San Antonio Spurs: Pondering the sustainability of Rudy Gay’s efficiency

PORTLAND, OR - FEBRUARY 07: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles down the court in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center on February 7, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR - FEBRUARY 07: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles down the court in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center on February 7, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
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As a result of his tremendous efficiency in his thirteenth season as a pro, the San Antonio Spurs re-signed forward Rudy Gay on a two-year deal this offseason.

Sustainability is one of the least talked about necessities in professional basketball. For as incredible of a season as one player may have, it’s nearly impossible to recreate and maintain a certain level of efficiency as a player ages out of his career. This will be an area of scrutiny for San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay heading into the 2019-20 season after posting a career-high 58.3 percent true shooting last year.

It’s uncommon for players to manage to get more efficient with the end of their career in proximity and this most recent contract will likely be the last sizeable pay day for the 32-year-old.

Oftentimes, players will kick their game into overdrive to secure their last major contract before allowing their bodies to slow down. Along with that process, shooting percentages have a tendency to take a dip. Part of Rudy’s appeal was the fact that he scored on such a high percentage of his limited shot attempts (746, the third fewest of his career), so the question remains – can Rudy sustain this level of efficiency?

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History is not on his side with only seven players in league history managing to remain above 50 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from deep from their 13th season to the end of their career.

The list includes two players who Spurs fans will remember as villains to their beloved dynasty – sharpshooter Ray Allen and the historically-efficient point guard Steve Nash at the top of the rankings. The remaining players, in order, are Buck Williams, Wes Unseld, Gay, Thabo Sefolosha and Keyon Dooling – Gay is the only player on the list with more than 65 games logged with these specifications.

However, the list expands to 11 players when eliminating the range of seasons and replacing it with age. For a more detailed look, I specified the age range of 32-35, which is how old Gay was for this past season through the expiration of his newest contract extension.

It’s encouraging to see that three Spurs – Dale Ellis, Matt Bonner and Brent Barry – were able to continue shooting the ball with high percentages late in their careers. Excluding Ellis, who predates Gregg Popovich’s tenure as head coach of this franchise, these players were put in position to succeed by the teachings and offensive systems implemented by Pop.

This instills more confidence than the earlier statistics, but each player is accountable for themselves and history cannot be relied upon to dictate Gay’s future. With each passing game, Rudy grows more comfortable within Popovich’s offense and chemistry will only continue to blossom. While other Western Conference playoff contenders boast major free agency acquisitions and high-end talent, San Antonio remains confident through continuity, keen decision-making and intoxicating team chemistry.

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Within the flow of the Spurs’ motion-centric, sometimes mechanical half-court sets, Gay is sure to find open looks in the corners – he made 52.2 percent of his threes from the left corner and 44.7 percent from the right – as well as some above the break looks and the occasional shot from the top of the arc. Whether he enters the rotation in a sixth man role or as a starter, Gay is going to get his shots one way or another. He’s become an evidently unselfish player during his time in the silver and black, but remains best utilized as a top offensive option on the floor.

Gay has transformed the way that he plays in conjunction with Pop’s teachings. Despite all of the tweaks he’s made to his game, Gay continues to be a talented isolation shot creator and slasher, but now utilizes a refined and expanded bag of tools to help elevate the Spurs to another level.

Even if his shooting percentages face a minor decline with his age, post-Achilles injury Rudy Gay is a drastically different player than he was in Memphis or Sacramento and will continue serving his role effectively while providing a fervent, dedicated and spirited attitude to the locker room.

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For as many players that have come to San Antonio and truly become Spurs, Gay has been near the top of the ranks and remains an absolute joy for the fanbase to root for.

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