It is only 5 games into the new NBA season, but the Raptors Rudy Gay is definitely struggling in his new role of combo forward in Toronto. Head Coach Dwane Casey may be correct that the best rotation he can put out there includes Gay putting in a lot of time at power forward, but so far Gay’s play has been headed in the wrong direction.
It has become obvious that the ball seems to stick when it reaches Gay’s hands, he is turning it over too often and his shot isn’t falling. Currently Gay’s turnover rate is one-third higher than his career average, his assist rate is less than half of what it was last year and his effective field goal percentage is 36 percent versus a career average of 48.2. About the only thing going right is his rebounding rate at 54 percent higher than his career average.
Gay knew the Raptors plans for him heading into the summer and he put a lot of time into his strength and conditioning so he would be ready for a full season playing his new role.
“That was one of the things I wanted to do going into this off season knowing I would have to play against different guys and bigger guys,” Gay said.
Gay knew what was coming, but maybe no one should be surprised by his early struggle trying to play more minutes at power forward. In Memphis Gay played behind two of the best big men in the game today, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, so small ball lineups never happened. In Toronto, Casey used him in this role for 33 games last season and the player stats provided by 82 games illustrate it didn’t go well.
Last season in Toronto, at small forward Gay had a 52.2 effective field goal percentage and a 21.2 PER. At power forward, he had a 37.9 effective field goal percentage and an 11.0 PER.
“I think it is mostly mental,” Gay said. “There are going to be times when I am not going to make shots – we are still going to have to find ways to win. I don’t think I’ve hit a shot in 5 games.”
The one area Gay has an advantage in early on has been rebounding. Gay has size, he is a legit 6’8 in shoes with a 7’3 wingspan. He’s quicker than the typical power forward and his skill level and athleticism is higher than most of the guys trying to cover him. Missing shots only seems to add to his desire to grab rebounds.
“I try to use my strength and quickness to get around and get to the ball,” Gay said. “I just want to help the team. It hasn’t been by shooting lately, so I have to get down there and get our team extra possessions.”
Gay is still the Raptors best player, even if it isn’t obvious some nights and it is going to take time for him to be successful in this new role, assuming he can adjust to it. Gay is at least embracing the challenge for now.
“It is a lot different,” Gay said. “(It is) just adding a new dynamic to my game. I welcome the challenge.”
Toronto is in a very tough stretch of games for the first two months of the season and it isn’t going to be easy to learn a new position going up against this level of talent on a regular basis. It might not even be easy to figure this out against some of the weaker teams. However, the Raptors seem to be committed to small ball and Gay seems to be accepting of his new challenge. Hopefully this very skilled forward can figure out how to switch back and forth between the two positions before the Raptors slip too far in the standings.