Guard/forward Jared Dudley was a big-time fan favorite in Phoenix, so much that hopefully he won't ultimately symbolize the "bad" Phoenix Suns because he was their most quoted, recognizable player during the darkest Suns days since the 1980s. To be synonymous with bad Suns basketball would be a major tarnish on what was otherwise a wonderfully honest and fair player who put the team's PR on his back for a few years.
Now Jared is in Los Angeles, playing for a Clippers team fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs -- and fighting to hold off his former team from streaking right past them in the standings. The Clippers (21-11) vs. Suns (18-11) is a battle of 11-loss teams boasting two of the best 8 records in the entire NBA. His role is what we always thought JD should have been - a 3-and-D guy who is, at best, the 5th best player on a contender.
Let's check in with ClipsNation.com editor Steve Perrin to see how Duds is fitting in there in Cali, and what's up with megastar Chris Paul in the wake of Eric Bledsoe's trade.
Bright Side: We all loved us some Dudley in Phoenix. He became a cult hero during the Suns' 2010 playoff run and was a fan favorite because he was so good with the public and the media. How does Dudley's persona play in LA?
Steve Perrin, ClipsNation.com: I quipped in pre-season that even if the Clippers aren't successful on the court this season, they're going to have several representatives on the NBA's All-Interview team. With Dudley and J.J. Redick joining the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and the incomparable Doc Rivers as the coach, this team is astoundingly polished and well-spoken. It doesn't get you a whole lot of wins (unless you want to equate it with basketball IQ) but it is definitely a welcome development for the media covering the team. DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford are all charming dudes as well. So Duds fits right in with a pretty cerebral, super-articulate group. Hopefully it does indeed translate into some good things in terms of really grasping Rivers' more complex defensive schemes as well, but if nothing else, Dudley can clearly explain why he's missing so many shots.
Bright Side: I see Dudley is off to his usual slow start. He always shoots worse in the first half than the second half of the season. Have the Clippers fans shown patience with Duds? Overall, what do the Clippers think of our latest favorite former Sun?
SP: That was a transition up above. Did you catch that? As you are fully aware, some fans are more patient than others. It's funny, I keep hearing about this "usual slow start" for Dudley, but looking at his career splits, December has been one of the strongest months for him over the course of his carer. So if this is indeed just a slow start, it's lasting longer than usual. Dudley has been dealing with a pretty severe case of tendinitis in his knee most of the season -- he probably should have taken some time off, but Barnes has been hurt most of the season (he just got back a few games ago). To make matters worse, rookie Reggie Bullock twisted an ankle just after Barnes was hurt. So I've been wondering if Dudley would benefit from some rest, but it simply hasn't been an option so far as he's been the only semi-healthy three on the team. Dudley had a four game stretch a week or so ago where he hit .564 from the field and made 13-23 from deep, the Clippers won all four games easily and we thought "Yes, finally, this is how it's supposed to be." In the four games since, he's 1-12 from deep, and we're right back where we were, wondering what exactly it is that he does at an NBA level. So yeah, as of now, it seems like he's kind of a 3D guy, who can't hit threes and isn't very good on D, but the few times that he was actually effectively stretching the floor, things were really humming for the team. So hopefully this is just part of a slow start, because the Clippers could use him.
Bright Side: Has Chris Paul gotten even better this year than ever? His numbers are up across the board, though his shooting percentages are slightly down. Is the bigger workload sustainable over the season, or will he wear himself out?
When Doc Rivers was asked in the pre-season if he was going to try to keep Chris Paul's minutes down, he basically said "No, he's my best player, I'm going to play him. He's young." After last season, where Vinny Del Negro did as well as any coach in the league this side of Gregg Popovich at keeping his stars fresh only to have them swept out of the playoffs in the first round, I'm not against increased minutes. Besides, while 35.3 minutes per game is up from last year, it's still the second lowest minutes average of his career. Doc does have Chris doing two things differently and they make a huge difference: he's got him playing at a faster pace, and he's got him looking for his own shot more frequently. Contrary to their high-flying Lob City reputation, the CP3 Clippers have really been a slow-paced affair, 17th in the league in pace last season and 27th the season before that. That's all on Paul, who has always preferred to walk the ball up the court. To his credit, Rivers has convinced CP3 to go against his nature some and push the pace -- the Clippers are the seventh fastest team this season and are getting a lot of easy baskets in transition. And speaking of Paul's nature, he's a pass-first point guard to a fault, and deeply prefers to involve his teammates rather than shoot himself -- which is all well and good, except for the fact that Paul is frequently the team's best option on offense. So what jumps out at me is the 15 shots per 36 minutes he's taking, which is his highest level since 08-09 in New Orleans.
Bright Side: The Clippers appear to be loaded, especially when Redick comes back to full strength. Do you see the Clipper e-Clips-ing their best season yet?
Oh sure, the Suns guy with an eclipse pun. Hope that doesn't come back to haunt you.
I predicted 60 wins for the Clippers heading into the season which would be a new franchise record. Their obviously not on that pace at 21-11, but there are a few reasons to suspect that they might be primed for a strong run in the coming months. Redick's absence has certainly been a major blow -- he is a key component to the motion offense with his tireless off-ball movement and the offense struggled for a few weeks when he went out before they found their footing again. Secondly, the defense began the season as one of the worst in the NBA, but has been among the best over the last month, which seems to indicate that they took some time to really embrace Rivers' schemes, but that now they're getting it. If they can put that solid defense together with the high-powered offense upon Redick's return, the team could really have a solid run in 2014.
Bright Side: What's been the Clippers biggest achilles heel so far this season? What would the Suns need to do to beat the Clips on Monday night?
The team's biggest problem frankly has been cold shooting. Rivers made a concerted effort to add shooting after he was hired, trading for Redick and Dudley, signing Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens. But the Clippers are shooting a much worse percentage from deep this season than they did last season (.332 vs. .358), and jump shots in general just haven't been falling (except in the case of Blake Griffin, somewhat ironically). So the Suns should probably pack the lane and dare the Clippers to beat them from the perimeter. When those shots are falling, the Clippers are very, very tough to beat. But they've had far too many games this season where they can't buy a jumper, and if you catch them on one of those nights, they're very beatable.
Thanks for bringing us up to speed in LaLa Land, Steve!
Check Clips Nation later today to see how I answered 5 questions on the Suns.