In the latest juggling act for Suns head coach Earl Watson with a mismatched roster, recently signed swing forward Jared Dudley has received four consecutive DNP-CDs (Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision) over the past week so that rookie Dragan Bender - the 4th overall pick in the 2016 Draft - can get more time at the power forward position.
This extreme move immediately created confusion among fans, media and even players alike.
Why completely bench Dudley, who happens to be one of the Suns better players this year? Why not just reduce his minutes and give some of those minutes to Bender?
Watson, for his part, didn’t feel the need to share his reasoning last week.
“It was at the 4 position. He’s our only 4,” Watson said, likely meaning that Dudley was the only power forward he was willing to bench, given the other is rookie Marquese Chriss. “It is what it is. It’s the NBA. Everyone’s all right. We all live a nice life.”
That’s all Watson said about Dudley.
The Suns cleared out the power forwards from the roster this summer, and re-filled the position with 31-year old Dudley and a pair of teenage rookies in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender.
At the time, no one knew how the minutes would shake out. For a while, Watson got by with Chriss and Dudley at power forward, while playing Bender on the wing as P.J. Tucker and then T.J. Warren missed time due to injury. But now with them healthy, and the Suns committed to Chriss already, it came down to either Bender or Dudley at power forward.
Jared Dudley, for his part, did not immediately take to twitter or the media to complain about the abrupt about-face on his well-earned rotation spot.
Dudley played in all but one of the team’s first 30 games (missed one due to foot strain), starting the first seven games and coming off the bench for the next 22.
As both a starter and a reserve, Dudley averaged the same 23.3 minutes per game, posting even better numbers off the bench with 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. He’s 7th in the NBA in three-point percentage (44.2%) for a team that ranks 23rd in that category.
Altogether, he’s one of the team’s best plus/minus players. You have to put this into perspective: with Dudley on the court the team loses on the scoreboard by about 4 points in a 48-minute game. But without Dudley, they lose by almost 9 points in that same 48-minute game. That’s called ‘making your team better’, even though it doesn’t end up with wins.
So why bench him entirely?
Dudley says it was just a quick conversation between he and coach Watson last week about getting Bender some minutes. There was no falling-out with the coach. No big decision to take Dudley out of the rotation, other than finding time for both rookie power forwards.
Bender has now gone from increasingly regular DNP-CDs to 21.1 minutes per game over the past week and played well in those minutes, while Dudley takes his place on the DNP list.
“I’m not mad,” Dudley tells me. “Just being a pro. Still helping the young guys.”
Dudley goes on to explain how he’s handling it.
“I was brought here for many reasons,” Dudley says to me. “And the main one is to help Bender and Chriss develop and show the young guys how to be a pro. So this is one example. When things don't go your way you have to be professional, work harder and try to be ready when your opportunity is called.
“This is not a demotion. I'm still helping even though I'm not playing. My time will come again.”
Wow. I am so impressed with how Jared is handling this. Makes you wish other players would have the same perspective.
Let’s try to look at this from the coach’s point of view.
For one thing, the team is losing games no matter what. While they are almost 5 points better with Dudley on the court, they are still losing. So why not give as many minutes as possible to the young guys who might some day be winners for the Suns?
Dudley knows he’s not the most talented player in the NBA. He knows Bender and Chriss both have more raw talent than he does.
But he also knows that NBA players can only reach their potential if they have the right attitude and right work ethic. And Dudley is here to teach that by example.
Coach Watson has said, just like Alvin Gentry and Jeff Hornacek before him, that leadership has to come from players. Coaches can’t be in the room the whole time, and players don’t get their work ethic just from coaches. It has to come from the locker room. And Dudley is determined to provide that, along with Tucker and Chandler and Barbosa.
The Suns still need that leadership from Dudley, Chandler, Tucker and Barbosa even as their minutes get soaked up by the kids who need them during this rebuilding year.
Eventually, Dudley will be back where he belongs: on the court, helping the team any way he can.
In the mean time, he can lead from the bench, locker room and practice court.
The Suns are fortunate to have Jared Dudley.