Free agent pickup Jared Dudley had an interesting year.
The aging (31!) year old small forward signed on for his second stint with the Phoenix Suns knowing there wouldn’t be any playoffs on the immediate horizon, and that he would hand off his minutes to younger players sooner than later.
His realistic expectations made a roller coaster year easier to accept than when he experienced being the odd man out in a similar attempt at a Suns youth movement four years ago after the loss of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and others from the SSOL heyday.
At the end of the 2012-13 season, then 27-year old Dudley and his veteran teammates spent much of their exit interview time suggesting the Suns trade them away for even younger pieces to fully commit to the rebuild.
This year, he’s not saying that at all.
“The future is definitely brighter than it was 3-4 years ago,” Dudley said after a long 24-58 season marking the Suns’ 7th straight year out of the playoffs.
“He can be an All-Star,” Dudley said of 20-year old Devin Booker. “If the Suns win, he can be an all-star.”
Dudley also likes the other young players, which included probable All-Rookie first team forward Marquese Chriss and fellow teen and 4th overall pick Dragan Bender.
“If Marquese can develop like Booker has, then you’ve got two guys,” Dudley said of how this core could develop. “You got to have at least two guys in this league to have that (playoffs), and they’re both at the beginning of their careers.
“I think going forward you have a good little nucleus of young guys.”
This time, Dudley wants the Suns to add veterans around the already-young core that will include a Top 5 (likely Top 3) pick in the 2017 Draft to a core of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, among others.
“You see what pick you get [in the Draft],” he said. “Be it a point guard, a small forward, a power forward, and build around it.”
But for Dudley, building doesn’t mean continuing the steady stream of next year’s draft pick taking over for the last one.
“For me you can’t have enough vets on a team that know how to play, when to play, because a lot of our losses are detail, in the 4th quarter.”
Is Dudley talking about 30+ year old guys like himself, Leandro Barbosa, Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker?
“I would say ages between 27 and 29,” Dudley said. “Where you’ve been through it, 6-7 [years]. Overall, if you look at it, you had Knight, you had Bledsoe and you had Booker, but you need someone like a, for example, Shawn Livingston. A guy who knows the game. When you’re younger, you know about numbers and stats. When you get older, it’s about winning.”
Dudley is talking about adding the unselfish players who make the right plays, don’t need the ball in their hands to make an impact. He sees a team that can make individual plays, but don’t share the ball nearly enough.
“For us, we were one of the worst teams in assists. And worst in fouls,” he said. “I could tell you right now that’s going to be one of the worst teams.”
The Suns were 28th in assists per game this year, and set a mark for fouls committed per game that hasn’t been eclipsed by an team in the last decade.
“They are young and inexperienced,” he said of the current team. “So overall for unselfishness you need to add players. Unselfish players that know how to space the floor, and veteran players that know how to play.”
If it were up to Dudley, the Suns top pick would be UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball. Ball is currently listed on most scouting charts AS the second-best prospect, behind Washington’s Markelle Fultz.
“Unselfish, passing, marketing wise,” Dudley said of taking Ball. “Fultz might be better offensively, but Ball has a sense of knowing the game, playing, passing, making everyone better, I don’t think there’s a better guy than that.”
He sees Ball and Booker complementing each other quite well.
“They’d work well together in the sense that he’s unselfish,” Dudley said. “Booker likes to shoot the ball a lot, and Ball doesn’t need the ball in his hands. He could average 10+ assists, but he wants to throw the ball ahead and make the hockey assist. which is very rare for an 18 year old kid.”
The problems with a Ball/Booker back court could present themselves on the defensive end. Neither projects as a quality individual defender at the NBA level, but Dudley doesn’t worry about that.
“To be honest with you, it’s very rare to find a good on ball defender,” Dudley said of the game’s great players being unstoppable one-on-one. “Nowadays it’s all about team defense. I think [Ball’s] basketball IQ is to be a good team defensive player and that’s what you have to be in this league.”
Dudley would know. Not fleet of foot himself, he is a very good team defensive player that doesn’t get embarrassed on the court and almost always comes out with a positive net rating on scoreboard because he makes the right plays.
I’m not personally a fan of a Ball/Booker back court because of those defensive limitations, and the fact that Ball doesn’t have an offensive game of his own beyond long threes that need a lot of space to release.
But Dudley’s point about adding unselfish, share-first players to a team of individually talented kids is right on the money. He still has two years left on his quite-affordable contract, and is quietly making a very good case for himself to stay involved with the team in his current capacity (off the bench swing forward).
“I would say this, for a team with this many losses, everyone got along,” he said, crediting Watson for setting the right locker room atmosphere. “It wasn’t like a morgue in here. Upbeat. I think that was because the young guys and coach set like a friendly, family attitude here. But with that being said, I thought guys were holding each other accountable. We were honest with each other.”
Dudley sees a team with a good foundation needing to make the right moves going forward to continue the climb. Quite different than four years ago, when he and his veteran teammates all wanted out so the Suns could start that rebuild in earnest.