Rudy Gay returns to the San Antonio Spurs for a second season, but what should he strive for in 2018-19?
Rudy Gay joined the San Antonio Spurs on a two-year deal in the 2017 offseason, played it out, and opted out of the second season of his contract. However, he re-signed with the Silver and Black on a one-year, $10 million salary for the 2018-19 season with no player or team option attached.
After a season of positives and negatives, Gay will look to find his stride when the season returns in October. What can be expected from him in year two? How far could the Spurs go with his improvement?
Let’s look at three goals for Gay in the 2018-19 season:
3. Improve as a 3-point shooter
In stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings, Rudy Gay was never an elite three-point shooter, but he found decent success, with 34.4, 34.4 and 34.7 percent marks across the board, respectively. This topped out in 2010-11, with a 39.6 percent average with the Grizzlies.
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However, in 2017-18, Gay only shot 31.4 percent from three-point range, his lowest average since the 2011-12, when he had a career-low 31.2.
As a team, the San Antonio Spurs shot 35.2 percent from behind the arc; good for No. 26 in the NBA, around teams that did not make the postseason. It was a drop-off from the No. 1 spot they claimed in 2016-17, albeit with a healthy Kawhi Leonard.
While not just due to Gay, improvement from him behind the arc would progress the Spurs towards becoming a better three-point shooting team. They will need it, pending how much DeMar DeRozan shows from this part of the floor, and even with the addition of Marco Belinelli.
Gay could find more scoring opportunities with DeRozan around, so potentially look for him to stretch the floor for the team’s two-point-heavy shooters and go from there.
2. Stay healthy
Rudy Gay never had a clean bill of health in his first 10 seasons, but he appeared in at least 70 games per year, more often than not. That changed since January 2017, though.
Gay suffered a career-altering injury in what became his final game with the Sacramento Kings; a ruptured Achilles that took him out for the final half of the 2016-17 season. This ailment derailed players before him and did the same afterward (DeMarcus Cousins with the New Orleans Pelicans).
The San Antonio Spurs brought Gay in, six months after he suffered the injury. He was able to start the season on the active roster, but health took a downward slope by the winter.
In late December, Gay suffered a heel injury that was bad enough to remove him from the court for two months. With games sporadically missed before it and afterward, he missed 25 games in 2017-18 after an absence in 52 the year before.
On this latest “prove-it” deal with the Spurs, Gay must stay healthy to show he can last in the NBA without significant risk. That’s not just for San Antonio, but the other 29 teams.
If Gay sticks for at least 70 games in 2018-19, he should be able to find a lucrative deal, especially with the salary cap expected to rise by July. Players, not just this 12-year veteran, took one-year pacts with next summer in mind, so will he follow through?
Next: Sixth Man of the Year
1. Win Sixth Man of the Year
A remarkable comeback for Rudy Gay would be the accolade bench players can win: the Sixth Man of the Year award. He first became eligible for this in 2017-18, as the San Antonio Spurs’ sixth man.
Prior to this, Gay never exclusively played off the bench. He started for the Grizzlies, Raptors and Kings, but always kept a starting small-forward role. The injury changed this, and the opportunity on a winning franchise pushed him towards a lesser role.
If Gay improves his three-point shooting and manages to stay healthy, can he join the 2018-19 Sixth Man of the Year race? 11.5 points per game in 57 appearances would not cut it, so he needs a larger role in the offense; obviously not guaranteed with DeRozan’s arrival and LaMarcus Aldridge‘s continued presence, but, like the 2017-18 season, unforeseen changes may arise for a franchise that rarely went through adversity since its 1999 championship.
Gay, even if he’s just a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, can improve his free-agent stock for 2019 and become a valued member, on a multi-year deal, wherever he goes. It could be the final time he earns a lucrative deal, as he turns 33 years old before 2019-20.
Gay winning Sixth Man of the Year potentially means the Spurs found the scoring it missed last year and rose up the NBA in points per game (27th in the league). If so, this could be a more successful year than anyone thinks.