Utah Jazz free agency: Grading the Rudy Gay signing

Rudy Gay agreed to a two year deal with the Utah Jazz. Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Rudy Gay agreed to a two year deal with the Utah Jazz. Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports /

In today’s NBA, a small-ball 5 is a lot like a pager in the mid-90s; if the Utah Jazz are trying to keep up, they’re going to need one. 

The Utah Jazz learned this lesson, all too harshly, in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals, as the Los Angeles Clippers unleashed a potent five-out lineup with Nicolas Batum playing center, raining threes like their survival depended on it, to the tune of a 43.3% 3P% on 37.3 attempts per game.

The spacing proved too much for Utah to handle, with their duo of conventional bigs in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors unable to consistently close out three-point attempts. Suddenly, the best regular season team in the NBA was headed for Cancun just two rounds into the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

Following this disappointing exit, the Jazz have made quick and decisive moves to make upgrades on the margins, starting with a team-friendly deal for Mike Conley Jr., followed by the Rudy Gay signing. Standing 6’8, at a sturdy 250 pounds, Gay projects as a valuable reserve for the Jazz, able to back up the 4 position and occasionally function as a small-ball 5. What needs does Rudy Gay fill, or not fill, for the Utah Jazz?

Utah Jazz spacing

The main luxury Gay affords the Jazz is the same luxury they were missing against the Clippers: frontcourt spacing. He’s a career 35% three-point shooter, but his season percentages have actually been wildly inconsistent throughout his career. For example, Gay shot a paltry 31.4% from deep in 2017-18. He followed that performance up with a career-best 40.2% mark in 2018-19.

The Jazz will be hoping for an outcome that resembles 2018-19, but regardless, defensive schemes will account for Gay’s shooting. The Jazz can deploy Gay as a center when they are up against a five-out formulation and having difficulty keeping pace with their opponent. Meanwhile, Gay should provide sufficient spacing at the 4 spot alongside Gobert or the recently acquired Hassan Whiteside as well.

Utah Jazz defense

Known as a defensive liability earlier in his career, Gay has officially made the transition to asset as his career has progressed. Last season, the Spurs finished with a sterling 103.94 Defensive Rating during the minutes that Rudy Gay shared with throwback big man Jakob Poeltl. At 6’8 with a 7’3 wingspan, Gay can effectively guard the perimeter while manning the interior for stretches as well.

Utah Jazz leadership

Gay enters the 2021-22 season as a 15-year NBA veteran who has seen a wide variety of action on his tour of duty. Entering the league as a lottery pick, Gay has had stretches as a first offensive option as well as a supporting player. He’ll likely be joining the Jazzmen more focused on the team’s win total than his individual shot total, making him the exact kind of low-usage, high-impact veteran a contending team like the Jazz should always covet.

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There is, quite honestly, little to nothing to dislike about this signing. At the price of a two-year, $12 million dollar pact, Gay should provide excellent value for the Utah Jazz. A slight team-friendly discount could have earned this deal the highest grade; instead, the Jazz will have to settle for the next best outcome.

Grade: A