Here’s the problem: The 2014 draft is being touted as the next great draft of this generation. Every so often a draft comes along that brings in a wealth of talent, filled with multiple players that could become cornerstones for a franchise. It happened in 1996 (Iverson, Bryant, Nash), it happened in 2003 (James, Anthony, Wade), and analysts believe 2014 (Wiggins, Parker, Randle) will be the next great draft when it’s all said and done. If the Raptors’ Rudy Gay and Demar DeRozan remain the same players they are now, they could potentially sneak the Raptors into the playoffs, but competing for a championship seems well out of the question at this point. But making the playoffs also means that you’re out of the lottery for the 2014 draft. So the only other way to get better will be to grow your existing talent, or acquire complementary talent (which doesn’t come cheap). So is it worth a short term gain of making the playoffs now and passing up on getting a lottery pick in 2014? Well the answer lies on whether the Gay-DeRozan experiment can become a lethal combination in the league. One that can eventually lead a team to a championship…
Answering that question depends on 3 factors: The growth of Rudy Gay as a superstar, the ability for both players to work together cohesively, and the financial implications of investing in the duo. So let’s take a look at each aspect individually.
Between Gay and DeRozan, Gay is the better player. He’s slightly taller, better at defence, and has a stronger history of making clutch baskets. If this duo is going to be a formidable tandem, Gay will have to become a superstar, at least on the offensive end. There are 2 types of charts that I will analyze to assess the offensive capabilities of Gay. The first is a percentage chart which colour codes the court based on whether a player shoots below, within, or above the league average (red, yellow, and green respectively). The second, is a heat map for points. The chart shows where on the court a player gets most of his points (blue>green>yellow>red, with red as most points). Below are the charts for Rudy Gay.
For someone who is a scorer above anything else, Gay only has 3 zones (highlighted in green) where he shoots a better percentage than the league average. What’s shocking, is that most of his points don’t come from those zones. For example, most of his 3 pointers come from the left elbow, his worst zone percentage-wise, meaning he hoists up a lot of misses before he makes those threes. That hurts the team in the long run. In fact, Gay only has 1 hot spot zone, the mid-range area on the right side of the paint. It’s the only area where he shoots at a high percentage and consistently scores from. It’s his most effective area, his bread and butter, and he knows it. If the game is on the line, you can bet that’s where he’s going to shoot from. While Gay’s scoring ability is impressive, comparing him to a true prolific scorer like Carmelo Anthony, last year’s leading scorer, shows the shortcomings of Gay’s offensive game. Carmelo has 4 zones (2 3pt areas and 2 mid-range areas on the right side of the paint) that are hot spots, places where he scores consistently and efficiently. That makes Carmelo that much more potent on the offensive end; he keeps defenders guessing because he can pick from an array of spots where he attacks with exceptional efficiency.
While there are reports suggesting Gay’s shooting will get better this season, if Gay is going to take the next step in becoming a scoring leader or allstar, he’ll need to find at least another spot on the court where he can consistently punish defenders.
While Gay has his own kinks to work out, another key concern is whether he and DeRozan can become an effective 1-2 punch that can dominate in the league. Ever since the trade, the one major criticism of the deal was that Gay and DeRozan have similar, almost identical, styles of playing. They’re both very athletic, they both make most of their baskets on mid-range shots and slashes to the basket, and they both lack a consistent 3 point game. This means they could end up crowding rather than complimenting each other. Gay has openly stated that he enjoys playing with DeRozan and that DeRozan is the best shooting guard he’s ever played with, but it’s going to take more than that. Both players will have to be able to work together if they want to elevate each other’s game.
Looking at the charts for both DeRozan and Gay, it’s evident they have the same problems in their offensive game; both players only have 1 hot spot in their arsenal and aren’t considered offensive threats from the 3 point line (DeRozan’s non-existence in any area above the 3 point line is inexcusable for a shooting guard). There are however, some positives to this situation. First, while both players mirror each other’s game, each player’s respective hot spot is on a different side of the paint. This somewhat alleviates the issue of crowding as both players don’t have to operate on the same side, and can claim their own space (but as I mentioned earlier, for the spacing to be really effective, both players will have to develop hot spots within the 3 point range). The second positive about the Gay-DeRozan duo is that both players will be able to play off each other since they can easily anticipate each other’s moves. Since their games are so similar, the process of learning and reading each other’s tendencies and habits is going to be that much smoother and quicker. Understanding what you’re team mate is about to do within split seconds is what makes a duo a threat. It elevates the games of both players beyond their capabilities as individuals (think Stockton and Malone). There is evidence that this has taken place already. Looking at the stats for both Gay and DeRozan before and after Toronto traded for Gay shows the growth that both players have experienced by playing together.
Toronto win%: Before trade – .348, After trade – .486 (last year’s 8th seed playoff team for the East had a win% of .463)
This is what Toronto is excited about. Cohesiveness builds with time, so if this is the result of playing only half a season together, imagine what they could do with a full season under their belts.
The financial situation is probably the biggest concern on investing in the Gay-DeRozan duo. Gay’s contract has 2 years left on it with $17.9M owed this year and $19.3M owed next year with a player option (Gay’s contract ends this year but he has the option to extend it for the second year at the predetermined value). This is a lot of money for a player who has never made an allstar game (Gay’s only achievement is a rookie of the month award). By comparison, Lebron James is set to make $19.1M this year and Kevin Durant is set to make $17.8M. These are arguably the top 2 players in the league, and Gay is in the same conversation as them in terms of contract value. So it goes without saying that he’ll most likely exercise his option for the last year of his contract because a new contract will most likely not draw the same amount of dollars. DeRozan’s contract is more reasonably priced at $9.5M a year for 4 years. That means that Toronto is invested in this duo for at least 2 years at about 1/3 of the entire team’s average budget.
Toronto essentially has a 2 year window to make a run at the championship. That timeline is almost laughable at this point. That’s not enough time for the young talent, especially Jonas Valanciunas, to develop into their prime. So getting better within 2 years will have to be addressed through signings and trades for complimentary players, but there isn’t much financial flexibility to acquire new talent. Toronto is essentially handcuffed for this entire 2 year window. Following through on this 2 year window would only make sense if Toronto can re-sign Rudy Gay for a much cheaper price at the end of his contract, but this of course depends on a) Gay’s long term commitment to Toronto and b) if other teams look to outbid Toronto for Gay’s services. This option, although plausible, requires a huge investment of money and time from Toronto with no guarantee of paying off. Gay could easily choose to sign with another team, his growth could plateau (he’s 27 and been in the league for 7 years), he could demand to be paid on the same level as his current contract. Whatever the reason, asking Toronto to give up 2 years and almost $40M is too steep a price, especially when you consider that it’s not for what Gay currently brings to the table, but for his potential.
If it don’t make dollars, then it don’t make sense…
Superstar Potential: B-
Complimentary Styles: B+
Financial Investment: C-
If the Raptors want to become a championship calibre team, it doesn’t make sense to bet on the Gay-DeRozan duo. I predict Gay will be traded before this season’s trade deadline, giving Toronto future financial flexibility and a shot at the 2014 draft lottery.