Notice the title of this post is a question, not a statement. After watching Memphis handle the Spurs, I wondered the following via Twitter:
Thinking about Memphis some more...Was the loss of Rudy Gay actually a good thing for this team? Would they have beat San Antonio with him?
— EvanZ (@thecity2) April 30, 2011
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:
After Injury (regular season)
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.