PHOENIX — Shelling out $30 million over three years to 31-year-old Jared Dudley this summer didn’t feel like a bad move.
Already familiar with the veteran forward, the Suns knew Dudley would fit in. They knew that he knew what he was doing by signing with a rebuilding team that had just drafted two fellow power forwards a decade younger than him in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender.
Why not take a flier on a proven vet? The salary cap was leaping, Phoenix had money to spend and the roster needed bodies.
But Dudley’s 65 games played, loss of his starting role to Chriss early on and unspectacular season in basic statistical terms might make his role moving forward a bit fuzzy. It might make that contract look like too much money. A skeptic might wonder if the Suns paid him just to reach the salary floor.
Yet, there’s no evidence he is unhappy. After all, he spoke before the year about his willingness to teach and, if needed, get out of a young guy’s way.
It just takes digging to understand his impact on the Suns.
“We’re two completely different type of players,” Chriss said of Dudley on the day of his exit interview. “Jared is more fundamental, I’m more athletic. I think that that’s something that I have to learn is to play more fundamentally sound. Playing against him, it just shows me what I can do.
“He’s been in the league 10 years so I think it shows that you don’t need to just be athletic to stay in the NBA. You need to figure out what you do and do it well. And Jared, he’s a leader, he runs the offense, he gets people the ball, he gets them open and he knocks down his shots.”
One eye-popping statistic tells of Dudley’s best skill.
Per Synergy Sports, the Suns forward ranked in the 97th percentile, or 12th overall in the NBA, as a big man defender when the ball handler (as in not his man) finished the possession with a shot or turnover. Of plays that ended in an opponent ball handler taking a shot, Dudley allowed just 0.529 points per possession when involved in a pick-and-roll as the defender of the big man.
The 11 NBA players ranked ahead of him in that statistic defended no more than 40 such plays because they were all guards or small forwards.
Meanwhile, Dudley put up that shut-down defense in 121 possessions or 25 percent of his total defensive possessions indexed.
What all that gobbledygook means is Dudley shut down pick-and-rolls despite not defending the ball handler.
Yes, that came mostly matched up against second units. It’s nonetheless impressive.
And when considering the Suns have Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis hoping to gain camaraderie with Chriss and Bender in pick-and-roll situations, Dudley’s impact talking, directing and defending those players in practice becomes arguably more valuable than his in-game production this season.
It’s not easy to say how much impact Dudley had on young Suns like Bender and Chriss.
“It’s kind of hard to gauge someone’s growth,” Dudley said, speaking generally of the young players. “I thought from a maturity standpoint, they all took a step for that on their professionalism, habits from practice. They were all trying to learn. It’s hard to learn when you have five people new to the game and low experience all at once. That was a difficult part.”
Bender came in as a well-studied defensive player and passer in a similarly-styled mold as Dudley.
Chriss perhaps had the most gain as the team’s least-experienced player when it comes to life minutes on the basketball court. His basic statistics to close the year saw improved knowledge of pick-and-roll situations as he began ditching stretch 4 spot-up shooting for scoring while rolling to the rim and posting up. The shot selection showed in the numbers.
Chriss’ effective field goal percentage jumped from 50 percent before the All-Star break to 56 percent after. Though he didn’t take credit for it and could, Dudley said Chriss’ learning curve led to the improved efficiency.
Of course, we can’t leave a review of Dudley’s season without acknowledging what he did when the lights shone bright and the cameras were on.
After seven starts to begin the year, his remaining production looks nearly identical save for his three-point shooting falling from 44 percent to 37 percent as a reserve.
Defensively is where he shined playing mostly as a power forward. Dudley rated in Synergy Sports’ 74th-percentile or better in defensive categories from post-ups, to isolations, to pick-and-roll ball handlers.
The only place Dudley lagged is in covering roll men on pick-and-rolls and defending spot-ups, and it probably isn’t lazy to assume that’s because of his lack of athleticism, speed or length in recovering on such plays.
Overall, Dudley allowed 0.782 points per possession and 34.9 percent shooting, which falls in the 94th-percentile in the NBA, according to Synergy.
On offense, Dudley promoted ball movement, added transition three-point shooting as a trailer and, when the Suns passed to him on pick-and-rolls, which was rare, was a 60-percent shooter as the roll man. He hit 52-percent of pick-and-pop attempts and 67 percent on plays he slipped the screens, according to Synergy.
Those numbers in today’s NBA is worth Dudley’s contract.
The time spent schooling the young Suns in practice is an additional investment worth every penny and then some.
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