Is Rudy Gay the Kings’ answer at the four?


There was a reason George Karl wanted to jump in during the middle of a disastrous 2014-15 Sacramento Kings season.  Despite an epic tailspin, Karl took the controls and pulled back as hard as he could.  Slowly, the veteran coach has the nose of the Kings plane heading upwards towards the clouds.

Karl’s a tinkerer.  He likes to mix and match until he finds a combination that gives his opposition fits.  There have been few that do it better, and that is why the 62-year-old Karl always finds his way back into the cockpit.

Some would look at the Sacramento Kings roster and shake their head.  There is young talent and two players worthy of All-Star consideration.  But the pieces have been better than the whole for nearly a decade.  That is where Karl comes in.

His latest experiment is paying dividends.  Rudy Gay is a basketball player.  Not a wing or a combo forward.  He is a 6-foot-8 super athlete with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a silky smooth jumper.  He can shoot, defend, rebound, pass the ball and block shots and for the last three games, he’s started alongside DeMarcus Cousins at the power forward position.

“I think it fits how I want to coach,” Karl told Cowbell Kingdom.  “I want more speed.  I want more spacing.  I want more pace.  All of those things get better when you’re playing your best athlete at four.”

While Gay has the talent of a superstar, he also has a bit of blue collar in him.  He rarely misses games and when Karl sent him out to guard a 260-pound Nene over the weekend, Gay didn’t shy away from the task.

“He’s committed himself for a 30-game stretch to learn and commit to a new system and he’s done it,” Karl told the media earlier this week.  “His offense has flowed, it’s got some efficiency to it.  I think we’re asking him to expand his game a little bit, which I think is always challenging to a very talented player.”

Sacramento needs more talent on their roster, that much is obvious.  But power forward has long been a position of need.  With the ever changing NBA game, big men are being asked to do more.  If Gay can stick at the position, he certainly answers a tremendous question for the Kings this offseason.

They still need depth in the backcourt, a three-and-D wing and shot blocker in the middle, but a front line of Gay, Cousins and whoever, is pretty solid.

“I would say yes,” Karl told Cowbell Kingdom as to whether Gay could start long term at the four.  “You’re basically talking about 12 to 15 minutes where you are guaranteed that we are going to go that way.  He might play 35 minutes a night and play 10 minutes at the four.  The game’s going to dictate it.”

“I definitely think it’s sustainable,” Karl added.

There will be nights when Karl goes big.  He still has Jason Thompson, Reggie Evans and Carl Landry to turn to, but if an uptempo style is what Karl wants, Gay may be the best option moving forward.

Gay is excelling under Karl.  Through 17 games, he is averaging 23.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from behind the arc.  You would like to see a bigger rebound number from your starting four, but Cousins is one of the most dominating rebounders in the game, so he can pick up the slack.

Karl will continue to make adjustments, but the small sample size of three games is telling him that Gay at the four makes the Kings better.  He has the size and athleticism to play with almost anyone at the position.  The question then becomes, can the Kings find a long-term fix at the three?



About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".