Jared Dudley keeps improving on his journey to a starting spot

Jared Dudley has continued to improve every year to the extent he's now a starting-caliber performer. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Jared Dudley has continued to improve every year to the extent he's now a starting-caliber performer. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns acquired Jared Dudley from the Charlotte Bobcats in December of 2008 he was something of an afterthought in a deal involving Jason Richardson, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw.

At the time he was a pudgy performer too short to play power forward and too slow and not a good enough shooter to be a small forward.

So Dudley did what he’s always done since being an unheralded high school prospect from San Diego who finagled a scholarship offer from Boston College and became a ACC Player of the Year (Lute Olson later told JMZ he regretted not recruiting him).

Dudley put in the hours during the summer to continually add elements to his game to the extent that the Phoenix Suns face the very real possibility of starting him at shooting guard next season as they did at the end of last year.

I went back to NBADraft.net to see what the esteemed draft site had to say about Dudley’s weaknesses in the run up to the 2007 draft and I barely recognize the guy from those reports.

“Prefers to create offense in the post then extend out to the perimeter. Will be viewed as a tweener too short to be a power forward and not athletic enough to play small forward. Perimeter shooting can go through periods of inconsistency Although Dudley has shown improvement, he still struggles to shoot off the dribble.”

Another report said, “Scores a lot of baskets by simply overpowering players, but the same moves won’t be effective on the next level.”

It’s hard to believe just four years ago that scouting report accurately described the Suns’ shooting guard.

Rather than being a tweener forward, he has developed guard skills and a guard’s body (aside from the lack of explosive athleticism) and his perimeter shooting has turned into one of the biggest strengths of his game.

As a player who adds something to his skill set every summer, Dudley’s goal is now to integrate that final element of his “weakness” section into his game this summer.

“Off the dribble,” Dudley said. “I think I’ve proven myself as a good standstill shooter. It’s more the one-dribble pullups, getting to the lane, maybe a floater, just being comfortable. I’m pretty comfortable going right, not left as much, so that will be the No. 1 area.”

Dudley ought to be plenty motivated to continue adding to his game after going from not playing much for a bad team in Charlotte to not playing much for a mediocre Suns team to being a key reserve on a Western Conference Finals team to starting at the end of last season.

Dudley averaged 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in 11 starts to end the year while shooting a tick over 50 percent, solid numbers when combined with his hustle and defense.

“It’s hard work,” Dudley said. “It’s something that I expected, expected through time. For me nothing’s ever been given to me, you know, junior high, high school. You have to work hard and you have to earn it. I wouldn’t want it any other way, and hopefully I did that in these last 10, 15 games or whatever that I started. If not you come back and try to improve, but it’s good to show not even the Suns this whole league that you can do it because people try to put you in a box.”

By that Dudley means it’s so easy for players to earn reputations in this league as a certain kind of player. Bruce Bowen is a defensive specialist, Kyle Korver is a three-point shooter, Reggie Evans is a rebounder.

Due to Dudley’s lack of athleticism and elite hustle, it would be easy to pin him down as a career energy guy who will bring defense and shooting as well off the bench.

But Dudley has worked tirelessly to add different facets to his game and, as head trainer Aaron Nelson said, “totally changed his body with his work.”

Sure, he’s not exactly a guy who’s going to be creating shots, but this season he’s proven he can be more than a bench energy guy.

“This year I thought for me personally it was just me evolving as a player,” Dudley said. “I thought that in this league people can symbolize you, ‘Oh he’s just a three-point guy, he’s just a bench guy, he’s an energy guy.’ You have to put it on yourself to show them you can do more.”

It’s hard to say exactly what role the Suns will ask Dudley to play next season as if they find a way to acquire an elite scorer at the two spot Dudley will be back in his super sub role.

But with his five-year, $22.5 million contract kicking in next season, a deal that seems like a steal for the Suns for a potential long-term starter, there’s no question that Dudley will play a major role in the future of the franchise next year and beyond.

And if previous summers are any indication, Dudley figures to make his pre-draft weakness list seem even more laughable as he improves his shot off the dribble and continues to morph from the tweener forward of Boston College vintage into a starting-caliber NBA shooting guard.

“It’s something that I feel like you have to earn. I feel like I’ve earned it,” Dudley said of the starting spot. “All you can do is just show them what you can do, so unless they bring in maybe an All-Star player you understand that, but I plan on coming back better next year.

“I’m only 25 so I still have a lot of improving to do.”

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