In seven games since being traded from the Memphis Grizzlies on January 31, Gay has averaged 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals.
He still has to improve a bit, as he has made just 38 percent of his field-goal attempts, but mark my words. This time next year, Gay is going to have the Toronto Raptors in contention for a playoff spot, be it as a low-tier seed or just fighting for that final spot.
This is because, at long last, the Raptors have a viable option at small forward. Prior to acquiring Gay, the team used a rotation of Linas Kleiza, Alan Anderson, Mickael Pietrus and Landry Fields at the 3. Each player brought their own unique skill set to the table, but efficiency was not their forte.
Of that quartet, the average combined player efficiency rating (PER) was just 9.52. Gay's PER this season, on the other hand, is 14.77.
Granted, that isn't a great PER by any means—especially when fellow small forwards like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are posting respective efficiency ratings of 31.46 and 29.22—but Gay is still a marked improvement at the position, even if his offensive production has been weak this year.
The fact of the matter is that Gay helps make the Raptors a more complete squad. Assuming that guard DeMar DeRozan re-signs next season, the team is going to have the potential to be something special. If GM Bryan Colangelo can unload Andrea Bargnani's contract, all the better.
Under those circumstances, the starting lineup in 2013-14 could look something like this:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Amir Johnson
C: Jonas Valanciunas
That's a pretty dynamic lineup, if you ask me.
Lowry is a multi-talented point man who can be an offensive force when called upon and DeRozan's ever-improving offense will surely look even better next year. Moreover, Valanciunas will have a better idea of how to play the 5 in the NBA and enter the season with a new attitude.
At the 3, Gay gives the young Raptors the dynamic leadership presence they need. He'll be able to use his 6'8", 230-pound frame to create mismatches, not to mention drive the lane incredibly well for either a layup or an electrifying dunk. If called upon to stretch the floor, he won't have a problem filling that need either.
On defense, opposing teams should prepare themselves for a boatload of frustration.
A lot of how Gay affects the Raptors' future depends on what team management decides to do both at this year's trade deadline and over the summer, but Colangelo is a good front office mind who knows what he's doing. If there's anyone who can pull the necessary strings that will help Toronto take the next step forward, it's him.
And right behind him will be Gay, whose talents and motivation as the team's new star will guide the Raptors out of the lottery and back into the playoff mix in 2014.
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