Suns PF Jared Dudley’s ‘dad at the YMCA’ game has thrived since move to bench
When Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson made a splash on Nov. 8 and sent veteran power forward Jared Dudley to the bench, the story wasn’t Dudley coming off the bench, it was who was replacing him.
Rookie lottery pick Marquese Chriss was riding the momentum of a terrific preseason and showed he could play with a relentless motor and be a physical presence inside while still using the dynamic aspects of his game as a bouncy stretch four. The move had approval across the board, as Chriss and No. 4 overall selection Dragan Bender should be receiving as much playing time as they can to get more playing time for the future.
As it turns out, the move has benefitted Dudley and the Suns more than Chriss, even though the rookie getting more experience as a starter in the beginning of his career is nothing but good for the 19-year-old.
The value of signing a veteran like Dudley was if Phoenix wanted to make a move like this, Dudley would have no problem with the switch and he’d remain a positive.
That’s been the case and then some.
In the 10 games Dudley has played since the transition, he’s shooting 49 percent from the field and 40 from three. He’s maintained his excellent offensive rating — how many points the team scores per 100 possession when said player on the floor — of 105.6 before the move to 104.0 after. Even better, his defensive rating — how many points the team allows per 100 possessions when said player is on the floor — has dropped from 107 to 100.6.
Dudley’s also been more aggressive in the role, bumping his field goal attempts per game from 4.9 before the move to 7.1 after moving to the bench.
Earning a deserved pedigree as an adaptable player, Dudley went from a physical stretch four at Boston College to a perimeter-oriented small forward and just quick enough perimeter defender to be a difference maker in his first run with the Suns, even starting at shooting guard alongside Grant Hill in 2011.
In the past three years, Dudley is now a modern stretch four and looks like more of the player we saw 10 years ago in his senior year at Boston College, at his best spacing out the offense by hitting open shots on the catch while also being able to take one or two dribbles and attack a closeout.
At 31 years old, however, almost all of Dudley’s speed from his younger years is gone, seemingly making his game far less dynamic. Somehow, though, that hasn’t changed.
Dudley’s style should be very familiar to anyone who has spent time playing basketball at their local gymnasium or recreation center. There’s usually someone in the game that’s in their 40s or 50s who has enough cardio to keep up with everyone and possesses more basketball prowess than most of the players combined, consistently outsmarting and using basic fundamentals on the opposition to be a plus for the team.
Everyone loves playing with the dad at the YMCA, and Dudley is the NBA version of that player.
He has virtually no quickness, jogs like a father of three running around the indoor track field and is infamous for predicting how many dunks he will have in a season, an inside joke on his lack of explosiveness.
Despite all of this, Dudley’s a spark offensively for the Suns.
Over the years he’s consistently gotten better as a shooter and can now be called a great one in almost all aspects, whether it’s catch-and-shoot or off the bounce.
Dudley’s shooting 41.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes — the only member of the Suns above 40 percent — and is starting to earn more and more respect from the defense.
One of Watson’s favorite sets is an action with the center setting a screen for the point guard on his right, followed by Dudley setting a quick screen to the left and the guard darting towards the key as Dudley posts up on his favorite right wing — he’s 15-of-24 from this spot — as the center rolls.
A master of not being even a millisecond off when it comes to timing on both ends, Dudley’s open on the wing so fast that if his defender spends any time on the center or point guard, he’s got an open look. Judging by his reaction in the background, it would be safe to bet that Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy had already seen this play on film.
The perplexing aspect of Dudley’s game that has been working is when the defense won’t allow him to take that shot.
Like all of us, New Orleans Pelicans small forward Solomon Hill has seen Dudley moving around, so he attacks an open Dudley with an aggressive closeout, forcing him to attack. The problem for Hill is that while Dudley isn’t going to do it in style, he can still get the job done.
Where Dudley and rookie point guard Tyler Ulis have made a difference with the group off the bench is passing the ball. Dudley has had at least four assists in three of his ten games since Nov. 8 and his assist rate — the number of assists a player averages per 100 possessions — of 20.2 since that date is fourth on the team, trailing only Eric Bledsoe, Leandro Barbosa and Ulis.
Always being a great passer since college, Dudley finds a way to provide for others on the team without any real ability or reason to create the separation necessary to do so. A drive-and-kick is in his arsenal because as soon as he steps forward before his first dribble even bounces off the ground, he knows Brandon Knight’s defender could move a step in the wrong direction.
He can even run the fastbreak and find the open man on a no-look feed when he barely has control of the ball.
His six assists and 16 points in that 116-96 win over the Indiana Pacers was a part of the 78-point barrage from the bench, the most by the franchise’s bench in over 20 years.
Watson uses Dudley well. His combination of spacing and playmaking ability is a snug fit for being the man at the top of the key to hit Devin Booker coming off screens.
The effects of Dudley’s ball movement are clear on the second unit. While he’s been playing much better in his own right, Brandon Knight’s offensive rating jumped from a putrid 88 when Dudley was starting t0 107.9 in Dudley’s first seven games off the bench before Knight went back in the starting lineup. Leandro Barbosa also saw a dramatic rise in his offensive rating, going from 91 without Dudley coming off the bench to 121.4 in Dudley’s first seven games with the second unit.
A possession on each end against the Golden State Warriors late in the first quarter does a good job of summarizing Dudley’s all-around contributions to the Suns.
Stephen Curry beats Knight, who gets picked by his own man, but Dudley is on alert and provides perfect vertical defense at the rim to stop the easy bucket. On the way to the other end, Dudley never stops moving until he gets the ball. He then pump-fakes before going to the rim, draws two defenders in and finds Warren for what should have been a foul call and two free throws.
Dudley is doing all of this with a 14.3 percent usage rate — the percentage of offensive possessions a player uses when they are on the court — since Nov. 8, the second-lowest mark on the team and a perfect representation of why players like Dudley are crucial to a team’s success.
He doesn’t need the ball in his hands all the time to make a significant contribution to the team, and like the dad who wears socks with his sandals, Dudley still has at least a couple years left at this level.
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