It has been a roller coaster kind of season for the Raptors star forward Rudy Gay. The demands on his talents have never been higher as this team’s success or failure will largely fall his shoulders this year.
In many ways Gay left a much more comfortable situation in Memphis where the roles were clearly defined and both the offense and the defense revolved around 2 supremely talented big men. It was pretty obvious the Raptors did not have the same talent level as the Grizzlies when he arrived in Toronto last January. The Raptors need more from Gay, much more in fact as the fan base is playoff starved and the new ownership and management group is promising a brighter future than the previous years of futility would suggest is likely.
Earlier this season, Gay found himself in the unusual position of playing a lot of small ball. Often moving up to the power forward spot and being required to provide more of a big man presence with rebounding and blocks. As the season progressed and the Raptors fell to dead last in assists across the league, Head Coach Dwane Casey asked Gay to add facilitator to his list of duties.
“He is our star player,” Casey said. “So he is going to have to have a lot of roles. Leader, point forward, rebounder, defender, in the end, he’s our guy and we have to roll with him. He has done a heck of job doing that.”
Assuming multi-role star player duties has come with mixed results. Gay is rebounding and blocking shots at a career best rate by a fairly big margin and his scoring is also on a career best pace as well. However, Gay is taking 4 more shots per game than his career average and he is shooting at below 40 percent from the field for the first time in his career. He is feeling pressure to produce points and he is often being asked to do it playing a position – power forward – that is new to him. Add in new duties as a facilitator at the offensive end and maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that something was going to give – at least temporarily.
“It is not like (Casey) is trying to change my game or anything,” Gay said. “He is trying to add something to it. That is what we need, that is what he sees this team needs, so that is what I have to do.”
To add to Gay’s challenge, Casey is asking him to change roles throughout the course of each game as well, depending on the team’s needs. In the recent win over Washington, Gay played small forward, power forward, facilitator and finisher.
“He changed roles a couple of times (last game),” Casey said. “One, we had him in there as a facilitator with D.J. (Augustin) – a ball handler – and we spotted up D.J. and (D.J.) got the corner three. Then when Kyle (Lowry) came back in, he became the finisher. So, he changed roles a couple of times and that is what he has got to do. Being a facilitator is a new role for him – he will swear to you he is a point forward, but he is learning that role and he is doing a heck of a job for us because he is so big and tall that when they are blitzing, he can see over the traps.”
Throughout most of his NBA career, Gay has been a scorer and a finisher, someone who is particularly effective in the final moments of a close game. He filled that role again against the Wizards, scoring the Raptors final 9 points over the last 2.5 minutes and looked more comfortable doing that than at any point earlier in the game.
“There is no reason (I can’t do this), but obviously this team needs to score too and that is something I have been doing for a long time,” Gay said. “It is not like Coach is trying to change my game, he is just trying to help me get better.”
It is going to take time for Gay to adapt to all of the new roles Casey is demanding he fill on the Raptors this season and the results will be mixed, especially early on. Gay didn’t have to do all of this in Memphis. However, if Gay can figure it out, Casey’s demands will make him a better player and possibly help him reach the potential the Grizzlies saw in him when they signed Gay to that max contract back in 2010. It is worth it for Gay and the Raptors to find out.