When the Toronto Raptors General Manager, Masai Ujiri decided to deal away the team’s “star”, Rudy Gay, many thought that this was the move that would send the Raps into true tank mode. But the Raptors players and coaches did not get this memo, and have in fact managed to play their best basketball of the season since dealing Gay, going 4-2.
So, how have the Raptors managed to secure a winning record since dealing their best player, away for what seems like scraps? Well first, let us look at the defensive side of the ball, something that Rudy Gay was not exactly leaping out of his shoes to do. For the Rudy-led Raptors, they were giving up nearly 99 points per game, and while that isn’t necessarily bad, it’s actually good, they have been quite phenomenal since he was dealt, dropping that to 94 in the past six games, two of which went into overtime.
Gay was only a part of one positive defensive lineups for the Raptors that played significant minutes. The Raptors defense has managed to go from an average defense, to a pretty good defense. Let us compare this to how Rudy is doing with his new team the Sacramento Kings. The Raptors main lineup without Gay now is: Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. This lineup is giving up 104 points per 48 minutes on the court. Compare this to the Kings now dominant lineup of Isiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins, who are giving up an astonishing 126 points per 48 minutes.
Next, let us look at how the Raptors have managed to increase the ball movement since Gay left us. One thing the Raptors had been noted for was that they were one of the most selfish teams in the league, and Gay was one of the major leading causes, using a total of slightly over 30% of the team’s possessions while on the floor. Gay was also notorious for his poor isolation play, and his tendency to settle for mid-range jumpshots. Rudy was shooting just 37% from outside the paint and only 34% from three. This trend seemed to even rub off a bit on DeRozan as well, who was becoming more like a volume scorer, who need a lot of shots to score a lot of points. But with increased ball movement, it has become clear that the Raptors as a team, score better without Gay on the floor. Players like Terrance Ross get easier looks when the ball is moving quickly instead of sitting still.
It has also been a major boon to two of the Raptors most important players, posts Johnson and Valanciunas. Both bigs were averaging a combined 19 points on 15 shots per game with Gay on the court, and have since combined for 28 points on 21 shots per game. Being able to feed the ball to these two big men has been crucial, as it means for far easier baskets.
Assists have also gone up dramatically. The Raptors before trading Gay were easily the worst assist team in the league with just 17 per game. But since then, this has managed to go up to almost 22 per game, thanks to a much more unselfish attitude and the addition of pass first guard Greivis Vasquez.
Finally, the Raptors just have a change in mentality. There is no definitive star on this team, just a bunch of hard working, bring your lunch pail and go to work kind of players. Guys like Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Lowry and Derozan all look like different players. They look like they want to play with each other, and basketball is fun once again.
With the Eastern Conference wide open beyond the number one and two seeds, the Raptors went from tanking, to potentially a threat in the first round if they continue this team friendly basketball.