The San Antonio Spurs will likely lean on small forward Rudy Gay to elevate his play heading into the 2019 NBA Playoffs, but what exactly will the veteran need to focus on?
Having the third-highest usage rate of players logging minutes regularly for the San Antonio Spurs, small forward Rudy Gay has quietly taken on some noteworthy responsibility under head coach Gregg Popovich. At his core, Gay is a genuine bucket-getter with an instinctive knack for creating his own shot and spotting up for perimeter jumpers.
Many thought that Gay’s career would head south after his tragic Achilles rupture back in Sacramento, but the determined vet worked his body back to top shape and signed with a team that’s managed his workload to perfection. In his second full season with the Spurs, Gay is averaging 14 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.8 steals in roughly 27 minutes per game.
Averaging a career-best 56 percent effective field goal percentage, Gay and Popovich have devised a strategy that puts the natural-born scorer in the best possible positions to succeed. As a result, the 32-year-old has been revitalized as an essential cog in the unwavering basketball machine that is the San Antonio Spurs.
Now that the Spurs have clinched a 22nd consecutive playoff berth, all eyes are on the postseason because of the franchise’s distinctive track record of making noise once mid-April rolls around. While it remains true that the duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are the go-to contributors for San Antonio, the only way for the Spurs to make a run in the postseason is with a concerted team effort.
For the Spurs to make a splash in the playoffs, they’ll look to Gay as a vital member of this squad. His decision-making as leader of the second unit may determine the ultimate outcome of the team, similarly to the legendary Manu Ginobili during his prime.
Having a reliable sixth man to balance out the rotation helps Popovich to push the envelope and scramble opposing coaches by deploying staggered lineup led by a poised and distinguished player.
Next: Dominating the Glass
Dominating the Glass
Over the course of his career, Rudy Gay has been a seemingly inconsistent rebounder. With a lengthy 6-foot-8 frame and the verticality to match it, Gay has always had the natural tools necessary to become a notable rebounder. Whether it was a matter of team makeup or lack of effort is another discussion entirely, but we’ve witnessed Gay unlock his potential on the glass in his second season in San Antonio.
Gay is posting a career-best 6.7 rebounds per game in the second fewest minutes he’s ever averaged in a season. He’s been the second-best rebounder on the team behind All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge while averaging the third most contested rebounds on the team with 1.8 per game. This proves that Rudy is not only attacking the glass at a high rate, but he’s working harder for his boards than almost anyone else on the team.
This is the kind of effort that the Spurs will benefit from in the postseason. Many of the Western Conference’s most successful teams capitalize on gaining possession off of loose balls. With Gay giving a concentrated effort on the glass, San Antonio adds an extra layer of depth that enables them to capitalize on second-chance opportunities.
Furthermore, Gay’s added boost on the backboards allows his quicker teammates to pick up their own tempo in transition to create instant offense.
The statistics back up San Antonio’s success with Gay attacking the glass. He’s posted nine games with 10+ rebounds this season and the Spurs have won seven of those games. He’s also managed to secure a double-double in every game that he grabs double-digit rebounds, so his effort on the glass can be a good indicator of his in-game focus.
Next: Buying Buckets when Necessary
Buying Buckets when Necessary
This year’s iteration of the Spurs doesn’t necessarily rely on Gay to take over the game, but instead look to him as a stabilizer on the offensive end. Head coach Gregg Popovich is aware that his team operates better when staggering Rudy’s minutes with those of DeRozan and Aldridge, so we’ve seen Gay take a bench role at various points throughout the year.
Gay’s primary function within the Spurs offense is to buy buckets whenever necessary. His isolation style of scoring is nearly guaranteed a bucket, especially when drawing a switch off of a well-placed screen. Utilizing a bag full of dribble moves to create his own shot, Gay is as reliable a scorer as a team could ask for. The 13-year veteran is posting a career-highs in true shooting and PIE at 59.3 percent and 13.1 respectively.
San Antonio is prone to wicked dry spells on offense that often result in momentum swings in favor of the opponent. Having a reliable wing to go and get a bucket when no one else can is hugely important to the makeup of this team. As one of the best corner three-point shooters in the league this season, Gay has dug the Spurs out of some sticky situations this season and will surely be called upon in the postseason.
Rudy came to San Antonio to be part of a winning organization and get a clearer glimpse of postseason action. His natural instinct will carry him decently far, but the Spurs require a certain level of competency and intensity once the postseason rolls around. If he can continue his efficient play into the playoffs, Gay will earn himself a nice contract in the summer.
Next: Keying in on Defense
Keying in on Defense
No one is going to tell you that Rudy Gay is a world-class defender, but he’s got a lot to offer on that end of the floor. As previously mentioned, Gay has great verticality and length coupled with a lanky frame. He has the makings of a great defender that never quite figured out how to lock down opponents on a consistent basis.
With that said, there’ll be a lot of opportunity for Rudy Gay to show off his defensive growth during the playoffs this year. In his 27 minutes per game this season, Gay is averaging career-lows in both steals and blocks per game. This is largely due to playing time, but it’s also been in part due to a lack of effort.
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For the Spurs to make a run in the playoffs, Gay needs to channel some of his former self and elevate his play as a defender. When the game slows down and Gay is tasked with guarding the Western Conference’s elite one-on-one, he can hold his matchup to a limited field goal percentage. His mobility doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore as Gay can keep up with opponents using his long strides and quick feet.
Stepping out guard shooters has been a huge issue for the entire team this season. Without a go-to defender in the second unit, you’ll often see Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli scrambling to close out on the many three-point shooters that the league has to offer today.
This isn’t something for Gay to work on singlehandedly, but there’s plenty of room for improvement within San Antonio’s defensive chemistry.