October 31st is the deadline for first-round picks from the Class of 2006 to sign contract extensions, with the alternative to play out this season and become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2010.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford reports that the Grizzlies' initial offers to Gay have been "underwhelming." If the Grizzlies don't ink Gay to an extension before the deadline, I'll have mixed feelings about it.
While Gay is a comparable player to Aldridge and Bargnani, I tend to think the Blazers and Raptors overpaid for players still shy of all-star caliber and don't think the Grizzlies would be wise to follow suit. The team will have leverage with Gay next summer as a restricted free agent in a climate where league-wide player salaries are likely to contract. I think there are two reasons to extend a rookie at the first opportunity: If the player is a clear-cut #1 guy (and you can certainly make the case that Roy fits that criteria) or if you can get what you feel is a good deal. Otherwise, wait it out. This is the mistake I thought the Grizzlies made with Pau Gasol, maxing him out at the first opportunity when he wasn’t quite that level of player.
So, in that context, if Gay is demanding the kind of speculative over-payment that Aldridge and Bargnani have gotten, I think the Grizzlies are probably wise to be cautious. But there are at least a couple of countervailing issues here: On a team trying to blend multiple shot-hungry players, there's a danger of Gay pressing too much in a contract year and this adding even more complication to already delicate on-court chemistry problems. Also, given the decisions the team made last summer, bringing in Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson on two- and one-year deals, respectively, there's reason to question whether owner Michael Heisley is even willing to give out a four- or five-year contract beyond rookie and mid-level deals.
So, it looks like this will be a really important season for Rudy Gay. I know a lot of people who follow the Grizzlies think he is what he is at this point — a good-not-great scorer who minimally impacts the rest of the game. But I don't think we've necessarily seen all that Gay can be.
Is there reason to believe Gay could still make a similar leap? Is there reason to believe he can't?
Let's compare Granger's and Gay's production relative to age and league experience so far in some key categories. (Stats used: PER, PP40 [points per 40 minutes], RR [rebound rate], TS% [true shooting percentage], AR [assist ratio], TO [turnover rate], 3P% (three-point percentage), and FTA [free-throw attempts per game].) Hopefully this will be readable, as I don’t know how to make charts on the web:
Age PER PP40 RR TS% AR TO 3P% FTA
22 14.7 13.3 12.6 54.0 12.6 11.2 32 1.9
23 13.9 16.4 7.9 57.3 9.1 10.8 38 3.6
24 16.7 21.8 9.2 57.1 9.7 10.0 40 4.7
25 21.9 28.5 7.7 58.4 10.0 9.0 40 6.9
Age PER PP40 RR TS% AR TOR 3P% FTA
20 12.4 16.1 9.9 49.7 9.2 12.8 36 2.7
21 17.3 21.8 9.3 54.6 8.6 10.3 35 3.9
22 15.4 20.3 9.1 52.8 7.7 11.6 35 4.4
What you see there is that Gay has been as good or better than Granger at every age (Gay's disappointing age 22 season still better than Granger's age 22 season and Gay's age 21 season better than even Granger's age 24 season) and level of NBA experience (roughly comparable rookie seasons, Gay a better sophomore season, Granger a slightly better third season).
The hitch in this comparison is that Granger's career trajectory has been a relatively straight line up, while Gay had a troubling regression last season after a huge jump in his second year.
The question with Gay is whether that regression is a true indicator of his limits or just a fluke. And I tend to think there is a lot of fluke there.
That said, there are a couple of problems with the Granger comparison. For one thing, while I think Gay has as much pure scoring ability, the team context will prevent him from taking such a dramatic scoring leap. Granger is the primary scoring threat on an uptempo team. Gay will be one of three or four primary scoring threats on what will likely be more of a mid-tempo team.
More importantly, Gay is plagued by questions about his make-up — his effort, his focus, his unselfishness — that have never been red flags for Granger. With his superior athleticism, Gay should be a major force defensively, but has been a huge disappointment in that area. And his low assist/high turnover numbers are another nagging problem.
While I think Gay is likely to blossom as a scoring threat, I'm not as confident in these other areas. Until he begins to play a more total game, Gay won't be worth the kind of contract extension other players from his draft class have gotten. Hopefully Gay will understand that, and go out this season and earn it.