One of the most interesting Earl Watson quips of the offseason came early on in training camp, when Watson made an appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Doug and Wolf Show. Discussing the deep roster and its collection of veteran talent, Watson called his decision to make Jared Dudley the starter at power forward “the obvious choice”.
It was surprising to see the mixed reaction across Twitter and the blogosphere. First of all, placing him atop that rotation is beneficial for all parts of it. The Suns figure to get nice spacing and IQ for 6-9 minutes at the beginning and end of each half from Dudley, who will then continue to make an impact throughout the rest of the game vicariously through the rooks.
At the beginning of a healthy season, the Suns can’t afford to throw a Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender into the fire immediately. Similarly, it would be a losing proposition to place awkward fits like P.J. Tucker or Alex Len in the starting four spot. The choice is obvious because there really aren’t any options.
But again, it would be silly to undersell the contributions Jared has the potential to make. Always a player who thrived in his role based largely on his ability to understand and play within that role, Dudley’s transition into the power forward position has been seamless. Speaking to Zach Lowe in June of 2015, Dudley candidly discussed that change:
“I’ve basically re-done myself, in the sense of ‘I am a stretch four’. I want to play stretch four. I will play three… but I think that stretch four, it helps. Me, I like to bang with some of the fours. I think where it helps me is pick-and-rolls. I’m gonna get up, I’m gonna hard hedge on the point guards where I know I can guard them… When I come in on the second unit, I’m gonna pick up full court, deny. I’m [in Washington] to change the pace.”
Jared Dudley’s impact as a rangier power forward relies on that passion for that physicality. But his value derives in the ways he differs from those opponents.
“I’m here to space. I’m gonna give you a couple extra steps [of space on offense]. They’re gonna have to honor me up top. When they don’t I’m obviously not someone who will go by someone and dunk it, I’m gonna go by, get in the lane, look for my teammates.”
He went on to name Draymond Green as the prototype for this sort of player, but we’ve seen emulations of the Golden State model that succeed despite their versatile big man focal point being a different sort of player than Draymond. Players like Paul Pierce, Jae Crowder, and even Boris Diaw represent pieces who have helped their teams succeed in the playoffs with a skillset more of like Dudley’s than Green’s.
The statistics support this productive position change. Last season in Washington, Dudley made 42.9% of his catch-and-shoot threes. These shots represented 46.4% of his overall shot attempts, and with a similarly talented frontcourt here in Phoenix, that mix isn’t likely to change.
Of course, the defense doesn’t always give you that shot as an established shooter. Dudley developed a nice rapport with guards John Wall and Ramon Sessions, dishing the ball around the arc in Washington’s pick-and-roll heavy attack. Most importantly, he fed the big men expertly. Both Marcin Gortat and Nene posted shooting percentages above 55% on shots coming after passes from Jared, per NBA.com tracking data. In return, those guards fed him. He shot 74 of 171 on three-point attempts coming after passes from Wall, Sessions, or Bradley Beal.
He might even be surrounded by more talented guards this year, considering Beal struggled with injury for most of last season and Brandon Knight has far more upside than the season Sessions put together last year. The opportunities will be there for Dudley to play his game and be a positive for the Suns.
And with that production will likely come teaching opportunities. Those savvy dribble drive-and-kicks and shoot/pass decisions are the ones that most youngsters take years to learn. Considering both Bender and Chriss project as stretchy bigs long-term, those lessons will be vital. Bender especially figures to lean on those types of plays heavily as he develops. Chriss can probably dunk on everyone forever, but would be wise to listen when the Granddaddy of Ground-Bound talks to him.
After a renaissance of sorts in Milwaukee and a tremendous season in Washington, Jared Dudley now finds himself laying back in the open arms of the Valley. He’ll have opportunities on the court and off, earning further love from a city that embraces him. It was the obvious choice.