There is an increasingly popular sentiment concerning the Memphis Grizzlies that they not only benefited financially from trading Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in a three team deal, but actually got better on the court as well.
This feeling comes primarily due to the fact that despite the move not being a big hit in the Memphis locker room, the team has gone 11-4 since Gay’s departure and assembled an eight game winning streak in February that maintained their position as the four seed in the West and showed they don’t need Gay to make things work offensively.
Prior to the deal on Jan. 31, the Grizzlies relied on Gay to be a go-to guy, someone they could hand the ball to when they needed a basket. He wasn’t having his best season by any stretch of the imagination shooting around 40 percent, but his ability to put the ball in the basket had helped the Grizzlies battle the San Antonio Spurs for top spot in the Southwest Division in the early going of the season.
As a team, the Grizzlies averaged around 93 points per game before Gay’s departure. Since the player who was their leading scorer was traded, the team is averaging 94 points per game. In other words, losing Gay has had little effect on the Grizzlies offense. If you look at their defensive numbers, the team has also been the same without him on that end giving up 89 points per game since his departure, just as it was 89 before the trade.
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This move didn’t change much about the dynamics of the Grizzlies, but the important thing for them is that it cleared them from having to pay a massive salary in the future for a player that clearly wasn’t a difference maker for them and gave the squad increased depth for the time being.
Since joining the Grizzlies, former Raptor Ed Davis is averaging a mere 12 minutes per game limiting his impact, but with Zach Randolph currently missing from the lineup with an ankle injury, his role has increased significantly. An injury to Randolph would have been devastating if the trade hadn’t been made, but with Davis in the lineup, Lionel Hollins can make do.
The addition of Tayshaun Prince gives the team a clutch shooter who can defend the wing as well as anyone in the league. Rewind the clock two years ago to the Grizzlies upsetting the Spurs in the first round and making a run in the postseason and you see a team without Rudy Gay who was injured throughout that time.
What that team had was Shane Battier to defend the wing instead, a good spot up three point shooter who is known more for his defensive skills than what he provides on offense. Sound familiar? That is Prince in a nutshell, so it becomes pretty easy to see what management was thinking taking him and Austin Daye on as replacements for Gay.
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Since joining up, Prince hasn’t been able to fill Gay’s shoes averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, but the truth is that Memphis doesn’t need him to. Without Gay commanding touches, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are benefiting from the increased freedom to take on more scoring responsibilities. Gasol has as many 20 point games in the 15 games without Gay as he did in the 44 with him. Meanwhile Conley has seen his scoring average increase by a point per game to 14.6 compared to 13.4 on the season. His assists are up as well without the ball sticking in Gay’s hands, from 5.9 to 6.4 per game.
Are the Grizzlies better without Gay? There is no question they are better off financially, but the results on the court have thus far proven that the move was justified. They have the pieces in place to be successful at the right price, but ultimately the deciding factor will be whether or not they can repeat the success of two years ago. Without it, Grizzlies fans will be left wondering what might have been had they allowed Gay to play out one more season.