Well, that didn’t take long.
Just four games have been played since Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson decided to tinker with his starting lineup, substituting Marquese Chriss at power forward for Jared Dudley. The effect has been pretty neutral for Chriss, who as a rookie continues to find his way in the league, but Dudley has taken to his new role like a gerbil to a wheel.
Over his first seven games of the season spent as a starter, Dudley averaged 6.4 points and three rebounds in 23.3 minutes per game while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from behind the 3-point line. Not exactly bad numbers but nothing to brag about, either.
In the four games since being moved to the bench, however, Dudley has upped those averages to 13 points and 4.5 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game and has shot 56.3 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3. And those numbers include his 2-point clunker against the Portland Trail Blazers as he adjusted to life in his new role.
“He gets guys going, hits big shots,” Watson told azcentral.com’s Paul Coro of Dudley. “He is constant motion, so we like the momentum he brings and it settles that second group.”
Watson spoke about the importance of putting players in position to succeed over the summer, putting them “in the right seat” on the bus as he put it, and it appears this reshuffling was borne directly of that summertime quote. Neither Chriss nor Bender are demonstrably improved from opening night and have not exactly seized the right to start. But what has become clear is that what’s best for Dudley — and the team — is him playing a key role with the reserves.
Dudley, for one, seems to understand the importance of his move. “The second unit was suffering, especially we need to get B-Knight going, and he’s such a huge part of us,” Dudley told Coro.
“Hopefully, this is something we can use as a spark plug.”
The Suns were in need of a spark plug after a Nov. 6 debacle that saw their bench get outscored by the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench 47-9. That was just the latest embarrassment for a reserve unit that had been less than dependable to begin the season. The first seven games saw Phoenix’s bench place an undue burden on the starters, averaging just 30.4 points per game and getting outscored by an average of 3.5 points.
Since Dudley joined their ranks, the Suns’ bench has averaged 43.5 points and outscored their counterparts by 15 points per contest.
Going further, of lineups that have played at least 10 total minutes together this season, the group of Dudley, Bender, Leandro Barbosa, P.J. Tucker, and Brandon Knight has been one of the most successful for Phoenix, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.5 points per game. That may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but consider this is a team whose three wins have come by a combined 11 points. Also consider that this team only has six lineups that have played more than 10 total minutes together and own a positive plus/minus, with the five others all including no fewer than three starters in their midst. In that context, a +1.5 plus/minus starts to look a lot more impressive for that group.
But Dudley’s greatest contribution to the bench’s resurgence hasn’t been his numbers — although they have been significant — so much as it’s been his mere presence. Dudley is one of those players whose value, much like Tucker’s, is not readily apparent from a cursory glance at the box score. Whether he puts up big numbers of not, good things tend to happen when Dudley is on the floor, as evidenced by his box plus/minus of 2.0 this season. In fact, Dudley has only had two seasons with a negative box plus/minus, his rookie season in Charlotte and his lone season with the Los Angeles Clippers. He has also never had a negative VORP in his career. As for this season, the only Phoenix Sun who can claim better BPM and VORP numbers than Dudley is Eric Bledsoe.
Which leads us back to the bench discussion. Combine someone like Dudley with another stabilizing presence like a healthy Tucker, and suddenly Watson has found a solid foundation off the bench that can absorb wild cards like Knight and Barbosa and an intelligent-but-raw rookie like Bender.
This is not to say the bench is a finished product. For instance, Knight remains a conundrum for this team in a reserve role. His defensive numbers all suggest he has been one of the Suns’ better defenders, but his offensive numbers are retch-inducing. It will also be interesting to see what happens to the bench dynamic once Tyson Chandler returns to the starting lineup and bumps Alex Len back to a reserve role.
In the meantime, these last few games have given Dudley a firm claim to the role of sixth man on this Suns team. While other players — most frustratingly of all Knight — can go for stretches at a time without the viewer even realizing they are still on the floor, Dudley does not suffer from this problem. He enters the game going 60 miles per hour and immediately asserts his will, as every sixth man should. If his shot’s not falling, then he’s finding the open man or boxing out for a rebound or taking a charge or using a kick save to disrupt a fastbreak, and by the time the final buzzer sounds, his fingerprints are all over the game.
It’s the reason he replaced Vince Carter in the starting lineup during his first go-round with the Suns, and it’s the reason Watson turned to him to resuscitate the bench this season. Dudley goes where he’s needed and does his job.
Until further notice, that job is sixth man.
Next Level Awesome
And now Dudley, whose been following our own Dave King and Bright Side since his last stint with the Suns, has been kind enough to participate in our annual Bright Side Night!
Jared Dudley will MATCH every contribution made this week, up to 125 additional tickets!
Make a small donation now - as little as $16 can change TWO kids’ outlook on life this year.
Even if you’ve already donated once, go ahead and donate again! Now that Jared is doubling your donation, you can make that much more of a difference.