Adapt And Survive: Rudy Gay Embracing Fit With Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY – Of the 60 players selected in the 2006 NBA draft, only six remain, including Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay.
The other veterans from the ’06 class include LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, and Paul Millsap.
Of the bunch, only Gay and Tucker were never selected to an All-Star team. But despite their past resumes, all six players are still in the NBA for one reason, they’ve been willing to adapt their games to stick around.
Aldridge was the highest pick of the bunch, being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the second pick overall. The big man went from the go-to scoring option in Portland to a supplemental starter in San Antonio and is now the early favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year award in Brooklyn.
Rondo was chosen by the Phoenix Suns with the 21st pick overall and shipped to the Boston Celtics in a draft-night deal. The guard was the fourth piece behind the Celtics big three-championship team that featured Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce before bouncing around the league as a trustworthy veteran off the bench.
Lowry was selected three spots later by the Grizzlies and would team with Gay in Memphis. The guard went from being a rotation-level player through the first half of his career before evolving into an All-Star, an NBA champion, and a surefire Hall of Famer over the last half.
Tucker was selected by the Toronto Raptors with the 35th pick overall. The crafty forward left the NBA after his rookie season, but reemerged after five years overseas and has become a coveted role player on championship-winning teams.
Millsap was selected by the Jazz in the second round with the 47th pick thanks to his toughness and rebounding and evolved into one of the premier three-point shooting forwards before becoming a spot role player for the Nets off the bench.
Gay meanwhile is undergoing perhaps the most dramatic shift with the Jazz of any player from the 2006 draft class now in his 16th season.
The forward has gone from behind the go-to scorer in Memphis, Toronto, and Sacramento, to a veteran starter in San Antonio, to a sixth man with the Spurs, now to a do-it-all supporting role with the Jazz off the bench.
The forward recognizes that his willingness to change is the reason he’s still in the league 16 years after he was drafted.
“Early in my career up until before San Antonio, I pretty much had the ball on my hands for most of the game,” Gay recalled. “But if you want to stick around and be here, I don’t know too many people from my draft are still in the NBA –longevity, you’ve got to be able to form to different roles.”
Though he’s appeared in only 12 games with the Jazz so far, his role truly seems to change every night.
Gay has had as many games (three) when he’s attempted 10 field goals or more as he has games when he’s attempted five shots or fewer.
Since returning from an injury that cost him the first 15 games of the season, Gay has been the Jazz first forward off the bench behind Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale, he replaced reserve center Hassan Whiteside for two games, he’s been an off the ball floor spacer, he’s been an on the ball creator, a three-point assassin a la George Niang, and a low post option to replace Derrick Favors.
Gay is attempting a career-high 5.0 threes per game while shooting a career-best 41 percent from downtown for the Jazz, all in his fewer career minutes at 19.0 per game.
While those roles are more varied than most players in the NBA could fill in just 12 short games, it’s come as no surprise to Celtics head coach Ime Udoka who was an assistant over Gay with the Spurs.
“He’s an all-around scorer,” Udoka said. “Mid-range, post-up, transition, and with Utah emphasizing shooting threes and getting to the basket, he’s probably doing less in the mid-range than he was doing in the past, but he’s a capable shooter and scorer, and a veteran presence and scoring punch they need off the bench.”
Gay’s varied role has been critical for the Jazz, and will likely gain importance in the playoffs when teams will undoubtedly try to play small against the roster in hopes of pulling Rudy Gobert away from the roster.
Able to play both frontcourt positions due to his elite size and strength, Gay will be an essential piece for combating smaller lineups. But for now, the forward is happy with his smaller role.
“We’re already good, why do I have to kill myself every night to contribute?” Gay joked. “I don’t get paid enough to do that. I don’t think my body could take it either to be honest with you.”
And while Gay is proud of being one of the few remaining players from the ’06 draft class, he isn’t banking on his status as a 16-year veteran to keep him in the NBA.
“You’ve got to reinvent yourself every year, man,” Gay said. “It’s the draft every year, you’ve got to give your team something.”
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