PHOENIX — After the Suns’ bench led Phoenix back from an early double-figure deficit in Game 2 against San Antonio, an ornery Gregg Popovich proclaimed that “Jared Dudley changed the whole game.”
Later in the evening Steve Nash continued to pile on the praise: “He was my player of the game.”
On a night when five Suns scored at least 15 points — none of whom are named Jared — it’s interesting that the veterans Popovich and Nash were both so enamored with a player who put up a measly 11 points and six boards to go with a pair of assists and three missed foul shots in five attempts.
That’s a solid night for a role player, sure, but it’s not usually worthy of game MVP praise on a night when your starters (if you count Channing Frye as a de facto starter) go for 94.
But that’s the beauty of Jared Dudley. You can’t open up a box score and understand the full value of Dudley. You have to actually watch the games.
And anybody who watched the Suns’ Game 2 victory can plainly see that Dudley played a huge role in the win, despite his modest 11 points and six boards.
Dudley corralled two of those offensive boards on one possession, scoring a subsequent basket and getting fouled both times, plays that seemed to shift the momentum of a game previously controlled by San Antonio.
It’s been like that all playoffs for Dudley, who has averaged a paltry 7.4 points, 3.5 boards and 1.9 assists on 44.6 percent shooting from the field and 37.8 percent marksmanship from deep. Those numbers define mediocre, and Dudley has scored more than four points just four times in 10 postseason contests.
Yet Jared Dudley has been one of the best players in all of basketball during the playoffs from a plus-minus standpoint.
According to Indiana professor and former Mavs stat guru Wayne Winston, the Suns are +95 in Dudley’s 234 minutes but just +4 in the 246 minutes he has sat. That is INSANE.
According to Winston’s adjusted ratings, the Suns are 46 points better than an average team in the 81 minutes played by Nash, Dudley and Channing Frye and 44 points better than an average team in the 31 minutes played by Nash and Dudley with Frye out.
Overall, according to BasketballValue.com, only the Magic with Rashard Lewis on the floor are better than the Suns with Dudley this postseason, and the difference for the Suns between when Dudley is on and off the floor is similar to LeBron James’ mark with the Cavs. Small sample size, I know, but still.
On BasketballValue, the Suns’ rating with Dudley on the floor compared to when he’s off is +21.67. Second is Steve Nash (I hear he’s pretty good) with a +7.94 and third is Channing Frye (+5.47). The Suns have also been better when Leandro Barbosa is on the floor than when he sits, and that’s it, although the Suns are about even when Amare Stoudemire sits and when he plays.
Not surprisingly last on this list is Jarron Collins, as the Suns are 29.15 worse when he’s on the floor.
What’s crazy is that the Suns were only barely better when Dudley played than when he sat during the regular season (+1.72, but still fourth on the team), and Channing Frye was tops (+5.95), Steve Nash was second (+4.18) and Jason Richardson was third (+2.76). LB again was in the positives, and the Suns were better when Amare sat.
Back to Dudley, it really says something that he’s been able to improve the Suns so much in the playoffs. Although he’s a solid shooter and a quality defender, I would say the biggest plus he brings to a basketball team has to do with how his intangibles just make teams better.
The particular chapter that I read discussed how NBA executives value scoring more than other traits that actually lead to wins. That’s why Isiah Thomas put together a team of gifted scorers with the New York Knicks that Berri and Schmidt could have predicted would fail because what those guys do on a basketball court doesn’t lead to wins.
Players like Jared Dudley lead to wins. Sure, you need to have your Amare Stoudemires and Jason Richardsons getting you buckets, but if you don’t have a guy like Jared Dudley doing the little things that are often undervalued in the NBA marketplace, you’re not going to go very far.
So while Nash, Amare, J-Rich and Grant Hill predictably get all the pub, maybe the biggest reason why the Suns will be kicking off the Western Conference Finals tonight is because of Jared Dudley.