Rudy Gay averaged 18.6 field goal attempts per game for the Toronto Raptors this season. This mark led the team. In addition, Gay was second on the team in points scored per game and had a Player Efficiency Rating that was above average. Despite these numbers, the Raptors traded Gay to the Sacramento Kings for a collection of non-starters.
When the trade was made, Patrick Minton — of boxscoregeeks.com — tweeted (or re-tweeted) the following:
The Guys at @sheridanhoops say “No one on Toronto’s roster will replace Gay’s scoring”.
The Raptors have now played four games without Gay. With Gay the Raptors posted the following numbers:
- Record: 6-12
- Field Goal Attempts per Game: 82.8
- Points Scored per Game: 97.3
- Offensive Efficiency (points scored per possession): 1.02
- Defensive Efficiency (points surrendered per possession): 1.03
Without Gay (again in just four games), the numbers are as follows:
- Record: 3-1
- Field Goal Attempts per Game: 82.5
- Points Scored per Game: 104.0
- Offensive Efficiency (points scored per possession): 1.07
- Defensive Efficiency (points surrendered per possession): 1.00
Again, it has only been four games. But the pattern is consistent with what we have seen in the past when Allen Iverson left the Sixers (the first time), Carmelo Anthony left the Nuggets, and Gay left the Grizzlies. When a team loses a major scorer, field goal attempts tend not to change very much. And when an inefficient scorer departs, the team does not suffer.
This pattern illustrates an important point about basketball. The supply of shooters employed by a team appears to exceed a team’s demand. And that means the shots scorers like Iverson, Anthony, and Gay “take” are generally “taken” from their teammates. This is why we see when these players depart, the shot attempts a team takes per game tend not to change very much.
Unfortunately, this lesson keeps being missed. People seem to think that players like Iverson, Anthony, and Gay “create” shots; and without these players these shots will not be “created”. Consequently, the expectation is that without these players a team’s offense must suffer as shots and points fall dramatically.
But this is not what the data says. And this is not what you would expect given the preferences of basketball players. NBA players know they are primarily paid for scoring. Therefore, the loss of a scorer represents a significant opportunity for his former teammates. Given how the labor market works, these teammates appears to be more than willing to take the shots the scorer previously “took” (and yes again, I mean “took” from his teammates).
Let me close by noting, this is why a metric like PER — which rewards players for taking shots — is not a very good measure of player performance. Again, this metric say Gay was above average for the Raptors. But Gay had an effective field goal percentage of 42.1%. It shouldn’t take an understanding of “advanced stats” to conclude that such a player isn’t “good”.