When is good not good enough?
In the case of the Grizzlies’ Rudy Gay, about to start his seventh season in Memphis, it is the question that echoes, echoes, echoes. It gets phrased different ways and we search for different avenues that might allow Rudy Gay to go to that elusive “next level.”
We agree, and accept, he can get you 20 or more points on a given night and do so with uncommon grace. We also understand why he was a strong candidate for the U.S. Olympic Team but ultimately left off it. He doesn’t do enough beyond scoring to make a significant contribution. Won’t often change a game with his defense, won’t play chameleon the way, say, LeBron James will, and fill up the assists column.
At the Grizzlies’ recent media day, Gay said the Olympic snub was one thing that would motivate him. But so, too, the end of the NBA season. He followed up his fast and furious finish to the regular season – a tease, in some respects – with a disappointing postseason.
“Why not put a whole season together like (the end of the season)?” he said. “I think I can do so much more. And I will.”
That’s about as close to a promise as you’re going to get. Gay is a natural small forward, but with his training camp weight pushing 250 he is even talking of being able to play some power forward when needed.
I asked Rudy point blank: Do you need to be meaner? He hesitated, and then answered, “I do need to be meaner, I agree with you.” A few seconds later, he amended that to say he needs to “go for the jugular.”
Either way, it felt like a small moment of self-realization. The incredible physical gifts – God-given – provide him a competitive advantage, yes. But as he said at another point in the conversation, “90 percent of what I do is mental.”
Meaning, Rudy Gay agrees there is more to be gotten from his game if he can maintain sharper focus and play with more will more often.
“He’s got a chance to be an All-Star,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace. “He was pretty close to it last year. I’m not gonna pull a Joe Namath and say, ‘I guarantee it,’ but he’s got a shot.”
Center Marc Gasol says what the Grizzlies need from Gay this season is “same as anybody, to be a little better than last year.”
And maybe that’s the way we should all be looking at Rudy Gay, as one crucial piece – along with Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley – to the Grizzlies pushing beyond the first round of the playoffs.
He averaged 19 points a game last season (that scoring ability isn’t just walking down the street), but he isn’t a formidable 3-point shooting threat. And though Wallace takes every opportunity to emphasize the big shots Gay has hit, he isn’t about to be confused with the game’s top clutch performers, either.
So Rudy Gay is good. Sometimes very good. And yes, sometimes, fairly disappointing.
Can he be good enough to leave us not wanting more?
He’s still got a shot.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the Jon & Don Show on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.