Before training camp for the Phoenix Suns gets started and theories become realities, the off season is filled with speculation and uncertain certainties.
When it comes to the idea of Jared Dudley playing most of his minutes at the power forward position this coming season, speculation is more like skepticism. Full-on skepticism.
It seems like the only people in the nation who believe the 6’7” Dudley will be successful in his purported role as the Suns’ starting power forward this season are his General Manager, his coach, his teammates and Dudley himself.
I cannot stress after doing extensive Wizards video review last year how bad an idea Dudley at 4 at this point is. https://t.co/fDZ5wJD86w— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) September 17, 2016
Dudley actually played most of his minutes at the four position for the 41-41 Wizards last year, but his success in that role is highly debatable. If you watch play by play, you see Dudley is not the prototypical power forward and gets manhandled down low. But on the whole, any lineups with Jared Dudley as the biggest or second-biggest man on the court have been quite successful the last two years.
Here’s Dudley in Wizards lineups.
I didn’t cut this list off. Due to injuries, there were only three lineups the Wizards played together in more than 20 games last year. You can see Dudley was the four-man in each one, and two of those three were quite successful.
It depends on who you have to start over me.Numbers don't lie, the best defensive unit of wash last yr involved me! https://t.co/zdEsco65ES— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) September 17, 2016
And here he is in Milwaukee a year before.
For his part, Dudley is realistic. He followed up that HP tweet with his own (above) and then got into a bit of a conversation with Matt Moore about it.
@JaredDudley619 That’s a fair point. I think you’re a great defender, just think you still have legs to guard 3’s better. Could be wrong.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) September 17, 2016
Understandable.. I just need the right personal/ scheme to be successful like in Milwaukee. https://t.co/gfEgUodyu8— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) September 17, 2016
Jared is fully aware of his weaknesses at the four position. In an exclusive interview with Bright Side over the weekend, we discussed the pros and cons of his role with the Suns.
“Where the disadvantage is,” he said to Bright Side, “it comes on post-ups going against a dominant post-up four. And then rebounding. There was a couple times where I had to guard Noah. It was Noah and Gasol in the playoffs, so now I gotta keep Noah off...”
In raw stats, Dudley had a rough time against the front line of Noah and Gasol, averaging just 1.8 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game. But still, he made 8 of 14 threes in the series and was a net-positive on the scoreboard in his minutes on the court. He says it helps having a defense-oriented center or big man behind him.
“It was harder without a shot blocker,” he said of last season, after being traded to the the Wizards. “Gortat’s my guy, but he’s not blocking 4 or 5 shots. But when I had John Henson and Giannis and those guys blocking shots, it’s a lot easier for me.”
Dudley says that the stretch four position is best-suited for him these days with the entire league leaning toward more mobile, less bulky, power forwards. Most every NBA play these days involves the pick-and-roll, where Dudley can make an impact on that end.
“Defensively, is where I thought I was the most effective,” he says. “Now when people do pick-and-rolls I’m very aggressive where I can move better than most fours.”
For Dudley to be effective in Phoenix, his centers - Tyson Chandler and Alex Len - will have to rediscover their shot-blocking talents and the defensive scheme will have to cater to that.
“With Tyson and Alex Len,” he said, “That’s two 7-footers who can rebound outside their lane and go block shots. So that’s an advantage.”
Both players were good shot-blockers before last season, but collectively tailed off in last year’s defensive scheme that had them working harder for rebound position than contesting shots at the rim. The Suns ended up as one of the league’s better rebounding teams but one of it’s worst shot blocking teams.
This year, if Dudley is going to be effective at the stretch four position, he will need shot-blocking help for when he gets overpowered on a drive into the paint.
But again, Dudley playing the stretch four is not about him holding his own against the biggest big men in one-on-one matchups in the post. It’s about the Suns outscoring their opponents while he’s on the court, and as I showed above Dudley has been a net-positive in his stretch-four minutes the last two seasons.
And finally, this summer, a healthy Dudley had some time to work on his game. He spent his usual month at Impact Basketball in August before returning to Phoenix on Labor Day.
“It’s my first summer in 2-3 years to work on my game,” he says. “It’s always to get in shape, to get in game shape. You do drills in the morning, you play pickup where they bring in refs, you play with a shot clock, so you’re getting in game shape. It’s not like pickup.
“But for me, it’s working on stuff at the power forward position, where you’re working on pick-and-pops, you’re working on slipping (the pick), working on flairs. Your shots are different, comparing the three to the four, it’s more the corner, more the wing shots.”
Now he’s back in the Valley playing pickup with the guys all month to get familiar and build some chemistry. He knows he’s just a placeholder, and he expects to make the most of his chances on and off the court as a role model and a mentor to young players Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
Jared Dudley, Stretch Four.