PHOENIX — Lon Babby and Lance Blanks recruited Shannon Brown to Phoenix with hopes that the 6-foot-4 leaper would infuse the Suns with much-needed athleticism, defense and perimeter scoring.
Brown proved his worth in two seasons with the Lakers, and for a 26-year-old aiming to finally crack an NBA starting lineup, Phoenix seemed to be the perfect fit.
But although Brown is a SportsCenter Top 10 play waiting to happen, there’s an equally hungry shooting guard standing in his way of securing his first NBA starting gig.
Jared Dudley had made it clear he wants to be an NBA starter, and he’s backed that up long hours at Impact Basketball followed by a stellar training camp.
As of now, it’s Dudley’s job to lose.
“Somebody’s going to have to beat him out. Right now he’s probably had the best camp of anyone,” Gentry said of Dudley. “He’s shot the ball well and been really good defensively. He wants to be a starter and I understand that. If he earns that position it’s going to be hard not to have him out there.”
If last season’s stint as a starter is any indication, Dudley is undoubtedly the right choice at two guard. In 15 games as a starter last year Dudley averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals, while shooting 51.8 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three in 34.1 minutes.
He’s a proven commodity, a tireless worker, a fan favorite and player that does the little things that go beyond the box score. It’s not hard to see that the Suns are a better team with Dudley on the floor, and his career-best season last year gives Gentry no reason not to believe in JMZ.
“He’s going to be a valuable guy to our team,” Gentry said. “He’s such a versatile guy. Good things seem to happen when he’s on the floor.”
But while Dudley is established and proven, Brown gives the Suns another element that’s been missing for years. As outlined in this video, his athleticism fits perfectly in Phoenix’s uptempo system. He runs the floor well and finishes in transition with the best of them.
Brown also has a fairly polished offensive game with range out to the three. His athleticism suggests that he can turn into one of the Suns’ best perimeter defenders, which is obviously a major area of need. Add in that he brings a winning pedigree with two championship rings and it’s going to be hard to keep Brown off of the floor.
“It’s great to have him,” Steve Nash said of Brown. “He’s going to add scoring, athleticism, defense and depth to our team so it’s going to be great to have him on our squad.”
Brown said he doesn’t see his positional battle with Dudley as a competition at all. He said they simply help each other out and do what’s best for the team. But there’s no doubt that Brown is striving to cement himself as a starter in Phoenix. He’s on a one-year deal with a 66-game audition to show why he can start in the NBA.
“It’s a new beginning for me,” Brown said. “I think I can help this team out a whole lot with the things that I bring to the basketball court.”
Is that new beginning going to start on the pine or on the floor? Will Dudley fend off Brown or will the high-flyer take the Suns by storm and grab hold of the starting job?
Based solely on work ethic and maximizing talent, Dudley is as deserving of a starting spot as any guard in the NBA. He’s come into each training camp in better shape than the last, while adding new elements of his game every offseason.
Because of that work ethic and his proven production as a starter, Dudley will be in the backcourt with Nash to start the season. He’s too valuable of a player to leave on the bench because of his defense, rebounding, shooting, nose for the ball and basketball IQ.
Brown will undoubtedly play 20-plus minutes a game and give the Suns exactly what he came to Phoenix to give them, but this is Dudley’s year. This is Dudley’s time to prove that he’s more than just a role player. He’s put in the work, now he deserves the chance to make it pay off.