The careful calculation of Jared Dudley

Jared Dudley (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Basketball players have skill sets defined as refined or lacking. They’re given these by physical attributes, but also by mentalities that, when combined, create what we loosely refer to as their “game.”

The best basketball players — Kobe, Michael, LeBron — have a lot of really great physical attributes but, of course, they have mentalities that define them as well. Often times, an oblivious nature comes with elite athleticism and even an elite basketball player’s mentality, and that makes sense in a sport that’s played with more reaction than calculation.

Reading this account from Rosicky Jones of Paul Shirley’s FlipCollective.com, the similarities of one J.R. Smith and one Ricky Rubio make this a little more clear.

“Smith plays like he grew up in a video game; he is a ridiculously gifted player who is completely unaware of the concept of repercussions. He does exactly what I do when I’m playing NBA Live; I play like a dick; I don’t pass, I shoot way too many threes, my defense defines lax, I cherry pick all game and I always attempt dunks that are a touch out of my avatar’s range. Rubio plays like a guy who grew up with 4 older brothers, who were also way too skilled for him to compete. So, he learned to complement those brothers, and, while adjusting his game to accentuate theirs, he developed a refined and desired skill-set. Rubio made himself far too integral to the fabric of a team to remain an afterthought and Smith made himself too integral to the fabric of himself to remain an afterthought.”

Both Smith and Rubio have little consciousness of who they are, both physically and mentally, but they each play their “game” to a purity that can only be defined as who they are — a gun-slinging, reckless scorer and a selfless, artistic brand of a passer.

Being so ignorant to thinking about or wanting to redefine their “game” helps both J.R. Smith and Ricky Rubio.

But the Phoenix Suns’ Jared Dudley falls into the opposite end of this basketball player spectrum, and he’s probably included in a small minority of the non-oblivious.

An impressive snippet of evidence came in the Suns’ 99-95 loss against the Miami Heat that opened their most recent road trip. Matched up against LeBron James for the majority of his court time, you didn’t know how Dudley would have the size or speed to handle James if he decided to attack.

Dudley does have skills. He’s a pure set jump shooter who takes advantage of playing with Steve Nash. His slashing ability has improved this season, though it’s hardly helped by his lack of athleticism. In that, however, we see why it’s so impressive that Dudley has turned himself from a benchwarmer, to a stellar sixth-man candidate, and now into a legitimate starting NBA shooting guard.

Suns fans know all too well that Dudley won’t hesitate to count on one hand the number of dunks he’s had this season, and that’s a perfect example of why he’s successful.

He’s not oblivious.

So when Dudley faced LeBron James last Tuesday, he knew he was at a disadvantage, yet he attacked James in a calculated and quiet manner that few players might.

This wasn’t about showing James how tough he was, nor was it to show he could beat James with a hounding, overly-physical brand of defense that might end up in LeBron blowing by him for a ferocious slam.

This was about outsmarting the King.

Reviewing the MySynergySports log and tossing out the transition opportunities in which James had the outright advantage, Dudley held James to 2-of-5 shooting. No, that’s not a large sample size, but hear me out.

The first made bucket came at the buzzer of the first quarter, when James simply faded away from 15 feet as Dudley contested the shot; not really much fault on Dudley’s part. The other make came when Dudley was caught by a double-screen late in the fourth quarter, when the Heat made their run to dissolve a 10-point Phoenix lead. Again, not a whole lot Dudley could’ve done.

But the three misses?

Throughout the game, Dudley hardly pressed James — he rarely touched him, even. He stayed an arms-length away as to disallow open jump shots yet was in a decent position if James went all speeding-freight-train trying to get to the basket.

Inadvertently or not, his strategy baited James into bad shots. Three times, James went into post-up mode and all three times he missed the attempt.

Aside from the clutch-factor of LeBron, it’s James’ post game that receives the most criticism in the basketball-minded circles. I’m sure James himself knows this too, and it’s a testament to Dudley’s baiting defense that James decided to take him into the post at all.

It was just an example of a player whose smarts outweigh — and are partially because of — the outrageously-chronicled fact that he can hardly jump over a phone book.

Unlike J.R. Smith, Ricky Rubio, and LeBron James, who are defined by their “game,” Dudley’s “game” should be defined not by what naturally makes it, but how he makes it — consciously.

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