Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Were the Wizards right to avoid trading for Rudy Gay? Probably. But if you were trying to make the case that Gay would have been a smart acquisition, it would have looked something like this.
By now, you know that the Washington Wizards didn't end up getting Rudy Gay in a trade. Instead, he's heading to Toronto for Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis. The Grizzlies ultimately settled on a cheaper small forward and a young prospect that's better than any young prospect the Wizards could have offered outside of John Wall and Bradley Beal, both of whom obviously weren't going anywhere.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Wizards dodged a bullet here. Gay makes a lot of money and really isn't that good of a player. This season he's scoring less than 17 points per 36 minutes with a PER of 14.3 and a true shooting percentage of 47.8. By contrast, Jordan Crawford, who many don't like here, is averaging 18.4 points per 36 minutes with a PER of 15.5 and a true shooting percentage of 51.8. This isn't to say Crawford is better, because the two occupy different roles for a different quality of teams. It's just a way to illustrate Gay's issues this season.
But I was struck by one analysis of the trade that suggested Memphis made a big mistake dealing Gay. The blog "A Substitute of War" writes that the problem with analyzing Gay's shooting efficiency is that he's always the one that has to take the shots late in the shot clock under duress, which naturally will drag down his efficiency.
The question however, is how responsible Gay is for his good shots and how responsible he is for his bad shots. The problem with assigning him blame for the latter, is that many bad shots are a result of the team's imperfection. Teams don't WANT to take the worst shot in basketball, contested 2 pointers, but they have to when the shot clock is nearing 0 and they have no better shot to take. When Rudy Gay takes one of these shots, converted at a poor efficiency, his shooting % is taking the weight for the failure of the team's offense as a whole. Removing Rudy Gay from this play wouldn't prevent this contested 2 point shot from happening. If he's not there, someone else has to take that bad shot and their efficiency gets worse.
The obvious counter is that a team can lessen the number of times they shoot with the clock nearing zero with better spacing and pace, both of which are problems when Gay is your small forward. But the point still at least made me think about whether the Wizards could have used Gay more than the Raptors, who actually have a decent offense.
Let's at least consider the argument. As we know, the Wizards' half-court offense is a wreck. The players run their sets with a purpose, but their lack of talent means they always end up in late-clock situations. At this point, Wall and Beal are not the right people to bail the Wizards out of those situations. Wall's jumper is too broken, while Beal's isolation game still needs a lot of development. Both are very young and have the ability to improve those skills, but until they do, the Wizards' half-court offense will have issues.
So, given that, it's at least worth asking if a player like Gay has more value to a team like the Wizards than he does for Memphis or Toronto. Gay could have been the bridge semi-star that takes those difficult shots until Wall and Beal are ready to assume that role. His contract stinks, of course, but the Wizards also clearly aren't signing anyone in free agency that would be better than Gay. With Gay there to take the late-clock burden out of Wall and Beal's hands, those two could develop more organically and without as much pressure.
And ... given that the Grizzlies didn't exactly get a king's ransom for Gay, the Wizards could have potentially thrown out a competitive offer without having to give up significant future assets.
Again, I'm just putting this argument out there for discussion. I'd personally rather roll with a floor-spacer at small forward and hope Beal and Wall develop these late-clock skills as they go than pay that much money to Gay. But I'm at least a little conflicted on the matter after reading that analysis of Gay's importance.