Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Rudy Gay
There were more gaudy stat lines on Sunday night — 40 points for Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum’s 33-point Brooklyn brunch, and another 30-plus night (and another loss) for Russell Westbrook — but Rudy Gay threw DeMar DeRozan’s shoe into the Golden 1 Center stands, so he gets to be King of the Court, if just for one day.
When you look at box scores at the end of a day, you see some eye-popping individual stats — Damn, is Wiggins taking 4-pointers? — paired with a lot of team losses. Maybe it’s the fact that the league is chucking more 3s than ever before (two more per game than last season — the most ever), or just the general up-is-down period of flux we’re in, with 7-foot point guards and 6-foot-8 centers, but every once in a while, the numbers feel a little inflated. And every time Russy has a triple-double and the Thunder lose by eight, it feels like Ryan Gosling is pulling another Jenga piece out of the tower.
To stick with this admittedly thin metaphor, Rudy Gay is Coca-Cola — a dependable stock that is ultimately kind of bad for you. Since 2007–08, he has scored at least 17 points per game. And from the moment he was drafted, he’s been swept aside to make way for something new. When the Rockets dealt him to Memphis in July 2006, it was in exchange for Shane Battier and the birth of MoreyBall. In January 2013, Memphis traded Gay to Toronto, basically for Ed Davis — the first big move of the John Hollinger front office. The Grizz would notch a then-franchise-record 56 wins that season. Later that year Toronto dealt Gay to Sacramento for a package that included Patrick Patterson, a swap that signed ownership of the Raptors offense over to DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
Now Gay’s name is pinging around the rumor mill again, and this time he’s linked with OKC. It would make sense — Sacramento can continue its perpetual face-lift and the Thunder could replace a very little bit of the offensive void left by Kevin Durant. Sactown head coach Dave Joerger has sung Gay’s praises in the past: [“Gay’s] a wonderful human being who’s grown as a player and a leader. He likes it here. We all want to win a little bit more. There’s going to be rumors.” Gay claims he’s happy to stick it out in Northern California. If these are his last days in a Kings uniform, Sunday’s clash with his old team will be one he remembers for a long time.
Dude, this game was weird. If the league can often feel like a sport tripping over itself into the future, this game, a 102–99 Kings win, was for all the throwback fans out there: two big men — Boogie Cousins and Jonas Valanciunas — banging bodies, acrobatic midrange bullshit from DeRozan (3-for-15 on the night, though he was often getting roughed up with no whistle), appearances from the Instant Vintage quartet of Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and Anthony Tolliver. The crowd was lit, the game was close, there was a bizarre, last-second refereeing mix-up, and Rudy Gay was having the time of his life.
In the second quarter, DeRozan lost his shoe while going up for a close-range shot. Gay ambled over for the rebound, but when the Raptors extended the play with an offensive board, he switched into full custodial mode, tossing DeRozan’s sneaker into the face of an unsuspecting fan. With that act, he absorbed DeRozan’s powers, and went on to play like the best version of DeMar for the rest of the night: owning the midrange, making his free throws, and coming up with crowd-reviving moments when they were needed.
The game ended in hysterics. The Kings seemed set on throwing it all away, and when a last-second heave from Terrence Ross tied it with time expiring, it looked like an extra frame was coming. Turns out, the refs missed DeMarcus Cousins getting a hand on the inbound pass, and time should have run out, though I think Dwane Casey has a couple of notes for the officiating crew and everyone within earshot back in Secaucus.
Basketball is full of ups and downs. Time is subjective. Rudy Gay will be there, scoring about 20 a game … wherever there is.
Runner-up: Jeff Teague
The Pacers point guard was Xanax Westbrook in OKC on Sunday, scoring 30, and adding five boards and nine assists, compared to Russ’s 31, 11 boards, and 15 dimes. Oh, and Russ lost, 115–111. It was a fascinating contrast in individual styles with similar results. When Jeff Teague sees an obstacle, he takes the most efficient route around it. When Russell Westbrook sees an obstacle, he picks the obstacle up and throws it at another obstacle. The latter might be more entertaining to watch, but you can certainly see the benefits of the former.