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Phoenix Suns Player of the Week: Jared Dudley raises the ceiling for the Suns

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The Junkyard Dog has benefitted from a move to the bench

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This might be a personal question, but what are your memories of Derek Fisher? The longtime veteran’s career was spent largely in the spotlight as a result of his time on two dominant Los Angeles Lakers teams during the beginning and end of last decade. Yet I have a feeling most fans’ lingering memories of Fisher will be of his time as a backup for the Oklahoma City Thunder for several seasons around the beginning of this decade.

Over two seasons in which the Thunder were consecutively eliminated from the Western Conference Playoffs, Fisher was a big part of the team’s playoff rotation. In 2013, he shot 47% from three-point range on nearly five attempts per game, adding spacing and shooting value in his 24 minutes per game. In 2014, those numbers dwindled and he lost minutes and touches accordingly. Oklahoma City lost to the Spurs in six games in that year’s Western Conference Finals.

Those series have since served as a powerful example of how over-reliance on Super Veterans in a competitive rotation can take the competitive right back out of that rotation. Along with Kendrick Perkins, Fisher became the symbol of this movement away from Veteran Leadership and players whose number one skill on a basketball court was “playing the right way” or being smart people.

When defenses are at full force in the playoffs or even just in crunch time of a competitive game, a player must have a skill upon which to fall back that can help the team score points or prevent them. Fisher, at the end of his career, lacked the versatility in his game to make the defense pay for playing him off the three-point line or attacking him when he defended ball-handlers.

You might be thinking that Derek Fisher does not play for the Phoenix Suns, and that he never did at all. You would be correct. But to understand Jared Dudley at this point in his career is to understand the life of a veteran roleplayer, and no individual in recent memory represents that archetype better than Fisher.

I’ve been harping in this space every week on the necessary lens through which we must view this Suns season: Expectations versus results. For Jared Dudley, the statistical expectations have never been all that high. It’s not his style or within his skillset to come in and shoot twenty times or try to block every shot. Dudley’s value has always been in how he bridges the gap between players who are responsible for things like those. The little things, if you will:

Difficult to quantify, but we’ll try. Seventh in charges drawn through 11 games, with four such plays already. 18 screen assists, plays in which a screen set by Dudley leads directly to a basket for his teammate handling the ball. That’s more than renowned screen-setting big men like Taj Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge. Basically, Dudley lives on NBA.com’s Hustle Stats page.

To go back to expectations, the reason this discussion feels ripe is that I would hazard a guess that most casual fans knew little of Dudley after he fizzled a little bit with the Los Angeles Clippers three seasons ago. He had a personal renaissance last year on a Washington Wizards squad that failed to make the playoffs, and then signed a return deal with a young Suns team this summer. He’s out of the spotlight, but not off of the stats sheets.

Dudley is third in three-point field goal percentage at .500 after finishing seventh in that category last season. Tenth in true shooting percentage (accounts for twos, threes, and free throws), ahead of scorching-hot early-season shooters like Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard. He does what he’s asked to do, and most often, that’s to shoot:

Recently, those duties have also included locking up the inside lineups in which he and P.J. Tucker are the Suns’ only bigs. Those lineups are obviously tantalizing from an offensive perspective, but they have actually held up.

Per nbawowy.com, the Suns have posted a plus-2.8 net rating in lineups featuring Dudley and Tucker without Alex Len or Tyson Chandler. That’s 9.6 points better per 100 possessions than the Suns are overall. The presence of Dudley and Tucker in those lineups has allowed Dragan Bender to dip his toes into the rough waters of the center position with some insulation around him. However, if you reduce the scope to lineups without any of Len, Chandler, or Bender (making Tucker the nominal center), things go south. The team is a minus-9.3 per 100 possessions in such minutes.

Back to those Dudley-Tucker-Bender lineups: they’ve been together on the court for 43 minutes without one of Len or Chandler, and the spacing afforded by having shooting at every position has led to a 40.7% three-point rate for the team as a whole. However, they have allowed teams to make 12 of 13 shot attempts within three feet of the rim. It’s a work in progress, but it’s the kind of thing you can try when you veterans like Dudley (and Tucker) around.

Jared Dudley is nothing like Derek Fisher or the various veterans we’ve seen tread water in the league throughout their thirties. The man can still flat-out play basketball. Sure, he adds a lot of the off-court stuff that is valued by head coaches throughout the league, and his contract spans two more seasons after this one. But if there was anyone worried about how Dudley would perform within a less-talented roster and as his age became more of a factor, put those worries to sleep.

When a dude can still rain threes like this:

Whilst doing all of the normal Jared Dudley things on both sides of the ball, he for sure has a seat at the table.

*All statistics in this piece are courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted, and are current as of Sunday’s game versus the Golden State Warriors.