Ever since the acquisition of Rudy Gay, people have wondered if and how Gay and DeMar DeRozan could play together.

Floor spacing concerns and an offense built around two low-efficiency, high-volume players running isolations led many to believe the duo wouldn’t co-exist capably.

Of course, the Raptors’ new starting unit surprised many by being extremely effective last season, outscoring opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions over a 343-minute sample. The team’s offense improved slightly with this five-some, and the defense was dramatically better.

No worries, then, right?

Well, that would make for too short an article. And 343 minutes is hardly enough of a sample. There were other concerns as well, namely that the success was coming primarily on defense while the offense wasn’t necessarily going gangbusters.

In 173 minutes to start the year, the starting five is actually being outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions, with the team taking a step back on both ends of the floor. The starting unit is actually performing worse than the team in general, and with a sample of 516 minutes now, we’re starting to see that the starting five may be good-not-great.

The core of the issue, offensively, is the DeRozan-Gay combination.

Consider the following table, which shows the team’s O-Rating and D-Rating with certain lineup iterations (don’t cringe, anti-stats people…this is just points adjusted for pace of play, or “points per 100 possessions”):

Unit Time Min Ortg DRtg Net
Starting Five 2012-13 343 105.4 92.5 12.9
Starting Five 2013-14 173 101.1 106.4 -5.3
Starting Five TOTAL 516 104 97.2 6.8
Gay-DD 2012-13 923 103.4 101.3 2.1
Gay-DD 2013-14 316 98.6 101.9 -3.3
Gay-DD TOTAL 1239 102.2 101.5 0.7
RAPTORS Since Trade 2286 101.6 102.9 -1.3
LEAGUE 13-14 Average x 101.4 101.4 0

(Stats via NBA.com/Stats)

What that’s showing us is that the Gay-DeRozan combination is roughly average offensively and defensively, which isn’t really good enough when these are supposed to be your two best offensive players. This year, in particular, the duo has struggled mightily at the offensive end.

Opening this up further, we see what happens to the team and individual when both are on the floor together, compared to just one or neither (for this season):

Unit TS% PPP 3PA/FGA FTA/FGA % FG Ast Midrange% Ortg DRtg MIN
Gay+DD 49.1 0.981 22 27.8 45.6 30.7 98.6 101.9 316
Just DD 56.7 1.17 24.9 38.5 50 30.1 111.9 94.1 103
Just Gay 49.7 0.993 25.4 33.8 38.9 26.9 98.8 99.4 79
Gay OR DD 53.7 1.09 25.1 36.5 45.2 28.7 106.2 96.4 182
Neither 47.3 0.952 33.3 33.3 63 17.4 93.1 102.4 45

(Stats via NBAWowy.com)

What we see here is that the team’s offense has been better with just one of the two players on the floor, specifically with just DeRozan out there. With neither, it obviously suffers.

It’s worth noting now that these are small samples, though I think it backs up what we all a) expected and b) have witnessed.

The floor spacing improves, the team gets to the line more and cuts down on inefficient mid-range jumpers.

At the individual level, the results are a bit more surprising:

DeMar TS% USG PPP FGA/36 % FG Ast Midrange%
w Gay 46 25 0.96 15.7 49.1 50.7
w/o Gay 55.2 36.2 1.15 22.7 41.4 42.9

(Stats via NBAWowy.com)

DeRozan has killed it without Gay and has shown a knack for being the primary scorer on the floor. It does appear he goes iso a little more (lower rate of assisted field goals), but we saw above that team as a whole sees better ball movement with this look.

Gay TS% USG PPP FGA/36 % FG Ast Midrange%
w DeMar 47 30.9 0.97 19.1 39.7 36.9
w/o DeMar 43.9 37.9 0.87 23.7 23.8 42.3

(Stats via NBAWowy.com)

Gay, however, looks fairly lost without DeRozan. Again, it’s a small sample, and you can perhaps chalk it up to Gay’s poor start rather than some larger trend (and, in fact, the roles were reversed last season), or even the competition each may face when rolling solo. The data isn’t rich enough – and/or my management of the data capable enough – to dive in.

(On that note, it’d be very cool to see the SportVu data teams work with, to see what kind of movement, spacing and opponent defense the team sees in these different instances.)

But all of this leads us to a big ‘so what?’

Sure, the team looks better with one or the other, but not both, on the floor. We’re still dealing with a small sample, Gay has been uncharacteristically bad and, to his credit, Dwane Casey has actually staggered the playing time fairly well, such that there have been only four minutes a game, on average, where neither player was on the floor.

Step one would be to get that number closer to zero, minus garbage time. (There are still issues with his rotations, to be sure, and I’d get even more aggressive in leveraging sub patterns to make one of these guys the de facto scorer on the second unit.)

Step two would be to do what you can to get Gay going (perhaps by having him not dribble in isolation into two defenders and hoist up a jumper with a safety valve available, and then 3-point shooters a quick pass away).
It’s not like the team can make a change to the starting line-up to better stagger the presence of these two wings. You can’t very well tell DeRozan, who has been working his ass off, that he’s going to the bench, and you certainly can’t do it to Gay if you wan’t to maintain any semblance of trade value while he works things out.

I think the point here, then, is that the experiment that most thought made no sense from an Xs-and-Os standpoint, isn’t working at the offensive end.

Whether that can be remedied by the coaching staff, some creativity on offense or changes to the rotations is unclear. After all, it worked to some degree for a 30-game stretch last year.

In all likelihood, though, it’s just further proof that the experiment wasn’t a smart one to undertake (I seem to remember someone trying to save his job at the time) and yet another piece of ammunition for the “blow it all up” crowd.

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  • GKS

    “And 343 minutes is hardly enough of a sample. ”

    But hey, let’s use 173 minutes as a sample!

    I laughed.

    • BlakeMurphy

      Right, but it’s descriptive. It’s not “this is how it will always be,” it’s “this is what HAS happened.”

      • BlakeMurphy

        And if you originally expected this to happen, and 343min convinced you otherwise, 173 should move you somewhere back to the original expectation (really poorly worded Bayes, basically).

        • DDayLewis

          Dropping Bayes’ Theorem on a basketball blog. School these fools, Blake!

          • BlakeMurphy

            No, no, nothing to “school.” GKS is correct that I’m using a small sample to basically highlight a concern that wasn’t present in another small sample, and the closeness of the two sentences he ID’d is kinda funny.

            In this case, the small-sample data happens to be backed up by the eye test and basketball logic, so I don’t mind using it.

            • DDayLewis

              I just found it funny because you don’t expect to see it on a basketball forum. And you’re right; distinguishing between what’s predictive/descriptive is really difficult in such a complex system like basketball.

  • Scott

    No more apparent was what this article proves as on Friday against the Bulls… Gay sat for a long portion in the 2nd half and DD went off. Gay came back in and DD didn’t touch the ball for 3 consecutive trips down the floor. DD seems to be more willing to move the ball/attempt to get some of his scores from letting the game come to him while Rudy has been forcing the issue this season from the opening tip.

    In an ideal world Gay can be moved, Ross with his better range can play along DD and the floor spacing becomes that much better. Even creating more lanes for Lowry to be the bulldog he can be with driving more often, and less into a crowd that he tends to see a lot these days when driving. Though, at least in the Chicago game, he settled for being a guy jacking up 3’s.

    Moving Gay probably isn’t a reality though, and the only way to right the ship without making a move isn’t for Rudy’s shot to start going in more often. It’d be much better if someone could convince Rudy to start moving the ball and be okay with the fact that sometimes he’ll get it back and sometimes he won’t. Right now it’s very clear that comfort level isn’t there, and he’s a prince forcefully trying to become a king.

    • Roarque

      Is there room in this discussion to suggest Landry Fields replaces Rudy Gay in an attempt to have another distributor on the floor who can acknowledge that both Valanciunis and Johnson can score in the paint if they’re given the ball above the shoulders? Am I the only one to notice Rudy’s passes to JV ( all four of them this season) have been aimed at his groin.

      • consmap

        I’d rather see Ross taking Gay’s place in the starting lineup, he would give DD and JV better spacing to go to work.

      • ezz_bee

        As a pure theoretical experiment, I would be happy to see Field’s in the starting line up over Rudy, or Ross over Derozan. And I think there’s a good chance that either could actually improve the raps chances to win.

        In reality however, I just don’t see how either, ESPECIALLY Gay, gets moved to the bench. I don’t really agree with a lot of what Fluxland writes in these spaces, but in this case the front office isn’t paying Rudy 16 mil to sit on the bench (even if they should). And I think that bringing Rudy off the bench is a kind of ingenuity that Casey is not capable of.

        So although there is room in the discussion to suggest a Gay/Fields swap, it is only as a hypothetical, that almost assuredly won’t happen in real life.

        It’s more likely that Masai trades Gay, than he gets moved to the bench.

      • Scott

        Landry is solid, but he would make the spacing even worse for the starters. Ross with his youth would probably be just as eager to be a team player and get the ball down low to Jonas as he would to take an open 3.

    • Milesboyer

      I don’t think that zebra (Rudy) is changing his stripes anytime soon. Masai is probably reconsidering that offer from Detroit for whatever pu-pu platter they were willing to give up for RG.

      • Adriiian

        Exactly. This is the problem. He won’t change his game.

  • GoingBig

    My first instinct has been to split them up into 2 combos DD+Fields or Gay+Fields
    Start DD and Rudy for the 1st quarter and then sub in Fields or another wing.
    Rudy in Memphis had a non-shooter wing

  • robertparrish00

    Sooo how do we get ED back?

    • Thimble

      Imagine if we could trade Gay for Ed and Calderon?

  • Ds

    What these stats don’t tell is that DeRozan (7.0) and Gay (6.4) are both in the top 25 in drives at the basket (http://stats.nba.com/playerTrackingDrives.html?pageNo=1&rowsPerPage=25&sortField=DVS&sortOrder=DES). This is the type of play that you want from your wings. The problem is that they are meeting 2-3 defenders on each drive and not finding the open man nor getting the right calls.

    • BlakeMurphy

      Part of the reason there’s traffic is because of a lack of floor spacing – watch the defense on any of their drives, especially out of isolation. Teams are rarely sticking to Raptors’ shooters (this is normal for a guy in the weak-side corner, but not for a guy above the break).

      Drives are definitely good (I use TS% because it includes the impact of getting to the stripe). As you say, though, that’s just Step One.

      • Milesboyer

        To add to that, part of the reason there’s traffic is because the defense knows Demar and/or Rudy don’t know how to pass at all, let alone when there is a double or triple team. Their teammates aren’t spacing the floor because they don’t feel they’ll ever get the ball once it goes into either one of those two and therefore they stand still or go for an offensive rebound.

    • SR

      I should hope they’re top 25 – among starters, Gay is #4 and DeRozan is #21 in usage rate. These guys take A LOT of shots – considering their poor outside shooting, they better be attacking the basket.

      “Not getting the calls” is just a fan complaint, as far as I’m concerned. Last year DeRozan was top 10 in FTM – can’t exactly complain about that.

      One disturbing trend is that if you look at DeRozan’s entire career, his number of shots at the rim (attacking the basket) is decreasing as a % of his total FGA, his FG% at the rim has not improved, and his FTA have not increased. Yes, he’s a hard worker and he does attack the basket. No, over the course of his career he is neither attacking the basket any more than he did as a rookie, nor is he attacking more effectively than he did as a rookie. Considering all his hard work (props to him for that), it’s a little disappointing to not see more improvement in the very area of his game that’s his biggest strength.

      Overall I like DeRozan – he’s got a great attitude. He’s filling a role (primary scorer) right now because of the roster he’s on, but in the future he should have a more limited role.

  • #TankNation

    best case scenario:
    demar suffers a season ending injury
    rudy gay and lowry get traded for picks/non-contributing assets (this season)
    play dwight buycks and dj augustin @ point all season; give fields and tross starting minutes

    and voila! we out-tank utah for top 5 pick. get derozan back for next season, jonas has another season under his belt, and we get a stud from this year’s loaded draft class

    • johng_3

      I’m for tanking but never wish for a guy to have a season ending injury

      • #TankNation

        What’s worth more to you John?

        • Marc

          What #TankNation in his longsighted-shortsightedness doesn’t realize here is that a season ending injury is NOT good for player development. Rather, it is the opposite: A season-ending injury will set a player back, sometimes significantly, sometimes permanently. If we want to be a good team sometime in the future we do not need a inefficient wing player with a debilitating injury making 10 mil a year for the next 3 (?) years

  • Rap fan 2

    Here’s a little quote of hall of famer Hakeem Olajuwon posted on the Hang Time Blog with Sekou Smith that might be a bit enlightening. Dwight Howard along with Kobe, Lebron and Rudy have all worked alongside Hakeem. He’s was out of the USA at the time and saw some problems with his pupil’s game, ie. Dwight Howard. As Rudy just worked with Olajuwon this past summer maybe he needs a refresher course too.

    “The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight,” said Olajuwon, who left Houston in early October to return to his home in Amman, Jordan and has been keeping track of his pupil on TV. “I wish he was doing a better job.
    “Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go.
    “There should not be a delay for Dwight. He must be able to make a faster recognition of the situations and react immediately with a go-to move. You must move right away before the defense has a chance to set up. You must be the one making the first move so that you can force the defender to always be the one reacting.
    “I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.”

  • sitnonDefence

    Derozan working his so call ass off is clearly on reputation and media exposure to his work ethic. He may be a Gym rat, but his effort is EXTREMELY questionable when he takes the floor and doesnt have the ball in his hands. Ive never seen a guy takin out of the play so easily with a simple high screen. Where is this uber-athlete everyone has been preaching?

    • Raptorsss

      Well he is a gym rat when it comes to shooting and practicing offensive moves. But, like what you mentioned his bball IQ doesn’t look great and he gets off his game when he starts crying to refs about not getting calls.

  • GoingBig

    “Squeeze the Orange” had a deeper analysis of Rudy’s shots

    Lots of insights but main one – Rudy is 11% from the 4-9 foot range. “massive drop-off in 4 to 9 foot shots, and only 4 to 9 foot shots. Everywhere else on the court, Rudy Gay is shooting close to where he usually does: 36% from midrange, 40% on threes and 61% right at the rim.” And he takes most shots in the league from 4 to 9 foot range

    Why? nothing absolute but: possibly penetration dribbles / acting as a PF in Casey’s schemes where the opponent bigs can divert or dominate
    Good article

  • rapierraptor

    I don’t know if ‘decisiveness’ is something that can be taught but both guys do much better when they’re ready to do something upon catching the basketball. I agree that it shouldn’t happen but I am not so sure that Gay’s trade value would be dramatically diminished if he were to be moved to a 6th man role. His limitations are pretty well known around the league at this point.

  • SR

    Great article. It is a small sample size, so some of those numbers for Gay should improve. Still, even given that likely shift, the duo isn’t exactly taking the league by storm.

    One thought for DD’s much improved numbers sans Gay – most of those situations are going to be against opposing teams’ bench players. That’s a major factor in his jump in numbers.

  • morgan c

    Though he is a limited player, DeMar just seems like more of a team-player. With his contract, I think he will turn out to be a valuable piece. I can see him as the third option on a contending team. Gay should be a second option, but his style of play, stubborness, and age will not allow him to be the player he should be. Though this probably is a pipe-dream, ideally some good team with some space loses their SF for the season with an injury, and in desperation panic mode, trades for Gay, netting us a FirstRP in return. Then we have 2 first round choices next year.

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