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San Antonio Spurs: Is Rudy Gay a top 100 player?

By Rob Wolkenbrod
SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 15: Rudy Gay
SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 15: Rudy Gay
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San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay was noticeably absent from ESPN and Sports Illustrated’s top 100 NBA players for 2017-18.

Throughout the week, ESPN and Sports Illustrated released most of its top 100 players lists for the 2017-18 NBA season. Some players received rankings higher than expected, while others were lower than anyone could have guessed, the latter of which applies to New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. A handful of San Antonio Spurs were included, too, like LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Pau Gasol, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili.

One Spur was noticeably absent, however. New signing Rudy Gay didn’t make either ESPN or SI’s list. So, it’s worth asking, if Gay is even a top 100 player?

Since joining the NBA in 2006, Gay has just one year of fewer than 17 points per game (2006-07), and has otherwise been a consistent scoring contributor. That goes along with a 45 percent mark from the field and 34.5 percent behind the arc. They’re all solid numbers that represent a good, not great, NBA player.

It’s about “now,” however, even with the past to back Gay up. He averaged 18.7 points (45.5 percent shooting) in 30 games in his final season for the Sacramento Kings, before rupturing his Achilles tendon in January and missing the rest of the 2016-17 campaign. Those are solid numbers, and if he played a full season, it would have ranked within the top 50 of the NBA.

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There’s the more analytical side of the table that might argue against this, though. Gay’s Offensive Win Shares plummeted in 2016-17 to 0.8, a far cry from his 4.8 in 2014-15 and 6.1 Win Shares overall for that season, second-best of his career. This was likely impacted by the Achilles injury, but even before that, this number was on the decline (3.8 in 2015-16).

Defensively, Gay never was top-notch, either. His Defensive Box Plus-Minus, which is the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a “league-average player,” fell to 0.4 in 2016-17. This was sixth-best on the Kings, but only ahead of bad defenders like Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, and Ty Lawson.

So, why wouldn’t these numbers, pre-injury, and at age 31, get Gay on either SI or ESPN’s list? Let’s look at who went above him:

ESPN’s 91-100

  • 91. Nerlens Noel – A young center that’s still on the rise, but hasn’t taken off.
  • 92. Rodney Hood – Hood looked ready to break out after 2015-16, but only shot 40 percent in 2016-17 and saw his points per game dip to 12.7.
  • 93. James Johnson – Johnson broke out last season, but doesn’t have the career numbers to back up sustainability.
  • 94. Derrick Favors – Once a rising young power forward, Favors regressed in 2016-17, while playing nine fewer minutes per game.
  • 95. Trevor Ariza – Ariza remains a solid shooter and defender, the two things he’s mostly known for.
  • 96. Dennis Schroder – Schroder probably doesn’t belong this low on ESPN’s list. He was one of the league’s better young point guards last season, in his first try as a full-time starter.
  • 97. Dirk Nowitzki – Nowitzki falling below some of the players ahead of him is head-scratching, even if others have potential to do greater things at this stage.
  • 98. Dion Waiters – Waiters had his best season in 2016-17 and got paid for it. Like Johnson, it’s a matter of sustaining it. However, for a player that’s done more than Johnson in the NBA, it’s a somewhat low spot for the former Syracuse star.
  • 99. Manu Ginobili – Ginobili had his heyday. At 40, though, cracking the top-100 is surprising, but may just be a respect factor. He had his worst statistical season last year.
  • 100. Ryan Anderson – Anderson is not a good defender, but can still shoot it. He’s barely a top-100 player.

SI’s 91-100

  • 91. James Johnson – See above.
  • 92. Patty Mills – A somewhat low placement for Mills, the Spurs’ projected starter at point guard. A full season’s worth of starts should move him up, although ESPN ranked him No. 67.
  • 93. Lou Williams – Williams was terrific for the Los Angeles Lakers, but struggled with the Houston Rockets as a sixth man. On the Los Angeles Clippers, he’ll look to make up for this and rise up.
  • 94. Julius Randle – Randle hasn’t taken off yet, but is still just 22-years-old. He should climb lists soon.
  • 95. Taj Gibson – Gibson is a solid defensive contributor that can score here and there. He’s probably a top 100 player.
  • 96. Elfrid Payton – College woes followed Payton to the NBA: he can’t shoot from distance, is somewhat turnover-prone and can defend. Could be some debate on him as a top 100 player.
  • 97. Ryan Anderson – See above.
  • 98. Patrick Patterson – Patterson is a fine role player. He went at No. 76 on ESPN’s list, though.
  • 99. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Caldwell-Pope got a lot of money to capitalize on upside with the Los Angeles Lakers. No. 99 might be aggressive for him.
  • 100. D’Angelo Russell – Russell barely cracks the top 100 here. Plenty of upside remains and a fresh start could do him wonders. This spot seems low for him.

The issue with placing Gay over anyone, is his unpredictable return from the Achilles rupture. Past cases make it difficult to know how well he’ll perform and, if anything, it’ll be in a decline.

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I would take a questionable Gay over Anderson and Ginobili. The former is well-defined in one role (shooting), while the latter is merely a third-string shooting guard at this point. The UConn product might regress into Anderson’s style of play, but that’s unknown since no one has seen him return to the court.

Caldwell-Pope is debatable, as well. Without a stand out season and banking on upside that hasn’t appeared, he can be taken off the list, or even barely cracking it.

So, given the end of these lists, let’s place Gay near the end of them, barely making him a top 100 player. This can go deeper, into the players that were in the 80’s, but looking at who barely made it gives a better look at the potential debate of if Gay is better than players that cracked the top 100.

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Is Rudy Gay a top 100 player? Or did ESPN and SI get this right?

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