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Realistic expectations on Gay’s integration with the Jazz

Utah’s primary offseason pickup, Rudy Gay, is trending toward his season debut but let’s check expectations

Sacramento Kings v Utah Jazz
Rudy Gay preps for his season debut with the Utah Jazz that was delayed due to heel surgery
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Good news for Jazz fans broke over the weekend as it looks like Rudy Gay, the Jazz primary offseason acquisition, has taken the next step toward his season debut.

During the offseason, Rudy Gay underwent heel surgery, which recovery has extended into the beginning of the regular season. On Sunday, the Utah Jazz announced an excellent development in that recovery.

Given that Gay has done limited work with the team thus far and timelines for his return have been quite vague, seeing Rudy get some run with the Stars ahead of actual Jazz practices is a very encouraging sign for his imminent return.

It’ll be immensely exciting to see Gay take the floor and evaluate all of its ramifications. Who’s minutes does he absorb? How does he fit into Utah’s lineups? What is his role and how is he expected to contribute?

None of these questions are new, but we’re about to get some answers. As elated as fans are to integrate him into the team, it’s worth tempering expectations.

Utah Jazz shooting efficiency advantage
Utah Jazz shooting efficiency advantage by game for the season (GREEN=win, RED=loss)
Stats per | Visual per Adam Bushman, SLC Dunk

With the Utah Jazz floundering of late to the tune of four losses in their last five games, a portion of the fanbase looks to the debut of Rudy Gay as the lightning rod for a turnaround while others are nerved by the perceived dependency on Gay to turn the team into the contender expected of them.

The Jazz issues range from cerebral (focus and processing) to physical (energy and execution); each are affecting their strategy as much as their results. It’s worth questioning whether Rudy Gay on the court can actually turn all that around.

Rudy Gay is 35 years old and two years removed from his last above average TS% season. His minutes played are likely caped around 20 per game and his scoring opportunities aren’t likely to exceed league average, 9.0.

Jeff Green is the horror story of seasons past that bears valid concerns about Quin’s ability to integrate Gay. Green boasted a -2.0 rTSA/gm and a -3.7 rTS% in his brief stint with the Jazz and the team was a -8.8 per 100 possessions with Jeff on the floor. It was an unmitigated disaster.

Jeff’s success with HOU, BKN, and DEN since his being waived by the Jazz calls into question the method with which he was integrated with Utah and fit with its system.

It’s been well publicized the positive impact Gay had on his former team, particularly on defense as a secondary rim protector and disruptor.

It’s these periphery skills that many have lobbied as the reason to get excited over Gay and what we want to see as him gets his feet wet with the team. These are team weaknesses and opportunities for Gay to make an immediate impact.

But as previously stated, will he play enough to have that impact and will the team’s focus and execution of the strategy allow for Gay to thrive?

The latter question is especially concerning given the Jazz’s inability to score with Eric Paschall on the floor (104 ORTG in 377 possessions, a mark that’d rank 25th in the league).

2021-22 Utah Jazz Media Day
Rudy Gay has the tough task of living up to high expectations in what will surely be a more limited role than many realize
EDITORS NOTE: This image has been converted to B&W

The reality is that Gay isn’t likely to be the catalyst to turning the Jazz into the contender their believed to be. While he could be the spark to such a turnaround, the heavy lifting needs to be done by the team leaders: Donovan, Rudy, Mike, Clarkson, etc.

And should every piece click into place and turn this team’s engine perfectly, is it enough to exorcise the demons of postseason’s past? The Jazz are likely still 95% the team we were last year when it comes to the playoffs.

One’s perception of last postseason may encourage fans to keep the team perfectly intact or motivate others to consider shakeups like those explored by the SLC Dunk staff.

Hopefully we needn’t wait much longer to see Rudy Gay’s Jazz debut and evaluate the team’s construction through the lens of the goals the franchise and fans have for its team.