Sixers MLE Target: Rudy Gay

With the Milwaukee Bucks wrapping up their first Finals title since 1971, the NBA season has officially drawn to a close. As attention fully shifts toward the offseason, it’s time to take a deeper look at how the Sixers can improve their roster in the coming weeks.

Offseason schedule:

The Sixers are already over the salary cap for next season (by approx. $19.4 million), meaning Daryl Morey and the front office are limited in what they can offer in free agency. Outside of draft picks, trades, minimum contracts, and re-signing their own free agents (bird rights); the front office’s only tool to improve the roster is the taxpayer Mid-level Exception (MLE)—valued at $5.8 million for this offseason.

Earlier this month I covered Reggie Bullock as a potential candidate for the MLE, and while he figures to be on the wishlist for a lot of teams, an under-the-radar candidate who could fill one of the Sixers roster holes is Rudy Gay.

Gay is a 15-year NBA veteran who settled in nicely as a role player for San Antonio in recent seasons. He’ll turn 35 in August, and figures to be looking for an opportunity to contend. The Sixers have a need at the four-spot, specifically a big-bodied wing who can both stretch the floor and bang a little in the post—in other words, someone to more adequately fill the Mike Scott role.

Perimeter Shooting/Floor Spacing

Unless we’re talking backup-center, the main attribute that the Sixers are looking to surround Embiid and Simmons with on offense is shooting—that hasn’t changed and it won’t change as long as they’re the focal point of this team.

While Gay isn’t the sort of player to create his own shot (nor is he a high-percentage shooter like a Curry), he’s a high volume catch-and-shoot threat who’s equally effective off-screen as he is in standstill opportunities. Of course, his 38.1% mark from deep doesn’t jump off the page, but with only 10.2% of his attempts being considered “open” (9th percentile), Gay makes high-difficulty shots and provides obvious gravity/spacing to an offense.

The Sixers made major strides in spacing by adding Danny Green and Seth Curry last offseason, and they ought to double-down on shooting this offseason. Mike Scott had been a passable floor spacer at the four-spot up until this past year (34% from deep), and upgrading from him to Rudy Gay is a no-brainer.

“Perimeter Big” on D

Most of why Gay has been able to age so well has to do with his ability to find a home defensively. At 6’8” 250 lbs. he has the length and size to matchup with bigger bodies at the four-spot, while also having the requisite athleticism/lateral ability to hang on the perimeter against the league’s slower, less-dynamic wing threats.

Tobias Harris proved to be an excellent defender at the four this past season (making strides in impact that quite frankly hasn’t gotten the press it deserves) but the roster was relatively bare at the “tweener” wing/big spot behind him. While not every opponent was able to exploit this hole on the roster, teams with more size on the wing had a clear schematic edge against the Sixers.

Here’s a breakdown of the sort of offensive skillsets Rudy defended last season:

Gay spends the majority of his minutes on spot-up shooters, stretch-bigs, and versatile bigs (the sort of skillsets that you would expect him to) and did a relatively strong job filling the responsibilities correlated with defending those roles. For example, since he spends the majority of his time off the ball—more specifically, as the low-man on the backside of the defense—he’s asked to rotate to and protect the rim more frequently than teammates. His interior defense numbers, while not overly impressive, show that he’s a more-than capable weak-side rim deterrent:

Sporadic Isolation threat

Obviously Gay’s days as a ball-dominant iso-threat are over, but the remnants of a once polished and varied scoring package still very much exist. One only has to look back at his performance in the Spurs play-in game vs Memphis as proof of what the vet can still do when need be (his 20 point performance willed them back in it after falling behind big).

To be clear, Gay no longer operates at the efficiency to justify consistent touches in this regard, but having a player who is comfortable creating and making his own shot late in a possession or when all else fails is a luxury the Sixers don’t get from any of their current role players. None of Curry, Green, Thybulle, etc… has the chops to score on their own when the offense breaks down, and having Gay in their back pocket for a quick bucket would be a small, yet crucial option to have.

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