Jared Dudley is only getting better. (Photo by Max Simbron)
Of all the Suns I met at Media Day, Jared Dudley was the easiest one for me to talk to. Nash wasn't really available, Amare had been asked the same questions over and over again, Robin Lopez actually intimidated me, Earl Clark was too soft spoken for me to understand (and his words came from what seemed to be the ceiling of US Airways), Channing Frye was surrounded by everyone, and was talking about his honeymoon, and talking to Dan Dickau was clearly pointless.
Jared Dudley has a very engaging personality. As a young pseudo journalist, it's oftentimes difficult to think of an original question to ask a professional athlete. Of course there was much to ask Dudley. He was really trying to tweet his way to, um, something, and he had shown some serious promise last year in limited minutes for the Suns after he was tossed into the Bobcat deal that sent Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to Charlotte for Jason Richardson.
Last year in limited minutes Dudley proved to be a bench player the Suns had needed for some time. He was a guy who went to the floor for loose balls, played defense, and took pride in everything he did on the floor with the precious minutes he was allotted. The guy had heart, and all of us Suns faithful that endured a season of pain and confusion last year got a glimpse of the Junkyard Dog. We liked what we saw.
Dudley was intriguing to me, but I didn't have to ask him much, he was willing to talk and talk and talk. By the end of our two minute or so interview, I was struck by one thing he said. The Q &A went something like this:
Me: "So have you been working on your three point shot this off season? You really seemed to thrive in the Suns run and gun system late last season."
Dudley: "Hey, anything to stay in this league. I'm working on everything."
And it struck me at that point that this guy wasn't taking anything for granted. He wasn't satisfied to sit at the end of the pine just picking up an NBA paycheck, he wouldn't be satisfied to play a few years in the NBA and then move in. Jared Dudley wanted to play, make his mark, and stay in the NBA. He knew what he could bring to the table. He knew what it took to get on the floor, and he wasn't intimidated by anyone in the NBA, anyone.
The interesting thing about Jared Dudley when we look at the numbers and what the "experts" have said about him, is that it could be possible that no one, including Dudley knows how good he can be in the NBA. No, he won't be LeBron nor will he be Kobe, but what the numbers suggest is pretty interesting.
Jared Dudley played is college ball in the ACC for Boston College. Recruited from Horizon high school in San Diego, Dudley wasn't considered a blue chip recruit. He was a guy who didn't fit into one category. He wasn't considered a huge scorer or a defensive specialist. Instead, he was chunky-bodied guy with the tools to do a number of things fairly well. He led his high school teams to state championships in the final two years of his high school career. Most importantly, he was soulful winner, he was a team player, a guy you could count on to bring 110% every night. Dudley did the little things his team needed in order for them to win.
- What Dudley also brought with him to Boston College was a desire to improve his game and leads his team to victory. He played in every game his freshman year at Boston College, averaging 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. Playing behind Craig Smith who was 6th in the ACC in scoring, Dudley helped Boston College to a tournament appearance, while finishing 19th in the ACC with 11.9 points per game. While his total body of work in 2003 wasn't incredibly impressive, what is impressive is that as a freshman, Dudley played in ever game, averaging double figures in points per game.
- Again in 2004-5, Dudley played in every game. He increased his averages in nearly every important statistical category, finishing 7th in ACC scoring. He lead his team to yet another tournament birth, defeating Pennsylvania before getting knocked out by Milwaukee-Wisconsin in the second round.
- It was no surprise that Dudley played in every game in the 2005-6 season, once again leading his squad to a tournament birth. His season averages only show slight improvement, nonetheless, improvement. Dudley finished 9th in ACC average points per game.
- Before Jared Dudley's senior season, he was projected as a certain NBA draft pick. He had come far from his freshman season. Every year he had improved at least 2 to 3 facets of his game. On paper this is evident, however what cannot be captured on paper may have been his best qualities. The draft analysts spoke of Dudley's intangibles, all that could not be captured in a box score:
High basketball IQ
Intense and emotional, does whatever it takes for his team to win
Fearlessly attacks basket
Excellent court vision and awareness
Work ethic is among the best in the country
That was all well and good, but Dudley wasn't blessed with LeBron like athleticism or Kobe Bryant explosiveness. He didn't really even have an NBA position. He was too small to handle the beasts at power forward, and not quick enough to defend the small forwards. He overpowered his stronger and more athletic foes in college, but that didn't seem possible for him at the NBA level. The best reviews predicted Dudley may make it as a role player in the NBA, and others recommend he try to play in Europe.
In his senior season, Dudley established himself as an NBA 1st round pick. Here we can see the most dramatic increase in his numbers, especially, in points (19.0, 2nd in ACC), field goal percentage, rebounds, and most significantly, three point percentage. I don't know at what point in his college career he picked up the nickname, Junkyard Dog, but if that wasn't his moniker by 2006, he certainly earned it during his final season at BC. He was voted ACC Player of the Year and second team All-American.
- The unheralded, soft-bodied freshman who entered Boston College in 2003 had proven vital to the success of the team. Dudley started over 100 consecutive games for Boston College. During that time he had improved his game in nearly every facet over four years. His teams at Boston College were good, they went to the NCAA Tournament every year he was there, and he had established himself as an excellent player with a high basketball IQ who possessed the intangibles that many other players with natural talent and raw athleticism do not have-heart, pride, and a gritty selflessness that would be a welcomed addition to any NBA squad.
"If you looked at him in high school, you would have never imagined that he would have risen to this level,but no one could measure the size of his heart and his desire, along with his intelligence that allowed him to play."
-Al Skinner, Jared Dudley's coach at Boston College
- In 2007, the Charlotte Bobcats used their 22nd pick in the first round to draft Jared Dudley. By draft day, the experts were on to Dudley. They recognized his improvement throughout his college career. Combined with all of his qualities from the years before were some new qualities that shaped Dudley into a player ready to immediately contribute at the NBA level:
- Improved perimeter shooting, with legitimate 3-point range
- Basketball IQ could be the best of any player in the draft
- Reads the ball very well to enable box out of his man on the boards
- Body strength enables him to absorb contact and finish at the rim
- Uses intensity and aggressiveness to intimidate on defensive end
Jared Dudley played in the first game of the 2007-8 season for the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, coached by Sam Vincent. But by the last game of the season, the rookie had worked hard enough and impressed his coach with his work ethic and results on the floor to become a starter.
- In that last game of the season, the Bobcats beat another lowly team, the Indiana Pacers, 107-103. Dudley played 42 minutes, dropping in 19 points and 8 rebounds. Just when it appeared that Dudley was ready to establish himself as an NBA regular, Vincent was fired and Larry Brown took over as coach of the Bobcats. Dudley didn't begin the season as a starter and was shuffled in and out of the lineup, as Brown attempted to figure out what combination of players would lead to victories. On December 10, 2008, Dudley was packaged with Jason Richardson and sent to the Phoenix Sunsfor Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Sean Singletary.
- Dudley saw little court time during the Terry Porter regime, however, once Porter was jettisoned in favor of Alvin Gentry, that changed. We shell shocked Suns fans saw in Dudley what the team lacked for many years under the D'Antoni era: a relentless player capable of asserting his will on his opponent on the defensive end, a new and surprising threat from three point range, and a gutsy team player who always brought energy off the bench, consistently, night after night.
"He's a coach's dream. He plays so hard and he really is the inspiration for our second team."
-Alvin Gentry on Jared Dudley
So, what's my point? Yeah Dudley's good for the Suns. A solid NBA defender, he always comes to play, he scraps, he claws, he grinds, he grits, he barks like a dog. Thing is, Jared Dudley has improved every year at every level he's played at. If history is any indication of the 25 year-old Jared Dudley's future career path, he's only going to get better. With Grant Hill most likely retiring at the end of the season, Dudley is his likely replacement. It may just be that Dudley will be wearing a Suns uniform for years to come.