The Rudy Gay Enigma: Overrated or Underappreciated?

ESPN released their 70th through 61st ranked players last week as part of their #NBA rank series and caught the attention of Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay in the process. Ranked 70th by the list Gay tweeted 70th? He let a GIF of Chris Tucker do the talking for him.

In his first full season with Sacramento, Gay saw jumps in just about every major statistical category including points per game (21.1), field goal percentage (45.5%), three point percentage (35.9%), and a huge spike in assists per game (3.7). He also posted the highest Player Efficiency Rating (19.7) of his nine year career, and yet somehow, despite all of this, he plummeted nineteen spots in the rankings, from #51 in the 2014 preseason all the way down to #70 this year.

Meanwhile, you don’t have to look very far down those same rankings to find some names which might validate Gay’s skepticism, specifically Danilo Gallinari and Chandler Parsons.

 

PER

 

PPG

 

APG

 

RPG

 

FG%

 

3P%

 

Rudy Gay

19.76

21.1

3.7

5.9

45.5

35.9

 

Danilo Gallinari

16.81

12.4

1.4

3.7

40.1

35.5

 

Chandler Parsons

16.37

15.7

2.4

4.9

46.2

38

In a year which Gay clearly bested both Gallinari and Parsons in almost every statistical category, both players ended up ranked ahead of him by ESPN.

So what’s really at play here? Why, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is Gay so undervalued by critics and analysts?

Well, one answer probably lies with the team and market he plays in. After starting last season 5-1, it looked like Sacramento might be one of the West’s surprise teams, however after star center DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined with a viral infection in early December, the team went off the rails and never recovered. The Kings finished their 2014-15 campaign a disappointing 29-53.

Given their poor form in recent years and the relative obscurity of the Sacramento market, it’s easy to see how Rudy Gay’s impressive season may have been overshadowed or just plain ignored.

But it’s not like Gallinari plays in the mecca of media markets, and the Nuggets certainly aren’t setting the basketball world on fire of late either.

Another factor which plays a significant role in these rankings is Gay’s reputation as an inefficient chucker. An infamy largely gained early in his career in Memphis and later in Toronto, Gay was viewed by many as an offensive black hole. From 2012 until being traded to Sacramento in 2014, while averaging almost 20 points per game, Gay shot just 41% from the field. His poor shooting combined with his $81.6 million contract he signed with Memphis in 2010 just didn’t add up, and it’s this stigma which continues to plague Gay to this day.

But after signing a three year extension valued at around $13 million per year last season with the Kings, Gay is far more appropriately compensated, and given his recent stretch, might eventually outplay his new deal. After last year’s All-Star break, Gay really got into gear under new head coach George Karl.

While it’s a small sample size, Gay absolutely lit it up from three and just about everywhere else for that matter. With Karl at the helm, the Kings swingman averaged 23.9 points per game on 47.9% shooting from the field and 39.2% from three point range.

It’s an interesting cast of characters in Sacramento. With the additions of players like Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli alongside mainstays DeMarcus Cousins, Darren Collison, and of course Rudy Gay, the Kings could be poised for a playoff run in 2016. However, if Rondo plays like he did in Dallas and Gay reverts back to previous form, he and the Kings will remain under the radar.

photo via Wikimedia.org