A stat-stuffer with #1 overall pick upside, Gay is probably the most gifted and naturally talented physical specimen in the NCAA. Its impossible to watch him and not get excited about his potential.
Gay has a prototypical body and frame for a modern NBA small forward, with great size at 6-9 and terrific length. He has the height and wingspan of a power forward, but moves and gets up and down the court like a 6-3 guard.
Most of Gays upside rests in his athleticism. Hes incredibly explosive; possessing an outstanding vertical leap that is both high and extremely quick. He gets in the air and just hangs for what seems like days. His length and explosiveness make him an acrobatic dunker and a regular fixture on highlight reels. Being more than just a dunker when he gets in the lane, Gay is extremely creative finishing around the hoop, whether its with a beautiful pull-up floater in the lane, a nifty scoop shot or a circus shot layup off the glass. He consistently surprises you with how adept he is at finishing around the paint, and has all the tools in the world to get even better in this part of his game.
In transition is where Gay is truly at his best, looking smooth and effortless and without a care in the world. His quickness makes him a terror in the open floor, as hes nearly impossible to stay in front of when he receives the ball with space to operate. His first step is phenomenal in open spaces and this is the part of his game where his length and explosiveness are most easily seen and taken advantage of.
Defensively he has great potential thanks to his height, length and extremely quick feet. His attitude here is not what you would expect from a legit NCAA star, as he has plenty of hustle in him and has no problem getting dirty for the benefit of his team. Gay covers a ton of ground in a very short amount of time, which allows him to recover quickly and be a shot-blocking threat from the weakside. He has very good hands and a good knack for coming up with steals and blocks as well. He shows not only the ability to be a great defender but also the willingness to smother his man, although he can be inconsistent in this area too.
Gay shows flashes of a well-rounded perimeter game, with great footwork, quick spin moves and plenty of willingness to create offense pulling up off the dribble, particularly going right. His shooting mechanics are beautiful; possessing good elevation on his jump-shot and a high release point. When he has a chance to set his feet, Gay has shown the ability to hit the NCAA 3-pointer with ease, or even a step or two beyond. Even though he is not a great shooter when hes forced to put the ball on the floor, he is better from long-range than his numbers would indicate.
Gay is a very good teammate, showing many of the intangibles that lead you to believe he has what it takes to reach his high ceiling. He is extremely unselfish and an excellent passer, using his height to see the floor and a good understanding of how to put his teammates the ball in a position to score, either on the perimeter or inside the paint. He doesnt mind making the extra pass, almost to a fault at times.
Off the court Gay is well-spoken and according to all reports a very hard worker who is committed to becoming an excellent all-around basketball player. On the court he has a very good demeanor and appears to be highly coachable. He plays for one of the top coaches and programs in the country on a team that has become a factory for developing NBA lottery picks.
Gays all-around skill level is still lagging behind his outstanding physical attributes, and he struggles at times to live up to the immense expectations that have been placed on him through the incredible amount of hype hes received since he was in high school.
Despite being an incredible athlete, Gay is not always capable of fully taking advantage of it, especially in half-court sets. His ball-handling is not up to par with his phenomenal first step, and he does not really know how to effectively and consistently create space for himself off the dribble. He relies too much on his athleticism and not enough on the crafty type of moves that all great wing players have in their arsenal to get their man off balance; including head and body fakes and hesitation moves to give himself more room to operate. His size works as a detriment at the collegiate level, as he exposes the ball to his much smaller perimeter rivals by not yet knowing how to use his flexibility to get his body low enough to the floor. His coaches in the NBA will have to work with him on being more fluid and not so upright, to better take advantage of his body control, which is just average at the moment.
Gays in-between game still needs plenty of work. Because he is such a gifted athlete and physical specimen, Gay can get a semi-open shot on the perimeter just by making a short dribble or two and elevating high off the floor. More so in the early part of the season he showed a tendency to abuse this part of his game, settling for too many fadeaway jump-shots outside of the context of the offense. This is not a part of his game where he is extremely polished in yet, which hurts his percentages from both the field and behind the arc. This was a major problem for UConn's offense until he recommitted himself to playing more to his strengths, particularly within 15 feet of the basket.
While his frame is terrific, being long, tall and extremely lanky, he could still stand to add some bulk to it to help him deal with the everyday rigors and physicality of the NBA.
On the other end of the floor, Gay is often asked to guard players that are much smaller than him, since the average college small forward is usually 6-6 or less. He shows problems defending smaller players, again not getting low enough to the floor to take advantage of his lateral movement and therefore struggling to stay in front of his man. He needs to continue to garner experience defending the perimeter, but still has terrific potential on this end of the floor.
Gay will go through long stretches where he coasts and just doesnt ask for ball. When hes in these funks he tends to just camps in the corner and not make his presence felt in half-court sets unless his team is specifically running plays for him. His off-ball movement is not good enough at this point. And like many players his age, his motor can be very inconsistent.
One of the biggest questions NBA GMs will wonder is whether he has a killer instinct. Early on in the season especially, Gay was extremely inconsistent from game to game and even from half to half. If he starts off the game slowly, he will sometimes start thinking too much and get down on himself.
When hes at his worst, Gay alternates between trying to do too much and not doing anything at all, either forcing the issue as if he wants to prove that the hype hes received his entire career was justified, or not being a factor at all on either side of the floor. His mental toughness has been questioned at times, and there are questions about whether he has what it takes to reach his incredibly high potential and be a go-to guy offensively and a legit superstar. Its obvious that he enjoys playing basketball, but the jury is still out on whether he truly loves the game.
The pressure on him to be a superstar has been immense, and Gay has not always been able to back it up with what hes shown on the court, which in turn puts even more pressure on him. His feel for the game at this point in his career is decent, but not off the charts. The same can be said about his mental toughness, as well as his physical toughness. He could certainly use another year of college to garner more experience and continue to mature and develop his all-around game, but it's highly unlikely that this will happen.
Gay plays in the deepest and toughest conference in college basketball, the Big East, meaning there is rarely a night that he goes up against mediocre competition as far as the NCAA goes. As a freshman he started almost right off the bat for an extremely talented UConn team fresh off a national championship, alongside eventual top 10 pick Charlie Villanueva. Gay played the role of complimentary player very well as a freshman, sharing co-freshman of the year honors with Georgetown forward Jeff Green, and filling up the stat sheet consistently.
Expectations were sky high coming into his sophomore year, as Gay was named both preseason Big East and national player of the year by most publications. It appeared that he would be able to live up the hype and then some early on, after delivering an incredibly explosive 28 point performance in his second game of the season against Arkansas at the Maui Invitational. His team ended up beating Arizona as well as Gonzaga in the finals to win the tournament, but Gay was almost non existent afterwards. His team went on an extended stretch of playing strictly lower level Division one competition and Gay was barely tested before the Big East season kicked off. In his first conference game he was completely outplayed on both ends of the floor by Marquette senior Steve Novak, being one of the players who attempted to guard him on his way to a 41 point performance. Gay was for the most part mediocre in the month of January, but recovered in a huge way in February and once again showed the country why he is considered possibly the most talented player in college basketball. He went back to rebounding the ball with purpose, shot the ball much better from beyond the arc, and generally played like a player expected to compete for being the #1 pick in June.
It will be his performance in March will likely determine where he ends up being drafted, as UConn is considered as strong a contender as anyone to make the Final Four and everything is in place for Gay to lead them there.
Gay shows flashes of brilliance by making plays that are usually reserved only for the truly elite basketball players. His upside is unquestioned, the only doubt is how much of it he will actually be able to realize.
If Gay is focused on playing a role similar to Shawn Marion in Phoenix, the way he has for much of the 2nd half of the NCAA season, he is absolutely terrific. But when he instead tries to pattern his game after Tracy McGrady, which he does not have the skill level to do at the moment, his potential lessens significantly. The team he ends up with and specifically the coach he plays for will largely determine how effective of a player he is in his first few NBA seasons. If he struggles initially, the pressure of being such a high draft pick might be too much for him to overcome mentally down the road.
Despite being fairly inconsistent as a college player so far, hes probably shown scouts enough and his potential is likely too great for him not to be selected in the top 5 of the draft. With a solid showing in the NCAA tournament, Gay could elevate his stock to #1 depending on how the other candidates perform. Players like him usually take the safe route after declaring, so dont expect him to conduct more than a handful of private workouts at most. It will be his performance on the court with UConn that determines how high he ends up being drafted.