The Importance of Playing Rudy Gay?

A Wordle visualization of Memphis before (yellow-ish) and after (blue-ish) Rudy Gay was injured this season. Name size is proportional to ezPM100, and upside-down names represent negative ratings. (Click to enlarge.)

Notice the title of this post is a question, not a statement. After watching Memphis handle the Spurs, I wondered the following via Twitter:

We can't know the answer to that question, but it naturally brought up a question we can answer. How did Gay's teammates play before and after he was injured? This is typically called WOWY — with or without you — analysis. That's what the word cloud at the top represents. Here are the stats:

Before Injury

Tony Allen 2.01 1593 8 4.26 20.1% -1.55 5.10 0.70 32.4% 78.0% -7.70 320.23 23.41 52.9%
Zach Randolph 4 3600 51 3.92 25.1% -0.59 0.87 3.64 51.5% 71.8% -2.34 903.07 18.81 55.6%
Rudy Gay 3.01 4080 54 3.39 24.0% 0.13 2.97 0.29 27.4% 76.3% 0.53 978.82 18.82 51.7%
Marc Gasol 4.98 3505 56 1.18 17.7% 0.12 2.66 -1.60 42.2% 48.5% 0.69 620.29 18.49 54.1%
Darrell Arthur 3.99 2110 7 -0.71 18.0% -2.15 2.10 -0.65 34.2% 59.4% -11.96 379.41 23.03 50.3%
Sam Young 2.49 1773 21 -1.19 16.4% -1.42 1.63 -1.40 17.6% 61.3% -8.61 291.48 23.41 52.1%
Mike Conley 1 3868 57 -2.01 23.3% 1.89 -3.35 -0.55 10.1% 79.8% 8.13 900.85 20.60 52.9%
O.J. Mayo 2 2481 15 -2.08 20.7% -2.42 0.90 -0.55 18.5% 71.8% -11.72 513.23 22.49 56.1%
Xavier Henry 2.02 968 16 -3.43 16.0% -2.51 0.55 -1.47 16.1% 57.4% -15.67 155.17 22.73 53.2%
Greivis Vasquez 1.03 1233 0 -5.51 20.5% -0.97 -4.47 -0.07 18.5% 81.0% -4.74 252.93 22.14 55.2%
Hasheem Thabeet 5 653 0 -5.54 9.2% -3.13 -0.27 -2.14 46.7% 38.4% -33.96 60.11 22.82 53.1%

 After Injury (regular season)

Zach Randolph 4 1506 23 6.61 25.2% 3.06 0.96 2.59 49.5% 69.7% 12.15 18.79 58.2%
Tony Allen 2.01 1243 23 5.07 20.2% 1.39 2.41 1.27 37.9% 81.0% 6.88 21.96 55.9%
Shane Battier 2.5 1055 0 2.91 10.6% -0.03 2.26 0.69 33.3% 73.9% -0.29 18.01 45.3%
Marc Gasol 4.98 1346 25 2.36 18.1% 0.84 1.53 -0.00 48.2% 53.8% 4.64 17.01 58.8%
Sam Young 2.49 1225 25 1.08 17.3% -1.13 2.02 0.19 26.0% 76.3% -6.55 21.96 53.1%
Mike Conley 1 1557 24 -1.29 23.5% 1.03 -1.86 -0.46 16.2% 74.7% 4.39 18.24 52.7%
O.J. Mayo 2 1102 2 -1.45 22.3% -2.10 1.00 -0.35 16.1% 78.8% -9.40 21.60 56.3%
Greivis Vasquez 1.03 392.0 1 -2.17 21.1% 1.10 -2.73 -0.55 6.7% 80.0% 5.22 22.45 54.9%
Darrell Arthur 3.99 950 2 -2.33 23.4% -3.46 0.73 0.41 35.3% 68.8% -14.81 25.47 58.5%

Perhaps, not surprisingly, the biggest improvements came from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The other thing is that Shane Battier who was traded to Memphis after the Gay injury essentially replaced Gay's value. We don't have RAPM data before and after the trade for everyone else on the team, but Gay's RAPM this season was only 0.2, suggesting he's not as valuable as you might think given his hefty contract. There's no doubt Gay is a talented player, but great players help their teammates maximize their own productivity. From looking at these data, I don't think a strong case can be made that Gay makes his teammates better. If anything, the data suggest that the opposite may be true, indeed, that Memphis actually got better after Gay went down.

So, in addition to my original question, "Would Memphis have beaten San Antonio with Gay in the lineup?", I think a more important question going forward for the Grizz will be, "How do we get better as a team when Gay returns next season?" The answers to that question may not be so obvious — or pleasant for the Memphis coaching staff and front office.

10 thoughts on “The Importance of Playing Rudy Gay?”

  1. Battier's and Gasol's contracts are expiring. Battier might be willing to stay for little money if they get really far in the playoffs, sort of hunting for a ring while staying on the same team. Gasol, though, will and should be hammered by multiple *almost* max contract offers. 26 year old 7-1 center averaging 15/12.5 on 57% shooting (in playoffs) should be coveted by many teams. I don't think Memphis has that much money left, though. Maybe they can try shipping off Gay to one of the more clueless teams (NY, NJ) to free cap space

  2. I completely expect the Griz to match all offers on Gasol. If Mark wants to leave he will probably have to become an unrestricted free agent to do it. I don't expect him to take that path but there is some chance of it.

    I expect Gay will start again next year. Still the rotation should probably be run so they use Gay all the time that Randolph is off the court to maximize having a go to guy on the court and perhaps to minimize their time together. Gay-Randolph is a good player pair on raw team +/- this season but most of the other starters had better +/- with Gay.

    They might move Mayo but I'd guess that they won't do it in the summer, preferring to wait until mid-season if they do it and they might not do it at all. They like what they have going.

  3. They'd be better off trading Gay and/or Conley/Mayo for a really good PG.

    If they could stay with a
    very good PG
    Tony Allen

    That's a 50+ win team probably.

  4. In reply to the Gov above, who's going to take the Conley or Gay contracts off your books for you? Those are some hideous contracts and will only become more loathsome under a more stingy CBA. Conley and Gay have albatross-level contracts that are just starting - hard to get an upgrade on Conley without some serious sweetener.

    I think they're pretty much stuck with Conley, through 2016, when they'll be paying him 9.7 mil.

  5. Conley is 23 years old, #16 in RAPM, has a +10 On/Off on that Memphis team and earns 4/5/7/7/8/9 Mill over the next years. That makes him one of the most underpaid players in the league

  6. What Jerry said. Some team will find value in Conley, just like some dumb team will probably want Rudy Gay.

  7. He's also posted a .084 WP48 in his career, and 1.11 this year. 14.4 PER, 16 this year... mediocre ezPM.

    In other words it's hard to find what makes him so valuable in the box score. Doesn't stand out when it comes to scoring or assists.

    Not to mention, standards for what constitutes underpaid will change if the CBA changes. How good does Conley have to be worth the 7/7/8/9 Mil part of his contract when his contemporaries are getting shorter, cheaper deals?

    I'm a big fan of RAPM. But it's not the only thing I look at... and it's not enough to convince me, for example, that Mike Conley at +3.5 this year and +3.1 over four years is a better deal, dollar for dollar, than Randolph is (+2.7, +2.4). I think they overpaid him, both in the strategic sense (nobody else is willing to pay him that much) and for what he gives them.

    I guess my question is - what does he do that earned him the 16th best season in 2011?

  8. I agree that RAPM should never be the only thing to look at, but I would never call a contract over 5/6/7/7/8/9 for a 23 year old player with a rating of +3.5 an "albatross level contract" or a "hideous contract". You're making it sound like he's Gilbert Arenas. Also, you're cherry picking when you look only at the last year(s) of the contract. Is Kobe worth 30M$ in 2014? Probably not. Was it an OK contract overall? Maybe.
    Say Memphis makes the conference finals, which seems likely, do you really believe no one would have given Conley a similar contract if he were a free agent?
    As to what he did in 2011: Defensive efficiency is the same whether he's playing or not, with many of his top minute lineups coming without Allen or Battier. The offense scores 10 points more per 100 possessions when he's playing. He's doing it through upping team eFg% and probably lowering team TOV%

  9. Conley's on court/off court details from suggests he contributes more on offense than he does on defense, just like the RAPM numbers.

    Grizz shoot decently when he's on the floor (50.3% eFG) and miserably when he's not (47.0%). They turn the ball over less often and get to the line a lot more. Grizz offense is 10 points better with Conley on court than off, defense is 1 point worse.

    However - 79.5% of Conley's court time is time shared with Randolph. Box score stats tell us that Randolph had a great year when it comes to shooting, drawing fouls, and avoiding turnovers - everybody knows about the offensive rebounding he provides, but a 25% usg guy on a inefficient team that only posts a 10% turnover rate is valuable too.

    61% of Conley's court time is shared with Marc Gasol _AND_ Randolph. While I'm not as sure of it as I was before you pointed out Conley's RAPM, I still hold that it's those two guys behind the 2011 Grizzlies and Mike Conley is (to some degree) just along for the ride.

  10. And RAPM tells us what happened when they were not playing together:
    The Conley lineups did well, the Randolph lineups did pretty good too, and the Gasol lineups were pedestrian.

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