By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - It seems as though the Rudy Gay trade has had the same effect on the Toronto Raptors as did the Denver Nuggets dealing Carmelo Anthony.
The Nuggets have improved since sending Anthony to New York, and the Raptors have taken off since unloading Gay on the Sacramento Kings.
And it's not a coincidence both teams got better by subtracting a ball-dominant player.
Including the one game Gay sat out pending the trade becoming official, the Raptors are 10-5 since his departure.
And the improvement has come at both ends of the floor. The offense is far more cohesive and balanced, and Toronto has played like an upper-level defensive team.
The Raptors averaged 97.3 points per game with Gay and are putting up 99.8 points per game without him.
On the defensive end, they've allowed 95.3 points per game since his departure, while giving up 98.7 points prior to the deal.
Meanwhile, all of the core players have played considerably better since the trade.
Let's take a look at each one and see the vast improvement. All of the statistics include the one game Gay sat out prior to the deal being consummated.
The Raptors point guard looks like a totally different player since the trade. He's scoring and distributing the ball much better and has turned it up defensively.
When Toronto handed the Thunder their only home loss of the season on Dec. 22, Lowry keyed the win by outplaying Russell Westbrook, as he put up 22 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, and four steals.
Prior to the trade, Lowry averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds, and he shot 40.7 percent from the floor and 35.4 percent from 3-point range. Since Gay was shipped to Sacramento, Lowry is averaging 17.3 points, 8.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds, and he's seen a significant rise in his shooting percentages. He's shooting 45 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from downtown.
Surprisingly, DeRozan's shot attempts and scoring numbers are pretty similar since the trade, but he's become a more complete player.
When you hear him talk about the team's attitude now, you can understand why he and the rest of his teammates have been very unselfish in their play over the last month.
"It seems like everybody's on the same page," DeRozan said. "Everybody cares about working hard and winning. That's our only focus. We don't care who shoots the ball. We don't care who scores. All we care about is doing what's right out there on the court."
DeRozan averaged 21.3 points playing with Gay this season, and is putting up 21.2 points per game without him.
It's in other areas where we've seen a spike in his performance. Prior to the deal, DeRozan averaged 2.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Since then, he's averaged 4.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds.
Johnson's production has gone up significantly, and it began in a big way in the first game without Gay on Dec. 8, as he shot 14-of-17 from the floor and scored a career-high 32 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the Raptors' win over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
Before the trade, Johnson averaged 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, and shot 56 percent from the floor. In the post-Gay era, he's averaging 13 points and 7.9 rebounds, and is hitting 60.2 percent of his shots from the field.
Johnson has always been a stellar defender, so his improvement offensively is just an added bonus.
The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft was a big beneficiary of the trade because Ross moved into the starting lineup and has seen a lot more minutes.
He's also taken advantage of the opportunity and is one of the reasons why the Raptors have fared so well since the deal.
While Gay was there, Ross played just over 18 minutes per game and averaged 5.7 points and shot 34 percent from 3-point range. Since the trade, he's averaging 13.3 points in just over 30 minutes, and shooting 45.2 percent from downtown. His presence on the floor also has made a big difference on the defensive end. He's a tenacious defender, which is a far cry from what you could say about Gay, who was often lackadaisical in that area.
The second-year center has shown a marked improvement over the last month and it was highlighted by his performance against Roy Hibbert when the Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 1.
Valanciunas went toe-to-toe with Hibbert, with the Pacers center eventually fouling out and playing just 21 minutes. Valanciunas had 13 points and nine rebounds, while Hibbert finished with 16 points and three rebounds.
Since Gay's departure, he's averaging 11.9 points and nine rebounds, while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. With Gay on the floor, he put up 9.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, and shot only 47.6 percent.
MORE GOOD NEWS
The trade has benefited the Raptors beyond the improvement of their core players. It also bolstered the bench with the addition of Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez.
Patterson, in particular, has provided a huge boost, and it seems like he's very happy to have moved on from Sacramento.
"It's just more positive energy," said the fourth-year power forward of his new environment. "Everyone is more focused, everyone pretty much just believes in themselves and the team and what we can do.
"Whenever you string together wins, when you beat the top teams, people start believing in themselves and what's going on."
The contrast in play for Patterson between Sacramento and Toronto has been startling.
In 17 games with the Kings, he shot 41 percent from the floor and 23.1 percent from 3-point range. In 13 games with the Raptors, Patterson is shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from long range.
01/08 09:49:59 ET