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Ball Don't Lie

Rudy Gay is not thinking about advanced metrics, which is probably for the best

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Rudy Gay considers Fermat's Last Theorem (Kent Smith/ Getty).

When scorer Rudy Gay was traded from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Toronto Raptors last winter, he immediately became a key figure in the battle between old-fashioned basketball analysis and new-fangled efficiency-minded considerations of the sport. He became the cause of (or maybe just a symptom of) a rift between head coach Lionel Hollins and the franchise's new front office, earned raves from sportswriters who didn't seem to think much of him prior to the deal, and became the target of mockery from snarky dudes with a penchant for regression analysis. It was all a bit surprising, but it has set the tone for the rest of his career.

Given his new status, Gay has presumably had to come to terms with his thoughts on the analytics movement and its appraisal of his game. In a new interview with Jeff Caplan of NBA.com, Gay explains how he's dealt with the criticism, and whether it's changed his approach:

It doesn’t value his game and it makes no apologies. Gay doesn’t shoot enough 3-pointers or shoot them particularly well, and worse, he takes alarmingly too few from the high-percentage corners. He doesn’t get to the free-throw line frequently enough. When he’s not slashing to the rim, the majority of his scoring chances come from analytical no-man’s land — the mid-range. Combine it all with his low shooting percentages last season and the advanced stats — Effective Shooting Percentage (eFG%), True Shooting Percentage (TS%) and Offensive Rating (offRtg) – offer a less flattering assessment than his conventional 18.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 2.7 apg.

“Honestly, how I view it, a computer can’t tell talent, it just can’t,” Gay told NBA.com during a phone interview Wednesday from the Toronto Raptors locker room following a workout with teammate DeMar DeRozan. “When it comes down to it, it’s all about winning, and however you get the win. According to analytics, you either [have] to shoot a 3 or get to the foul line, and it’s not good for people like me that live in that mid-range area.” [...]

“It’s tough,” Gay said. “Obviously, according to analytics, some of my opponents wouldn’t value me as much as they do. So, a computer can say what it wants, but as long as I get respect from my peers, that’s all that matters.”

It would seem exaggeration for a player to say that the respect of his peers is the only thing that matters, but it's pretty clear that Gay thinks it arises from winning. On the other hand, it's easy to take issue with his argument, because the entire point of the criticism is that Gay doesn't do much to help a team win. Gay may think these metrics incomplete, but it's not as if they're not related to the results of games. They're just trying to isolate his value apart from the final score.

Yet, even if Gay's wrong, it's possible that he's approaching this issue in the correct way. Advanced stats can point to flaws in a player's game, but it's likely that those issues arise from the same place as all his good qualities, as well. For instance, Gay's penchant for low-efficiency shots is problematic but also related to his considerable talents as shot creator. It's possible that undoing one aspect of his offensive repertoire could have unforeseen consequences on the rest of his abilities.

That's not to say that the analytics movement is wrong or that Gay is correct to disregard their findings entirely. It's just that a player's on-court style and tendencies exist within a broader context, with the individual parts not necessarily existing in isolation from each other. It may be necessary to take a holistic view of the player as opposed to a more granular one. Gay isn't without foible, but it's easy to sympathize with him when the criticism can come across as an argument against his whole career.

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