After re-signing with the San Antonio Spurs for two more seasons, forward Rudy Gay is prepared to continue taking steps in his professional development.
Once looked at as an “analytic bomb of destruction,” Rudy Gay has completely bought in to the San Antonio Spurs system, re-invented himself and has reaped the rewards since his first moments in the Silver and Black. The veteran has played very well in both roles in the starting lineup as well as with the bench unit. Playing as a stretch four has helped the Spurs in an abundance of ways while breaking the mold many once put on him in his early years.
He’s proven himself valuable in this ‘pace-and-space’ era of basketball, as he fits the archetype many are looking for in their starting forwards. Rudy started out the season white hot from three, shooting upward of 50 percent on a little over three attempts per game. His efforts on the defensive end were much needed – he was a solid rebounder at times, even serving as a spark plug off the bench with his ability to get buckets quickly off the dribble or by rotating to the open spot on the floor for an easy three.
As I’ve written before, he was the second most important Spur for a good part of last season. His ability to stretch the floor, create his own shot, pass, and defend was something the Spurs desperately needed, as it alleviated the load on guys like DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, and helped soften a little bit of the blow left from losing guys like Kyle Anderson, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.
As the year went on, you saw his numbers drop a bit. It is very tough to hit 50 percent of your three-pointers for an entire season, so his percentages began to decline somewhat quickly and his play on the other end of the floor was affected as well.
Whether it be matchups, the emergence of Jakob Poeltl & Derrick White – which pushed him towards the bench – he began to decline a bit. Rudy wasn’t a bad player by any means, and was still quite useful and very much so important, but you could see how his play was affected.
Next: Become a more consistent two-way player
1. Become a more consistent two-way player
Trust me, there were times this season when Rudy made extraordinary plays. Whether it be a shot off the dribble or a clutch defensive play, his impact was felt. Throughout the season, you saw a lot of 6-for-15, 3-for-12 and 3-for-10 shooting nights where you know he’s better than what he’s shown. Some of that comes from simply having an off game.
There are nights where he’s excellent – like medium-rare porterhouse levels of excellent – and others where he’s a tough watch on the court, like a well-done sirloin. While he did post his career high in field goal percentage, there’s more to the story. From three-to-10 feet out, he was a 44 percent field-goal shooter with the second highest number of shots coming from that range. . That’s not very hot, considering the high volume from that range.
It’s from a relatively close range, so contests might be more common, but Gay is much better than that. Regardless of his offensive abilities, Gay has to be more consistent as a defender. Against modern small forwards, Gay is a fine defender. Even when he gets beat off the dribble from time to time, it can be chalked up to the NBA’s high level of competition.
Every player gets scored on – even Michael Jordan hit the Macarena when infamously crossed over by a young Allen Iverson. When guarding traditional power forwards, including players that have height and strength advantages on him, he loses the battle. During the entire Denver Nuggets playoff series, Gay was a defensive liability when guarding Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap.
When guarding Millsap, Gay was broken down in the post, off the dribble and through contact. While Millsap is a very solid All-Star-caliber player, it seemed as if Rudy didn’t have an answer for him. Plumlee, on the other hand, just pushed Gay around throughout the series – his post moves looked polished and Rudy didn’t have the answers.
As he ages, I have faith that Rudy will adopt more of an old-school power forward model coming into this season. What I mean by that is defensively, he could work on a lot of traditional PF play from years past.
Against older forwards with bigger bodies, he lacks great post defensive presence. His feet are a little slow and his ability to defend bigger opponents is always seen as a mismatch against him. His defensive footwork must get better now that he’s likely going to be the starting power forward and I’m sure the Spurs have one coach who can help him with adapting to the modern NBA while still holding defensive principles as an old-school power forward.
His rebounding will also get better, as I think that’s an underrated aspect of his game that’s already improving. Rudy Gay came into the league as a traditional small forward, so I couldn’t imagine him thinking back when he’s a 20 year old “Hey, in 12 years, I’ll be a power forward!”
Of course his post defense and presence on the other end isn’t there yet. At the same time, now that this is his position, the attention to detail has to be present on both ends so that he truly is a mismatch-driven stretch-four.
Next: Develop more of catch-and-shoot three-pointer
2. Develop more of catch-and-shoot three-pointer
Rudy’s ability to be a mismatch off the dribble was seen consistently throughout this season. Offensively, he’s still that guy who can pull up from mid-range and knock down a two with the best of them. He’s a smart player and was a willing passer in the Spurs system – putting up career-highs in nearly every category this past season.
A huge deal going into this coming season has to be his ability to catch-and-shoot from three-point land. After losing Davis Bertans, Rudy is slotted to get high minutes, whether it be in the starting lineup or off the bench. He shot a career-high from three this past season – 40.2 percent isn’t a slouch of numbers, it is actually quite impressive.
His ability to catch-and-shoot will be needed much more often this season as DeMar & Dejounte Murray‘s play styles will most definitely need someone who can rotate to their spot offensively. He needs to find the open court in transition, as his implementation alongside to the both of them in high-usage situations will be crucial to this team.
He’s going to be slotted in a role more towards being a stretch four, Three-and-D type of player. Not saying he won’t take folks off the dribble anymore, but I’m almost certain with the size the Spurs lack and a slight shooting drop-off from taking Bryn out of the starting lineup, the Spurs will be desperate to have someone that can hit threes at a high clip and be geared towards a glue guy role who keeps the lineup intact and consistent throughout.
Even if Derrick, DeMar and LaMarcus are taking more threes this coming year, and allegedly Derrick has been putting up five-hundred threes a day, Rudy, as someone who hit threes at the highest clip of his career, will be leaned on a lot for this aspect of the Spurs starting offense.
On nearly two and a half catch-and-shoot threes per game, he shot 39.2 percent from long distance. For context, Forbes, Bertans and Patty Mills all hovered around the mid 40’s in percentage on catch-and-shoot triples. Considering the bulk of this group’s attempts come from catch & shoot threes, this is a major piece towards their ability to stretch the floor in the era we are currently playing in.
I’m not saying he must be Klay from three, but I do think his attempts will jump up to a little over four a game now. With higher volume, the percentages have to come up as well. This isn’t always the case – there’ve been times where players get a higher volume of shots or a higher usage rate and it proves to counteract their game from what it normally is.
Next: In Conclusion
Many of Rudy’s critics can point to him being a “minus” player in terms of his +/-, but Rudy has been a much more efficient player on both ends. Some of that aspect of him being a minus in San Antonio is also from the fact that he comes off the bench at times or doesn’t play true starter-level minutes.
It’s a blessing and a curse – You can have a stretch where he scores eight points and the opponents score 14 – he’d end up being a a minus-six for the game.
After seeing the past two seasons with Rudy in the Silver & Black, every sign points to the fact that he can continue to maintain efficient play on both ends, whether there be a slight uptick in shots and minutes or not.
I believe Rudy Gay will be a very important Spur once again this coming year. After signing a well-deserved two-year extension, San Antonio will be looking for a little more for the next couple of seasons. Rudy has progressed quite well under Gregg Popovich and the Spurs development staff, locking in and really transforming his game to fit this system.
Rudy Gay will be more of a “glue” type of player for the Spurs this season with younger talent rising and a deeper all-around roster. He’s not going to have the flashy 22-11-7 numbers quite as consistently because of limited opportunity, but more of the same 14-8-5 with a block or steal per game.
He’ll continue learning to make the right plays for Pop’s system, whether that includes making the extra pass or getting a much-needed bucket off the dribble when the offense goes stale. You can see that in games like January 29 against Phoenix when DeRozan sat and Rudy took over or in Game Seven against Denver when Rudy put up 21 points while no Spur could hit consistently.
I’m excited to see Rudy play this coming year, as I feel he’s as motivated and as comfortable as he’s ever been in San Antonio.