judgment – whether positive or negative – with a systematic analysis. It does not equal criticizing, which is almost always negative and doesn’t necessarily imply a fair or systematic analysis.

        You criticize a film when you just say it’s bad. In the context of your sentence there, I think criticize is a the better fit.

        But that’s a bit of nitpicking. Really enjoyed the post.

        • DDayLewis

          Fair enough. Fixed!

  • Doug

    How about we leave the comments to this related to basketball and not proper grammer. I thought the post was informative and very well presented. Great job!

  • thegloveinrapsuniform

    I maybe wrong here, largely because im not much of a stats guy, but i find percentages rather unreliable due to the fact that there are a lot of other factors and influences that affect shooting or the way a player scores. specially with Gay playing with two big men most of the time (in memphis), maybe he gets shots closer to the end of the shot clock after botched inside plays, or he catches the ball in unfamiliar angles due to kickouts, or he’s forced to take shots due to the lane bing clogged. if you look at the his 2012-2013 stats half of the season in memphis and compare it to his half season in toronto, clearly his numbers were up across the board, which im guessing is largely due to the fact that he’s not playing with gasol and randolph.

    • DDayLewis

      You’re absolutely right. Shooting percentages are largely contextual. That’s why I didn’t really give a concrete answer to the Memphis question. It could very well be the case that Gay was forced out of the paint, or caught weird passes like you said, or that could be false. Based on the evidence above, we can’t really say one way or another.

  • ItsAboutFun

    Ho hum, yet another old stat analysis. To those who relish this stuff, I say study the game, not numbers.

    • KuH

      If you study the game, and not the numbers, you miss a lot. I can see Rudy go up for an impossible long two and sink it four times in one game, including the game winning shot, all of this with a defender’s hand in his face. My conclusion from studying the game? Rudy is a great player who can sink impossible shots.

      Do I know from studying the game if Rudy is sinking 50% or 60% of his shots? No, I don’t have a clue. My memory isn’t good enough to remember everything without stats, even over one game, let alone multiple games. All I remember are the dramatic plays. I take those few instances and generalize to ‘great player’ and ‘poor player’ (if I have no numbers).

      Now for the numbers: if two basketball teams play, and one sinks 50% of their shots and the other sinks 60% of their shots, which is more likely to win?

      It seems to me that there is some power to numbers … if you care about winning.

      • thegloveinrapsuniform

        I actually agree on both, IMO, if you are a true fan, you need to consider both sides. A wannabe is probably somebody who just looks at stats and throws out numbers just to have a say in conversations. A die-hard is somebody who doesnt care about the numbers, as long as he can watch every game and follows the team win or lose. Now a true fan, cares about the team, would love the team to win but would still watch the games win or lose, and puts the team’s situation in perspective by looking at the numbers.

        the enjoyment comes from watching, and the understanding comes from numbers.

        • I find it best not to try and label who is a true fan and who isn’t. Personally, I love watching and then dissecting the stats afterwards, but that doesn’t make me a truer fan than anyone else.

  • SR

    Have to link to Grange on Rudy Gay from a few days ago – http://www.sportsnet.ca/basketball/nba/bulked-up-rudy-gay-ready-to-lead-raptors/ .

    Some great inside info there re: Rudy’s dip in efficiency being related to an incomplete recovery from that shoulder injury, which was actually really severe.

    “Gay says it’s the fallout from his shoulder injury that mostly explains the regression in his shooting.”

    Apparently he’s feeling a lot better now and is really expecting overall improvement. Then again, we always hear these things in the preseason.

    Here’s to hoping!

  • ckh26

    Who should Rudy have passed off to in light of this statistical epiphany ? T Ross ? Acy ? Lowry ? Demarr ? Alan Anderson ? Amir ? Barney ?… The options appear to be less palatable than Rudy. He has to shoot . There is no one else right now. Just hope he shoots better. We get it. The outcome of his shots don’t merit the frequency … but back to point 1…. Who should he pass to… ?

    • StabbyRaccoon

      Alan Anderson of course ;). And now that he’s gone Tyler Hansbrough at the 3-point line.

      That’s a very good point. And simply watching them last season, it was obvious that he was the designated “buzzer-beater”, not just at the ends of games, but at the end of any shot clock. “Oh shit we fucked that up and there’s only 5 seconds left on the clock, pass it to Rudy and let him try to score!” that can detract from shooting percentage.

      Perhaps this will be corrected now that he has a full training camp with the team and their chemistry is better. However I still think that the idea that he should take less outside shots and be more of a slashing and short-jumper guy has merit. There’s a lot of room to improve.

      • SR

        ckh26 – I partly agree, but you don’t necessarily have to have lights-out shooters to have good ball movement and a more equitable shot distribution. In fact a lot of shooting percentages actually spike on teams that move and share the ball well, ex. Phoenix, Golden State, Denver.

        Rudy’s definitely Option A with the game on the line.

    • DDayLewis

      He doesn’t need to shoot less to improve, he could just shoot more selectively. He shot less than 30% from 16-23 feet, yet he shot 4 long jumpers per game.

  • ckh26

    No TV tonite of the pre season opener ?

    Whats up with the unholy alliance (RCI + Bell) showing us Atlanta and Miami ?

  • lefty

    you could have also mentioned his TS% post-all star (i.e. after the trade) was 53% plus and 58% in April; also that post-up offences mean less fast-break points, less motion on offence in general to get open-shots

    • DDayLewis

      His TS% in Toronto was 50.6%. That’s the more relevant sample. There is way too much randomness in a 9-game sample.


      More post-ups doesn’t necessarily mean less fast break points. I’m not suggesting that Lowry should set up Gay on the block on a 2 on 1 fast break. Post-ups definitely don’t restrict motion. People can cut in and out. Gay has enough passing ability to deliver the ball to cutters if he’s in the post.