Rudy Gay catches Jonas Valanciunas sneaking a peek at his foul total (Mike McGinnis/ Getty).
Advanced statistics continue to become more prevalent in NBA front offices, with many teams moving past traditional data and towards optical tracking data that has more in common with futuristic spy technology than anything we're used to seeing in the world of professional basketball. The Toronto Raptors are one of those teams, with their front office having embraced the SportVU optical tracking system in recent seasons. As detailed by Zach Lowe of Grantland in a fascinating feature from last season, Toronto's analysts use SportVU for everything from checking proper defensive rotations to determining what constitutes a good shot. It's forward-thinking, fresh, and also a little quixotic in its pursuit of basketballular ideals.
If the Raptors as an organization still have faith in the cutting edge when it comes to basketball analysis, then their most high-profile player has rejected one of the most standard methods of presenting data known to the sport. From Mike Ganter for the Toronto Sun (via Beyond the Buzzer):
It’s common practice that after every game each player is provided a scoresheet. The sheet breaks down the individual players’ contributions as well as team totals.
That won’t be happening anymore in Toronto. Rudy Gay has put a stop to it.
Gay sees the scoresheets as an unnecessary barrier to team unity or even a temptation to be more focussed on what is best for the individual as opposed to what is best for the team.
“We’re not playing for stats,” Gay said.
Gay said there was no incident or no moment that pushed him toward this decision but as a leader on this team, he felt it was just something that was best for the team.
“I wanted to just nip it in the butt before it became an issue,” he said. “We come in here after losses, after wins and people are staring at those stat sheets, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re a team and the stat that matters is the W.”
The symbolism of Gay's new rule is clear, even if the action itself doesn't seem entirely practical. It stands to reason that players might be apt to focus on team-wide issues without the ability to look at a box score, particularly when the stats held within fail to measure many defensive contributions. At the same time, a box score does help serve as basic shorthand for the form of a game and can give a brief sense of what a player did to help his team win. It's a problem players stop at the box score, but that low level of interest would probably become identifiable in other aspects of the game, as well. Plus, a player can always jump on his smart phone and look at a full box score online within seconds.
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Nevertheless, Gay's heart appears to be in the right place. Coincidentally, though, box scores have made Gay look bad many times already in the first 13 games of this regular season. He has yet to make at least half of his field goals in a game, issuing nights of 6-of-23, 4-of-14, and 11-of-37 shooting along the way. Gay may want to communicate broader concepts of team unity, but his own performances indicate that an individual can learn a lot from his own box score stats. It's hard to look at Gay's lines and not determine that his shot selection needs work.
Then again, Gay has been in the league long enough to know that players will see their stats eventually, so it seems unlikely that he would think his rule completely alters players' vision of the team's performance. The goal appears to be in refocusing attention, ensuring that players won't immediately focus on themselves in the aftermath of a game. Whether in good times or bad, he wants himself and his teammates to consider what the Raptors did as a whole. Ultimately, what any one player does serves the greater good, and it's best to consider those effects before moving on to personal concerns.
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- Rudy Gay