SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - NOVEMBER 18: Rudy Gay #8 of the Utah Jazz looks on during a game against the Toronto Raptors in the first half at Vivint Smart Home Arena on November 18, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Rudy Gay Dazzles In Debut

After offseason surgery derailed his start to the season, Rudy Gay showed just how different and versatile the Jazz are on both ends with him on the court — a scary thought for the rest of the NBA

Thanksgiving may still be less than one week away — but for Utah basketball fans, Christmas came early.

Ever since Rudy Gay signed with the Jazz on August 6, much talk has been made how the 16-year veteran would add another dimension to the team on both ends of the court.

After one month of waiting while he recovered from offseason heel surgery, Gay had a dazzling debut for Utah on Thursday night against Toronto, helping the Jazz defeat the Raptors 119-103.

In 18 minutes and 27 seconds of game time, he scored a team-high 20 points (7-of-8 shooting), grabbed five rebounds, dished out two assists, and finished with a +14 rating. 

"He played within himself, made the game easy because of the decisions that he made," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "He made shots, but that's a byproduct of making the right play. That's what we emphasize with our whole group. Making shots always stands out, but there are other things that he did that helped our team. … That's what stood out to me."

While there were many positives regarding his performance against the Raptors, it was Gay's versatility that stood out most. 

Whether it be his shooting prowess from beyond the arc (5-for-6), his size and attentiveness on defense, his physicality down on the block, or his communication on either end of the court, Gay's veteran-standing and versatility were most impactful.

But when asked what he did best, Gay didn't reflect on any of the aspects mentioned above — attributes that Snyder and his teammates have pointed out. Instead, Gay was most pleased with his understanding of the offense and just contributing in any way.

"One thing I did good today? I didn't hold the ball. That's a big thing with this team. … When we do that, we're hard to beat," Gay said.

When paired with super sixth men Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, Utah's bench is now deeper and more versatile than ever before. Gay's ability to space the floor with his shooting allowed Ingles to direct the offense and attack while also giving Clarkson more one-on-one looks.

Ingles finished with a +20 rating on the night, notching a near triple-double of 10 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds in his best performance of the season. Clarkson finished with a +15 rating, totaling 12 points, four assists, and two rebounds. 

The ball constantly moved with no sticking points — a point of emphasis for the Jazz — as Utah's bench outscored Toronto's 47-20.

"I think that generally, with a player that does have the skill set that he does, I just want him to go out there and play hard and compete and make the plays that he's capable of making," Snyder said of Gay. "I liked the way he defended and moved the ball. Those were two of the things that I really liked that he did."

While it was just a tiny sample size — and even Gay admitted not to expect that shooting performance every game — it was clear what his versatility brings to the team.

Listed at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, Gay may not be the athlete he once was. Rather than trying to be that person, he has reinvented himself into a dead-eye shooter and savvy veteran.

His overall size and length were apparent at both ends of the court, giving the Jazz a bigger option on the wing. His length is arguably one of his greatest physical attributes as he's not only able to protect the rim, he can shoot over smaller defenders — something he did consistently against the Raptors. 

He can also serve as a ball handler, capable of initiating the offense and getting the Jazz into their sets. His versatility will allow Snyder to pick and choose what lineups he wants to use — either going ultra big with Gay paired alongside Rudy Gobert/Hassan Whiteside or going small with Gay as the "center."

Playing at a high level at 35-years-old in the NBA is rare — but coming back from offseason surgery at that age to contribute is nearly unheard of. But credit goes to the amount of work Gay put into rehabbing properly to get his body right.

"I'm gonna be honest, this is one toughest offseasons and start to a season that I've ever been a part of," Gay said postgame. "I'm 35 years old, coming off of foot surgery, basically had to teach myself how to walk again. You've got to be a little crazy."

But even after the extra hours of rehabbing and training, Gay knows he still hasn't reached peak physical level. This is why, right after playing for the first time this season, he hit the treadmill for one mile knowing full well the work is never done.

"It's tough playing up here in the elevation. …I think it was more nerves than anything," Gay said. "I've played against the Jazz a lot in my career, and it's never fun playing against that crowd. So to be here, this is something that I've been waiting for."

With Gay in the rotation, the Jazz look different. They look like the deepest team in the league, one capable of matching up with whoever is standing opposite them. And after coming up short the past couple postseasons, maybe something a little different is precisely what's needed to bring Utah its first championship.

"You've got to be a little different. … And I'm a little different," Gay said.


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