When the San Antonio Spurs signed small forward Rudy Gay to a 2 year/$17.2 million deal they must have had a plan in mind. Gay plays the same position as their star, Kawhi Leonard and his backup minutes would halt the development of players such as Jonathan Simmons and Kyle Andersen. Simmons might be on the way out anyway but it’s worth asking the question- where does Rudy Gay fit into the current Spurs system?
The evolution of small ball has been fought by Gregg Popovich for some time with the legendary coach opting to play a more traditional line-up. A line-up that involves two bigs that do their best work close to the rim. But the way the Golden State Warriors dominated the post season and continue to threaten the league for years to come, maybe Pop has bitten the bullet. Maybe he will play more small ball with Gay playing more minutes at the 4 rather than the 3. It makes sense, Gay is primarily a scorer who can defend in patches with his long reach and athleticism. He can stretch the floor with his ability to knock down open three point shots (41.6% in the last 4 seasons). A smaller opposition line-up will also open up the lanes for Gay to drive the rim, a key strength of his game. It will also open up the lanes for other players in the line-up, namely Kawhi Leonard.
With Gay playing the 4 it may leave LaMarcus Aldridge to have to play the 5 which could hurt the Spurs on the defensive side of the ball, particularly with rim protection. However Aldridge is improving on his defence since joining the Spurs and would be better suited to guarding the interior rather than the perimeter. Taking him away from the 4 for longer stretches will mean that he won’t get caught out guarding the much more agile power forwards we now see in the league.
There will also be question marks around Gay’s ability to defend the 4 position given his 6’8″ size but he is surprisingly strong plus his length will also be help guard the power forwards of today. Power forwards today operate a lot more on the perimeter, which suits Gay’s defensive attributes and as mentioned doesn’t suit the Spurs primary big man in LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Spurs could also use Gay as shooting guard in a big line-up that could present different issues for teams around the league. It may be a case of trying to fit out rather than fit in. Meaning that in a time where small ball rules, the Spurs may be able to change the rules and roll out a line-up that is bigger in nature. The Spurs could hypothetically roll out a line-up that includes the 6’5″ point guard in Dejounte Murray/Gay/Leonard/Aldridge/ Pau Gasol. This line-up would provide many opposition line-ups with plenty of headaches as they try to match the Spurs with length at the 1,2 & 3 plus also height and strength at the 4,5.
Final Verdict: Rudy Gay is best suited to the Spurs right now as a player who can share minutes at both the 3 and the 4, with more of a focus on the 4 position as the Spurs try to keep pace in a small ball league. It will make them more flexible on the offensive end, open up driving lanes and give them another three point shooter on the outside. Defensively it may seem on the surface that it would hurt them but moving Aldridge closer to the rim and adding a more versatile defender at the 4 will help mitigate potential athletic mismatches. Expect the Spurs to roll with a Patty Mills/Danny Green/Leonard/Aldridge/Gasol starting line up on opening night with Gay spending more time at the 4 with Aldridge sliding down to the 5 and Gasol seeing more bench minutes in his old age. However don’t be surprised if Pop turns to a big line-up at times against teams that struggle with size plus length across the roster. It could be a point of difference for the Spurs in certain playoff series fixtures but against the Golden State Warriors it will come unstuck.