Rudy Gay starts a new chapter of his career with the San Antonio Spurs, and he’s got grand expectations.
He did it. Rudy Gay survived his tenure with the Sacramento Kings. It was short-lived, and I imagine he wanted nothing else. Gay spent the last three full seasons with the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise, who are beginning to rid themselves of that label after an outstanding draft and an offseason that would make Red Auerbach nod in approval. Now, he’s with the Spurs by way of a two-year, $17 million deal. And Gay isn’t shy about setting lofty goals for 2017-18.
“I’m going to have the best comeback ever,” said Gay to the Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. “That’s the motivation of it.”
The Toronto Raptors shipped him to the West Coast 19 games into the 2013-14 season. In return for the underperforming forward, they got Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez.
You could make the argument that Gay’s lack of production was rooted in the Raptors just not using him correctly. I’d wholeheartedly agree. In the 18 games he played, Gay averaged 19.4 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 38.8 percent from the field. The clip is the biggest eye sore on his stat line. He was, however, nailing 37.3 percent of his threes and playing the best defense we’ve seen. The reason that your hypothesis has legs to stand on is Gay’s offense improved significantly upon getting traded to Sacramento.
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That piddling field goal percentage became respectable. Gay exceeded 45 percent with the Kings, 48.8, and that brought his mark to 45.5 for the year. Additionally, his scoring outputs became a bit more voluminous, 20.1, and he also became slightly more unselfish and averaged 3.1 assists a night. Regardless, it’s still the Kings. Even though Gay was looking like his old self, the situation was terrible, and all of his numbers were empty.
For the length of his career, Gay’s been rather underrated, being overshadowed by the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. His electrifying athleticism made him a huge scoring threat in his younger days, and he’s doing his best to battle father time by refining his three-point shot. Despite all the individual performances, the teams Gay’s been part of have never put it together. After 11 seasons, he’s made just one trip to the playoffs. Uno. For a player of his talent, that’s odd. Now he’s with the Spurs, and making the postseason is a regular occurrence. San Antonio hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1997. Titanic grossed more than $2 billion that year. The Notorious B.I.G. dropped Life After Death that March. Wu-Tang Clan followed that up with Wu-Tang Forever in June.
The “comeback” that Gay is alluding to stems from the Achilles injury he suffered this past season. It limited him to 30 games. His injury has an almost storybook narrative to it. Gay was in the middle of one of his best seasons. He was averaging just 33.8 minutes a night, the fewest since his rookie season, and did a bit of everything offensively. The points were 18.7 a night, up from the 17.2 he posted the year before. Gay was also getting to the line 4.6 times per game and connecting on 37.2 percent of his threes, territory he hadn’t approached since he nearly reached 40 back in 2011.
I believe Gay was doing everything possible to turn his malice for the Kings into on-court aggression, and it showed. Unfortunately, his campaign finished on Jan. 18 in Sacramento against the Indiana Pacers.
“I think you already know, when you talk about the Spurs, there’s a certain respect you get. I want to be a part of that.” They didn’t foster that admiration overnight. Because of their sustained success, we revere Gregg Popovich as fervently as anyone in sports.
Gay had turned 10 the summer before Pop got his gig. Over the next two decades, the Spurs have brought five titles to San Antonio and have had just four first-round exits. They’ve cultivated the careers of three Hall of Famers (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) and it can become four if Kawhi Leonard continues on this trajectory. Gay can say that he’s going to have the greatest comeback ever because it seems like nothing ever goes wrong with the Spurs. They’re not perfect, but it appears that way.
Popovich can work anybody into his system because he doesn’t design it for one player. It’s been that way ever since Duncan was a rookie. It remains that way even though Leonard is an undeniable superstar. The unselfishness San Antonio plays with is such a simple concept, and not-so-great players perform better because they’re getting the easiest shots possible. They’re far from flashy, and I expect you’d want to watch the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder and Timberwolves (and maybe others) ahead of the Spurs this year. That’s okay. That’s also why Gay is going to play just fine.
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He feels like his “old self,” and it’ll be refreshing not to be one of the main options — especially since he’s on the wrong side of 30 and coming off of a lower body injury.
First and foremost, the Spurs are going to exploit his lethality as a three-point shooter. From there, the rest of the offense will come in the flow of the game. Gay may not have the “best comeback” ever, but he’ll play some of the most efficient basketball of his career. (The greatest return would be along the lines of him leaving to play another sport before rejoining, only to average 31.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 10 playoff games before being eliminated, then coming back and rattling off a three-peat.) If Gay was able to shoot 38.4 percent on 2.9 catch-and-shoot threes, just imagine what he’ll do with the Spurs, who shot 40.6 percent as a team according to Synergy.
Gay is likely to have his fair share of “wow!” moments because the expectations are lessened. He won’t be the first or second option, and that alleviates a lot of pressure. Unlike LaMarcus Aldridge, who just wrapped up his second campaign with the Spurs, the Spurs won’t view Gay as someone who needs to help Leonard carry the offense. If things take a turn for the worse, Gay can fill bigger shoes.
That can all change if the Spurs part ways with Aldridge.
At this point, I see Gay coming off the bench. Wriggling into the starting lineup is going to be tough, but it’s in the Spurs’ best interest to have him run with the second unit because he can give them a nice scoring threat. Ginobili can only do so much on offense. Patty Mills is still an excellent backup point guard, but he’s going to need a perimeter wingman if San Antonio allows Jonathon Simmons to walk.
Rudy Gay took a massive pay cut because he knows his clock is ticking. He’s not the same player he was, and he recognizes that. He’ll have a smaller role as far as minutes are concerned but will be an impact player in certain spots throughout the season, and I imagine Pop looks his way a fair amount in the playoffs. Gay won’t have a statistical revival this year, but he’ll look better than ever as a member of the NBA’s best organization.
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