Breaking down Rudy Gay’s first season with the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-18.
The San Antonio Spurs have never been a team that is known for making a big splash in free agency. Consequently, the signing of Rudy Gay this past summer was somewhat of a surprise. The former Sacramento King had spent the majority of his career as the first or second scoring option. He was also coming off of one of the most damaging injuries a professional basketball player can have, a torn Achilles tendon. He came to San Antonio knowing that his role in the offense would be significantly less than he was accustomed to, but the chance to play meaningful postseason basketball was too promising to pass up, especially for a player that had only reached the playoffs once before.
Gay was always expected to be a valuable bench contributor. He’s a proven scorer and the possibility of larger lineups featuring him, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge quickly grabbed the imagination of Spurs fans. Once it became clear that Leonard was going to miss extensive times the signing of Gay looked even better. Kyle Anderson is a fine player in his own right but having an established veteran like Gay on the team would only help San Antonio tread water in the Western conference until Leonard returned.
As expected, this season was quite the adjustment for Gay. He started in only six games. In addition to adjusting to his new role as a reserve player and learning a new system, the 31-year-old forward would miss significant time due to injury. A heel injury would nag him throughout the season and cause him to miss about two months. A combination of the injury to his heel, along with other bumps and bruises, limited Gay to only 57 games this season, the third-lowest amount of his career.
When he was healthy he was a valuable asset. There was some worry among Spurs fans coming into the season as to how explosive Gay would be. He had always been one of the more athletic players in the league. Fears that his Achilles injury would have robbed him of his leaping ability were quickly put to rest. Gay was still able to elevate over defenders and show off for the fans with some rim-rattling dunks.
Career lows in minutes per game and games started unsurprisingly lead to almost a career low number in points per game for Rudy. He would average 11.5 points per game for the Spurs this season. That was his lowest scoring average since his rookie year with the Memphis Grizzlies back in 2006-2007 when he averaged 10.8 ppg. While his scoring numbers decreased his efficiency increased, how very Spursian. His 51% from 2-pt range was a new career high and his effective field goal percentage of 50% was second only to the 51% he posted in 2007-2008 while playing for the Grizzlies. While being used more as a stretch four than the small forward he had been for the majority of his career Gay also posted a career-high 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Rudy Gay’s best game of the season came early in Miami. That night against the Heat, Rudy showed that he was capable of doing exactly what San Antonio hoped when they signed him. He provided valuable scoring off the bench on highly efficient looks. That night he would go 6-8 from the field, 1-2 from deep, and 9-11 from the free throw line. Previously known as a volume scorer with a habit of taking contested long-range twos, Gay smoothly adjusted to his role on the bench and committed himself to improving his efficiency.
Season Grade: B
It remains to be seen whether or not Rudy Gay will be back in a San Antonio Spurs uniform next year. He does have a player option that he can cash in on this summer to the tune of $9 million dollars. It’s unlikely that another team will give him any more than that. 31 year old forwards with previous Achilles tendon tears are not exactly a hot commodity on the free agent market. Spurs fans should welcome him back with open arms. With a full off-season to work out with teammates and learn the Spurs system in greater detail, Gay should come into the 2018-2019 season even better.
Plus, after tasting postseason basketball for only the second time in his career and losing in the first round Gay will likely be even hungrier to return to the playoffs. Who knows, depending on how the situation with Kawhi Leonard pans out Gay could see himself in line for an increased role. In either case, a player with his versatility and scoring ability is a welcome addition to the Silver and Black.