by Duane Watson / @byduanewatson

Last season, Rudy Gay went from being the most hated player in the NBA by Raptors fans, to the most beloved by the Toronto faithful. Having become expendable, the Memphis Grizzlies shipped out the 6-8 swingman in a three-team trade in February to Toronto where he instantly became the No. 1 option. Gay brought something to the Air Canada Centre that fans haven’t seen in over a decade: A wing-player who can score at will, in a myriad of ways, and a closer that will take, and make, clutch shots.

In only 36 games wearing the red, white and black, Gay had increases across the board in points per game (2.3), PER (3.5), FG% (1.7), FT% (8.0) and 3PT% (2.6). Most importantly, Toronto went 18-18 in those games as opposed to the 16-30 prior to his arrival. Was he the sole reason for the turnaround? No, but he was a big part of it. Now, Gay is about to start his first training camp and full season as the top dog in Toronto, again in a position to carry a franchise. So why has the Baltimore native had one of the biggest drops in the SLAM 50, sliding from 25 last year to 37?

Gay is surely a victim of the good player on the not great team parable, but it’s more the issue that he’s been a good player and not a great one for most of his career. Offensively, Gay’s length and athleticism create space for him to get the shot that he wants, while defensively, his gifts allow him to be aggressive, make adjustments and quickly recover. Gay recently made criticisms about advanced stats, which is alright as not everyone lives by those numbers, but the standard stats still tell the tale. Gay is a flat out scorer, yet not the most efficient, shooting 41.6 percent from the field last season. His defensive stats last year of 1.5 steals per game and 0.9 blocks per game fall in line with his career averages, but still don’t fall in line with top-25 numbers.

Yet expectations can be a hell of a thing. So when Gay scores 29 points, grabs 3 steals and blocks LeBron James in a head to head match up, in only his second game as a Raptor in a loss to Miami, there are expectations. When you are the best offensive weapon the franchise has seen since Vince Carter, and possess the ability to close games, there are expectations. And when you are the highest paid player on your team, set to earn $17.8 million for the ’13-14 season, there are expectations.

But Gay doesn’t care about expectations—he just cares about his play and the respect of his teammates. He’s nowhere near the downside of his NBA career, but the talks of him as a “potential” All-Star are growing quieter and quieter. So although he can very likely average 20 points this season and lead the Raptors to the playoffs, does that elevate him ahead of his Eastern Conference peers in James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George?

No, but it still places him amongst the top 10 percent of the League. The waiting game is over, the forecasts of a breakout season can subside: Gay is who he is and that’s not a bad thing. It would be great if he turned himself into a 20-5-5 player, or utilized his length to be one of the top rebounding 3s in the League, but that’s not going to happen. But hoping for him to become a more efficient and accurate scorer who doesn’t settle for his jumper as much, isn’t an unreasonable request. Gay is a top threat on some teams and a solid number two on others. He’s more than comfortable with being the go-to guy when a bucket is needed, but in the end regardless of who we want him to be, he’s always going to be “fucking Rudy Gay, man.”


Where should Rudy Gay rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.