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Rudy Gay dazzles in his debut

Thanksgiving may still be less than a week away, but for Utah basketball fans, Christmas has come early.

Since Rudy Gay signed with Jazz on August 6, there has been a lot of talk about how the 16-year-old veteran would add another dimension to the squad on both sides of the pitch.

After a month of waiting while recovering from offseason heel surgery, Gay made a stellar debut for Utah on Thursday night against Toronto, helping the Jazz defeat the Raptors 119-103.

In 18 minutes and 27 seconds of playing time, he scored 20 points, a team record (7 of 8 shots), took five rebounds, distributed two assists and finished with a score of +14.

“He played with himself, made the game easy because of the decisions he made,” said Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. “He did shots, but it’s a by-product of making the right play. That’s what we emphasize with our whole group. Shooting 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 bright spots regarding his performance against the Raptors, it was Gay’s versatility that stood out the most.

Whether it’s his shooting prowess beyond the arc (5v6), his size and attention in defense, his physique on the block or his communication at each end of the field, Gay’s veteran status and versatility were the most impactful.

But when asked what he does best, Gay didn’t think about any of the aspects mentioned above – attributes that Snyder and his teammates pointed out. Instead, Gay was very pleased with his understanding of the offense and his contribution in any way.

“One thing I did well today? I didn’t hold the ball. It’s an important thing with this team.… When we do that we’re tough to beat,” Gay said.

When paired with super sixth men Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, the Utah Bench is now deeper and more versatile than ever. Gay’s ability to space the floor with his shot allowed Ingles to lead the offense and offense while giving Clarkson more one-on-one looks.

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

The ball constantly moved without points of friction – a point of importance to the Jazz – as the Utah bench dominated Toronto’s 47-20.

“I think in general, with a player who has the skills that he has, I just want him to go out there and play hard and compete and make the plays that he is capable of,” said Snyder on Gay. “I liked the way he defended and moved the ball. Those are two of the things I really liked him to do.”

Even though this was only a small sample – and even Gay admitted he didn’t expect this shooting performance in every game – it was clear what his versatility brought to the team.

Rated at 6ft 8in, 250lb, Gay may not be the athlete he once was. Rather than trying to be that person, he reinvented himself as a blind shooter and a savvy veteran.

Its overall size and length was apparent at both ends of the court, giving the Jazz a greater option on the wing. His length is arguably one of his greatest physical attributes, as he’s not only able to protect the rim, but he can shoot smaller defenders as well, which he always did against the Raptors.

He can also serve as a ball handler, able to initiate the attack and bring the Jazz into their sets. His versatility will allow Snyder to choose which lineups he wants to use – either by getting super fat with Gay paired alongside Rudy Gobert / Hassan Whiteside, or by getting short with Gay as the “center”.

Playing at a high level at 35 in the NBA is rare – but returning from an offseason operation at that age to contribute is almost unheard of. But the credit goes to the amount of work Gay put in to rehabilitate himself properly to get his body correct.

“I’m going to be honest, this is one of the toughest offseason and the start of a season I’ve ever been in,” Gay said after the game. “I’m 35 years old, just having a foot operation, I basically had to learn to walk again. You have to be a little crazy.”

But even after the extra hours of rehab and training, Gay knows he still hasn’t hit his peak physical level. That’s why, right after playing for the first time this season, he walked the treadmill a mile knowing full well the job is never done.

“It’s hard to play here at altitude.… I think it was more nervous than anything,” Gay said. “I’ve played against Jazz a lot in my career, and it’s never fun to play against this crowd. So being here is something I’ve been waiting for.”

With Gay in the rotation, Jazz looks different. They look like the deepest team in the league, able to compete with whoever stands in front of them. And after missing the last two playoffs, maybe something a little different is precisely what’s needed to bring Utah their first championship.

“You have to be a little different.… And I’m a little different,” Gay said.




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