If you read Grantland.com (and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?), then you’ve probably seen the article that Jay Caspian Kang wrote about Memphis’s chances of making the NBA Finals this summer. In it, Kang illustrates the pros and cons of the Grizzlies’ case for being a legitimate contender this year based on what they’ve done so far. His conclusion: Even if Zach Randolph returns to previous form, Memphis will still only go as far as Rudy Gay is willing to take them.
Now, obviously, there is a lot more to it than just that — and I encourage you to read his whole post to see the various points he brings up — but that’s basically what it all boils down to. Should we expect more from Rudy Gay at this point?
Notice the wording in the conclusion above: the team will only go as far as Rudy Gay is WILLING to take them. Not able, but willing. I don’t think that any of us have serious doubts that #22 is one of the most talented and athletic players in the league today. He has all of the tools to be a superstar. Unfortunately, as Kang says, he seems quite content to do what he does…and that usually doesn’t include imposing his will on other teams.
Anyone who has seen any of the following clips knows that Rudy Gay has ice water in his veins:
Whatever that “it” factor is that results in a player having a killer instinct, that clutchness that not only makes them want to take the final shot in a game, but the confidence that allows them to make it, too — Rudy Gay has it. The question is…where is that motivation for the other 46 minutes in the game?
One of Rudy’s issues is that of perception. He doesn’t sprint or explode or take off; instead, he floats and glides. He is so incredibly smooth that he brings about remembrances of Julius Erving (that’s Dr. J to you) and George “The Iceman” Gervin. Everything he does looks so effortless and easy that as a spectator cannot believe that he’s playing at 100%. It reminds me of the story of how John Robinson (coach of the L.A. Rams) once got onto Eric Dickerson for not running hard enough in practice. Dickerson, known for his fluid style, took the abuse for awhile before finally getting tired of it and replying, “Coach, I AM running. If you don’t believe me, put somebody out here and see if they can catch me.”
Rudy suffers from the same misconception — it looks too easy, so he must not be trying hard enough. It doesn’t help that it is only when he hits those game-tying/winning buzzer beaters that you see any emotion on his face. I think that’s when the “real” Rudy comes out. Why he suppresses that throughout the game is a question only he can answer. Nobody ever whines about Tim Duncan being stoic throughout the game (except for the incredulous face he makes every single time a foul is called on him, of course) — but he’s got 4 rings, so I guess that gives you a fair amount of leeway with critics.
So what are your expectations for Rudy Gay? This is his 6th year in the league. Are we still anticipating him to make “the leap” and become one of the elite players in the NBA? Or is he simply what he is and what he always going to be? Is that enough, given his salary? Is that enough, given what this team needs to become a title contender? Those are the questions this team will have to answer over the next month as they look towards the postseason…and the offseason.