Can Rudy Gay Make Another Jump in 2015-2016?


Believe it or not, Rudy Gay may be primed for yet another career year in 2015-2016. One summer after posting career highs in points and assists per game, the lengthy small-forward can make one more jump, which might make him the leading scorer on the Kings. Whether that happens or not depends on his shot selection.

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Gay has long held the title of “Inefficient Chucker”, according to many stat-enamored NBA fans. Since being traded to Sacramento early in the 2013-2014 season, Rudy has shed that title to an extent. Rudy has improved his image from being highly notable for his poor efficiency to being a relatively under-the-radar scorer.

Even after continuous improvement in Sacramento, SF Rudy Gay still has plenty of critics to quiet. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014-2015, Rudy actually averaged 21.1 points per game, good for the 12th highest scorer in the regular season. But oddly enough, it felt like no one noticed.

Part of the reason for Gay’s relatively unappreciated career year was that his stats simply weren’t making an impact in the win column. A scoring wing with a tendency to take pull-up jump shots is one thing.

NBA greats such as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan impacted an entire generation of basketball players as pull-up jump shooters. But Rudy Gay is not an effective pull-up jump shooter. He’s capable, but capable doesn’t cut it in today’s game.

Rudy Gay is a notable scorer because he has a unique blend of physical attributes and a smooth jump shot. The man is 6’8”, 230 lbs and has a 7’3” wingspan, which is a major reason why he’s been successful at all in the NBA,

But his pretty shooting stroke and soft touch are what put him over the top. His mediocre efficiency is not due to an issue with shot mechanics, rather the types of shots that he takes.

Rudy specializes at shooting within 15 feet of the basket. Whether he’s penetrating from the wing or posting up, his ability to rise up over the top of defenders and release short jumpers with a soft touch has been his bread and butter throughout his career. In this area on the floor, it doesn’t matter whether Rudy is shooting off-the-catch or pull-up shots. He’s straight filthy.

Unfortunately, Gay has struggled to figure out his game outside of the 15 foot area on a consistent basis. Rudy isn’t a bad shot from the longer mid-range or even the three-point area. But his shot selection has been very poor when shooting from longer ranges.

The 2014-2015 regular season is a great case study for the current Rudy Gay, before and after George Karl’s arrival. Before the All-Star Break, 41.3 percent of Rudy’s shots were pull-up jump shots outside of 10 feet from the basket.

For comparison, 41.0 percent were taken within 10 feet and only 16.0 percent were catch and shoot jumpers. He averaged 19.9 points per game during this span, shooting only 34% from three-point range and good for a 47.7 effective field goal percentage.

With such a heavy emphasis on pull-up jump shots outside of 10 feet, it makes sense that Rudy isn’t the most efficient player. As mentioned earlier, Rudy relies on his length to shoot over other players. He’s quick and athletic, but typically lacks the handle to blow past most wing defenders. He’s talented enough to get his baskets in this fashion, but at the cost of efficient basketball.

But let’s look at Gay’s numbers after the All-Star break, when George Karl took the team over. Rudy’s shot distribution changed dramatically under Karl, with 48.5 percent of his shots coming from with 10 feet and 20.8 percent in catch and shoot scenarios.

Most notably, only 28.7 percent of his shots were pull-up jumpers! This change in shot distribution had a huge impact on his box score stats, as Rudy put up a scorching 23.9 points per game on 39.2% three-point shooting and a 52.3 effective field goal percentage.

Watching the Kings play during that span, it was clear that Karl’s offense was significantly different from what the Kings had been running throughout the year. The Kings under Michael Malone implemented an offense that slowed the game down as a sacrifice for controlled defense.

Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

This resulted in heavily isolation based basketball. Under Tyrone Corbin, there was seemingly was no structure. Players were mentally tired and the drama from the season’s trials left the players running half-hearted sets of isolation based basketball.

Karl’s system was obviously different because of the constant off-ball movement and increased number of passes. The Kings assist numbers skyrocketed, going from 19.3 assists per game to 22.1 assists per game post-Karl.

These increases in passing and movement were clearly the reason for Rudy’s improvement. His shots were made easier, with most of them coming from within 10 feet.  And his longer ranged jump shots were off the catch, as opposed to contested pull-up shots.

For instance, Rudy’s three-point percentage increased significantly to 39 percent. However, he was only shooting 27.8 percent on pull-up shots from long-range. It was off the catch shots that stepped up Rudy’s long game, where he shot a whopping 45.6 percent from deep.

Rudy Gay will get a lot of shot attempts in the 2015-2016 season, so his shot selection and overall performance will be imperative to the success of the Kings. If Rudy brings the same level of efficiency that he has throughout his career, the combination of Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins may not be very versatile or threatening.

But if Rudy shoots similar to the way he shot after the All-Star Break, then the Kings might have a lot more space to operate and a lot more tallies in the win column.

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