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Can Rudy Gay play the “small-ball five” for the Jazz?

The Jazz won’t have a choice for the next few games it looks like.

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

When the Utah Jazz signed Rudy Gay this offseason, there was a lot of anticipation about him playing the small-ball center spot. Before last night, there hadn’t been a ton of sample size for this situation, due to Hassan Whiteside’s great performance so far this season off the bench. With Rudy Gobert and Whiteside both out for the Nuggets game last night, Gay got his first real game with a solid amount of minutes at the center spot, and didn’t disappoint. He had what was arguably his best game of the year, dropping 18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and steal in a season-high 28 minutes. He was a game-high +14 off the bench, and was a huge reason why the Jazz were able to secure the win on the road against Jokic and the Nuggets.

Until last night, the Jazz’s small-ball lineup hadn’t been very good. The Jazz’s lineup of Gay, Bogdanovic, Clarkson, O’Neale, and Mitchell is the most-used small-ball lineup of the season so far with 28 minutes across 7 games. That lineup has an offensive rating of 103.4 and a defensive rating of 127.1, which is a net rating of negative 23.7, which is the worst net rating out of any of the Jazz’s lineups with over 20 minutes of time together. The less-used lineup of Gay, Conley, Bogey, Clarkson, and Ingles has an ortg of 112, drtg of 91.4, for a net rating of 20.3, which is much better, but only in 14 minutes. Replace Conley with Mitchell in that same lineup, and you statistically have the worst lineup the Jazz have put on the floor this season, with a net rating of -42.3 (defense rating of 158.3, yikes). That lineup has only played 11 minutes together, and for good reason, maybe.

You can view the rest of the Jazz’s lineup stats here.

When Rudy Gay hasn’t been playing small-ball five, he’s been pretty good. He’s shooting 38 percent from three so far, which is fourth best on the team. The Jazz are 19-5 in games that he plays this season. Since he’s come back from injury and started to play, the Jazz ripped off a couple win streaks and have been a solid team. Although he’s averaging a career-low in points per game, he’s added some nice depth for the Jazz, and it’s always nice having a veteran with that much experience on the roster.

According to Basketball Reference, Rudy Gay has played 82% of his minutes at the PF position so far this season, and just 18 at the Center. That’s probably going to change over the next couple of games, with the Jazz announcing today that Rudy Gobert had entered health and safety protocols. Rudy was ruled out, along with like, everyone else on the roster.

Rudy Gay, assuming he plays in the next few games (he is listed as questionable), should get some increased minutes at the five-spot and we will get a better feel for him as the “small-ball” big for the Jazz. Over this season so far, it hasn’t worked great. But last night, it worked beautifully. He stretched the floor, hit some threes, and was able to defend and rebound well enough to secure the W. We’ll see how the Jazz continue to incorporate him into the game as we go on, especially once every gets back healthy.