To understand why the Suns and their fans love Jared Dudley, just look at the first play of last night’s game against the Kings. For those who missed it, Duds blocked a layup, then chased the ball down and dove into the crowd to successfully save the ball to Steve Nash. It was the type of prideful effort we all had hoped to see from the Suns, and that we have become accustomed to seeing from good ol’ #3. I highly value Jared Dudley for all the tangible and intangible aspects of his game, and I know most fans around these parts love Dudley too. Furthermore, those who opposed my man’s contract extension have been tight lipped as of late.
Nonetheless, the consensus opinion at BSOTS seems to be that Dudley is and forever will be no more than above average role player, and that counting on him to consistently produce in the starting lineup would doom a team to mediocrity. Frankly, I’m surprised that there is so little dissent from this opinion, and am curious as to why it became the majority’s. Have you all been watching the same Jared Dudley that I have this season, especially since the All-Star break?
Before we jump this, I present to you here are Dudley’s averages in 6 games as a starter this year:
Yes, 6 games is a very small sample size, and in those games, the Suns are a sorry 1-5 (note that the reason Dudley has started these games is because at those junctures, the Suns have been in turmoil). However, you can’t argue with the production and efficiency. Those are good numbers for a starter. First option numbers? No. Second option numbers? No. But as a third scoring option, 18 pts on 11 shots is quite respectable. Plus, he is still productive when not scoring, and we all know that numbers alone cannot capture what Dudley brings to the court.
The arguments for cementing Dudley into a reserve role seem to be construed under illegitimate presumptions. For instance, his ceiling is considered low because of his lack of athleticism, but the assumption that a player’s upside is determined entirely by one’s leaping ability and speed is as fallacious as the notion that a hard-working 25 year-old cannot become more athletic in certain areas (e.g. balance, muscle memory, flexibility, agility, endurance and strength). There are also areas of his game that can be added and developed, such as ball handling, passing, pick and roll, and overall consistency. Dudley has yet to show any signs of approaching a plateau in his development either as an athlete or a player, and as he has steadily improved in many aspects of his game.
There is also the argument that he is more needed by the second unit. However, as Nash has recently expressed, his spark is also valuable for the starters, who have demonstrated a lack of energy with Dudley out of the lineup. Yes, Dudley has proven himself to be a great bench player, but at the same time he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to show what he can bring as a starter.
Despite his contract being tradable, the length of his new deal means that the Suns expect him to be a core player. Because of his familiarity with the system and current personnel, and because he will be here for awhile, moving him into the starting lineup makes good sense. This team needs stability moving forward, especially in the starting line up; as a starter, Dudley could be the glue guy around which this team stabilizes and grows together. His game is one of the most versatile on the team. He is young. He works hard. His energy is infectious. He is a high character guy who holds himself and his teammates accountable.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that we will be seeing Dudley in very many All-Star games; I think he will be a good third option and a great fourth option for years to come. Now is the time to start developing him to see how good and consistent he can become. Unless the Suns somehow manage to fill the SG slot with a bigger difference maker, the spot should be Dudley’s. His ceiling is higher than is assumed, and giving him consistent opportunities to start is the surest way to see that he continues to refine his game and expand his potential.