San Antonio Spurs: The importance of Rudy Gay’s health
By Dylan Carter
Early into free agency, forward Rudy Gay signed a one-year deal to return to the San Antonio Spurs.
Fully recovered from the multitude of injuries he’s suffered over the course of the past two seasons, Gay is an integral part of San Antonio’s game plan headed into the future.
Just two seasons ago, Gay torched the league with 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest through 30 games as a Sacramento King. After tearing his left Achilles tendon and sitting out the remainder of the year, the forward signed a one-year deal to join San Antonio as he returned to the hardwood. Gay returned to action as a key contributor, but it was evident that he wasn’t fully recovered from the traumatic injury.
While his Achilles held up strong throughout his 2018-19 campaign, Gay missed substantial time with a nagging heel injury and an array of short-term tweaks that sidelined him for 25 games. All the while, Gay developed relationships in the Alamo City while buying into the culture established by head coach Gregg Popovich.
#Spurs' Rudy Gay, with his health finally fully restored and 5 pounds lighter, tells me, "I feel good about this season…Everything is clicking. I feel athletic again…It's now or never for me this season." pic.twitter.com/DoDEfdVkMc
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) August 19, 2018
After the turmoil of the 2017-18 season, Gay carved out an important role for himself as the Spurs’ second go-to scorer when available to play. He paired nicely with All Star LaMarcus Aldridge in the front court and provided high-energy offense for a team that struggled to put points on the scoreboard.
By committing to improved defense, sensible shot selection and a team-first mentality, Gay became a true Spur. Throughout the Leonard drama, Gay provided a breath of fresh air for the suffering team. Now, with a slew of fresh talent and an old friend in DeMar DeRozan joining the squad, Gay is finally healthy and ready to roll.
Having Gay back at full force is a major factor in the Spurs’ pursuit of the postseason. In his lone season as a Spur, Gay accrued the third highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of his career at 18.0 with the third highest usage rate on the squad.
Rudy Gay (Wing)-Despite recovering from his Achilles injury, Gay was better at finishing than 98.2% of wings. However, his perimeter shooting was better than just 17% of wings. That second number needs to improve significantly to help the Spurs with spacing.
— Jared Johnson (@jaredtjohnson21) September 14, 2018
Playing a similar role as last season, Gay could see an increase in shots now that he’s back to full health. In a more fluid offense, he’ll thrive by spacing the floor and creating his own shots with the proper room to operate. As an off-ball scorer, Gay should easily compliment DeRozan and Aldridge by using cuts to the basket and making the most of his catch-and-shoot jumpers.
For the two former Raptors, DeRozan and Gay, chemistry won’t be an issue. The duo spent 51 games together in Toronto and have teamed up for professional amateur leagues in the following summers. Most recently, the tandem tore up the Drew League directly following the DeRozan-Leonard trade in July.
A looming narrative of the offseason has been that Popovich will push DeRozan to the next level. Whether it be his defense or three-point shooting, spectators including all-time great shooting guards James Harden and Vince Carter believe that Popovich will help DeMar reach the next phase of his career.
Popovich has already begun to push Gay to an improved play style. The player development aficionado helped to guide Gay as a defender within the team’s scheme throughout the 2017-18 season. On the offensive end, Popovich allowed Gay to play his game while also making minor tweaks in shot selection and consistency to perform more efficiently.
At 32-years-old, the Spurs are working with a mature and poised version of Gay. As long as he can stay healthy, he’ll be the perfect utility player to fill the small forward gap in San Antonio.