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The SOV Dialogues: Rudy Gay

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March 7, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay (22) dunks the ball past Golden State Warriors small forward Dominic McGuire (5) during the first quarter at ORACLE Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
March 7, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies small forward Rudy Gay (22) dunks the ball past Golden State Warriors small forward Dominic McGuire (5) during the first quarter at ORACLE Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Author’s Note: The Straight Outta Vancouver Dialogues is a series of conversations between Kevin Lipe and Scott "ForeignFlopper" Beattie about the Grizzlies, basketball at large, and whatever else seems relevant at the moment. This is the first installment, in which we decided to tackle the topic at the forefront of the mind of every Grizzlies fan: what are we going to do with Rudy Gay? Can anything be done with him? The questions come easy and the answers are hard to find.

Kevin: What do we think Rudy Gay is thinking about when he makes his "Rudy Gay face", the blank stare he gets walking up the court? Clearly it’s either (1) the basketball play that just happened or (2) the pizza he’s going to order after the game.

Scott: Because I’m a dork and am nothing if not consistent, I like to think that his Superman/Clark Kent persona is at work here. After all, how could you even begin to have an intense emotional investment in a basketball game when you’re trying to come up with a solution for yet another one of Lex Luthor’s nefarious schemes? While it may be frustrating for us when he allows Caron Butler to blow by him yet again, I’m sure that in his mind it’s pretty low on his list of priorities considering that Lex Luthor has discovered a way to replicate his powers for a day while also tampering with the sun.

(The conversation continues after the jump.)

By the way, I think we ought to make a distinction here between laziness and lack of concentration. The former has been applied to a number of guys–Tracy McGrady or Eddy Curry, to name a few–of whom the general belief is that they failed to live up to their talents. However, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for Rudy. I know that his "motor" (take that as you will) was questioned in college, but as far as I’m aware, no one in either the organization or the local press has expressed any concerns regarding his work ethic since he came into the NBA. On the other hand, anyone who watches a Grizzlies’ game can’t help but notice many of the poor shots he takes or the matador defense that he is regularly guilty of. I’d chalk these up to a lack of concentration rather than laziness, but maybe that’s just me.

Kevin: It seems like he’s not living up to his potential, and it seems like that lack of concentration is what’s keeping him from getting there. Isn’t this a little bit like Kanye West? Makes great albums, and then puts all his time and energy into putting on fashion shows and crashing awards ceremonies, needing a big collaboration with Jay-Z (which, isn’t a Yeezy/Hova collaboration exactly what the Heat were trying to do?) to remind everyone how good he is?

My thing with Rudy is that he’s clearly not thinking about basketball the same way that, say, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol think about basketball. They’re thinking about the game, thinking about the plays they need to run and the spots they need to be in. Rudy looks like he’s thinking about the game at both a micro- and macro-level, like he’s worried simultaneously about shooting this crappy jumper over Caron Butler and Blake Griffin, and like he’s worried about how many points the team has scored in the previous quarter… and neither of those things are what anyone else on the floor is thinking about. Maybe he’s composing symphonies in his head, or thinking about novel new modal jazz chord changes.

It’s like even when he does concentrate, he’s not concentrating on the same things as everyone else – which is both a positive and a negative quality.

Scott: I like the Kanye West comparison, especially because they’re both underrated and overrated. Also, this is somewhat unrelated, but last month I got to see Talib Kweli when he came to Manchester (without Mos Def, alas), and Mike Conley is so Talib in this analogy. In any case, I have a weird love for making analogies (Tracy McGrady is Dimitar Berbartov, Rudy is Bobby Zamora, and Kobe is Wayne Rooney….I can do this all day), and we need to stop before I get completely derailed.

If nothing else, this whole conversation simply affirms how enigmatic Rudy truly is. Has there been ever been another "scorer" who is totally content with only averaging 19 points a game? Although we love to complain about his high-volume ways, he’s never actually exhibited the pathological obsession with scoring that most "gunners" have. To give you an idea, this season he was only ranked 28th in Usage % among players averaging at least 30 minutes a game. Here’s a few guys that were ahead of him: Andrea Bargnani, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Tony Parker, Antawn Jamison, David Lee, Danny Granger, Al Jefferson. I think this is where your micro- and macro- concentration comes into play. It’s like just when he starts to dominate the offense, the macro-concentration kicks in and he realizes that his USG% is way too high (it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if this thought actually occured to him) and he immediately takes himself out of the offense. The thing is, up until this season, he was probably our best option on offense, which makes his conscience even more of a dilemma for the Grizzlies. It’s a bizzare situation for the team.

Also, I’m just going to throw this out there: part of the problem is that Rudy’s game clashes with the team’s style. For a team that prides itself on gritty, physical post-play, an athletic flyer who prefers to take contested jumpers sticks out like a sore thumb. From a purely stylistic standpoint, I always thought we should try to trade Rudy for Josh Smith. In my mind, Smith is ideal because he provides the perfect link between the two "style" camps that have emerged in the Memphis roster. On the one hand, he appeals to the guards with his transition game and highlight dunks, but his blocks and rebounding also echo the blue-collar game of our bigs.

Kevin: The conscience is a problem for Rudy, because it comes and goes. He either needs to not have a conscience at all, like Gilbert Arenas, or he needs to always be thinking about shot selection. The problem is that he makes a lot of those (otherwise unconscionable) bad shots, and starts to forget that he’s not Gilbert Arenas, he’s not Kevin Durant – he’s just not that good of a jump shooter. He’s much more effective when he attacks the rim, but he won’t do it.

Trading Rudy Gay for Josh Smith makes sense from a basketball standpoint – and the almighty Trade Machine says it would work – but it would make the Grizzlies even more like the Western Conference Hawks, all big money contracts and playoff runs and no titles (since 1958, anyway). Tying up that much money seems like a bad idea, especially since we still don’t know what Randolph is going to look like next year. Smith is shorter and on a cheaper contract, though. Maybe the Hawks would do that. Josh Smith is probably much more attainable than Andre Igoudala or Danny Granger or whoever else people keep wanting to trade Rudy for.

Obviously the Rudy Gay that took the floor in the 2011–2012 season is not going to get the Grizzlies anywhere they want to go. He’s going to have to change his game at least a little bit, or he’s going to have to go somewhere else. We don’t have to trade him this year, but it’s either going to be this year or next. That contract is too huge, and the longer he stays in Memphis, the lower his ceiling gets.

Next question. If Rudy Gay were a rock band or artist, who would he be? I think he’d be kinda like Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac. The guy is so obviously capable of producing great work – the "Rumours" album sold eleventy million copies – and he’s just as capable of making weird synthesizer-based albums that nobody bought and didn’t have any hits. He followed up the biggest-selling album of all time with Tusk, which cost a million dollars to make and sold about 15% of what its predecessor did. Inconsistent, brilliant, unable to break through and unleash a string of classic albums even though he’s clearly got all the ability in the world. Rudy Gay is Lindsey Buckingham.

Scott: Hipsters everywhere are going to hate me for this, but I’m going to go with Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 (hello junior high, it’s been awhile!). His highlight-reel dunks are like Blink-182’s radio-friendly power-pop songs, but there’s not a lot of substance behind his game or behind Blink-182’s songs. It doesn’t help that Rudy seems to lack focus (he spent the 2009 offseason diligently working on his batting stance and swing with the Memphis Redbirds) and DeLonge likewise spent the latter half of his Blink days devoted to his clothing line and his numerous side projects. However, having recently found some of my old Blink CDs, I have say while they didn’t elevate themselves above the genre, they were pretty damn fun, and so is Rudy. On that note, if we’re comparing him to films, he’d be Deep Blue Sea (the shark movie).

Kevin: I think I’m going to go movie-hipster on you and compare him to Watchmen – not the biggest flop of all time, but it certainly could’ve been much better. It’s movie that ended up not being very good – and it didn’t fail because it was a bad idea, but because it failed to live up to its potential because it was just too self-aware to get off the ground. That seems to be the main thing about Rudy that drives everyone crazy. He’s far too self-aware on the court.

That’s it for this installment of The SOV Dialogues. Stay tuned for next time Kevin and Scott tackle another Grizzlies-related topic.