Rudy Gay and bench affecting Spurs’ improved defense to start season


For much of the pre-bubble 2019-2020 season, Rudy Gay‘s play had been down compared to what he had been providing during his time on the San Antonio Spurs. This season, however, Gay has had a very strong start to the season and has been a key member of the Spurs’ solid bench.

One reason for this is that the Spurs have improved dramatically on defense this season when the bench comes in, especially Gay.

Opponents are scoring 20.7 points less per 100 possessions when Gay is on the court than when he is off, the best mark on the team. This improvement is in both the half-court and in transition, where opponents are scoring 18.5 fewer points per 100 plays and 25.8 points per 100 plays when Gay is on the court, respectively. 

Lineups that feature the bench frontcourt of Gay and Jakob Poeltl rank in the 100th percentile in defensive efficiency, 94.6 points per 100 possessions, for all lineups that have played at least 100 possessions.

One reason for this is that despite these lineups being in the 9th percentile in opponent’s percentage of shots being taken at the rim, 38.2%, they are in the 100th percentile in opponent field goal percentage at the rim, 49.2%. Spurs’ opponents are also hitting only 31.2% of all threes with Gay and Poeltl on the court. 

Gay has also been the primary offensive option off the bench. While he hasn’t been as efficient as Patty Mills this season, his ability to create offense helps gives the Spurs two playmakers off the bench to pair with Poeltl’s and Devin Vassell’s strong off-ball offense.  

As with the other veterans, Gay’s strong play brings questions. Do the Spurs continue to use Gay as an important part of a bench lineup that has been helping the Spurs with their goal of making it into the playoffs or do they trade him for young players or future draft picks?

Whatever they decide, Gay’s strong start to the season is helping the Spurs in their current playoff push and is increasing his potential trade value. 

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