When Phoenix traded Boris Diaw to Charlotte for Jason Richardson back in 2008, it received Jared Dudley as an extra throw-in as part of the deal.
What the Suns didn’t know: they were getting was someone with a chip on their shoulder. An edge. A bit player intent on proving he was more than that.
For two years Dudley did just that, pushing the starters in front of him, starters who knew that head coach Alvin Gentry had no problem sitting them in favor of Dudley’s hustle and improved shooting stroke if they weren’t providing at least that much on the floor themselves.
Dudley found out what that feels like this season. Now a known-quantity with a long-term contract, the Boston College product, saw his minutes — and role — fluctuate after P.J. Tucker started providing the hustle and energy on which Dudley once prided himself. Assumed to be a full-time starter with both Richardson and Grant Hill gone, Dudley started just 50 of the 79 games he played this season.
It hasn’t helped that Dudley’s production has basically flatlined over the past three seasons.
Jared Dudley’s per 36 minutes stats
Such a span might be expected over a player’s “prime” (age 28-32), but Dudley is just turning 28 this summer, marking a premature plateau during what should be a stretch of making the leap from potential to finished product. And while Dudley was never pegged as a potentially elite wing player, his settling into a role player’s production hasn’t helped the Suns’ glaring need for a difference-maker at that position.
More concerning is Dudley’s decreasing ability to affect a game’s outcome with hustle plays. In the past he would lift the team’s energy with aggressive defense, rebounding and winning loose balls. This season, no one came close to Tucker in those departments, though it’s doubtful a double-dose of hustle would have led to many more wins without the talent to back it up.
Dudley may not be entirely to blame. Like Marcin Gortat, Dudley probably had difficulty raising his game in a fallen offense without Steve Nash. Losing former head coach Alvin Gentry, one of Dudley’s biggest advocates since arriving in Phoenix, likely didn’t help either.
Another factor: Dudley’s position. With his improved shot from deep, both Gentry and Lindsey Hunter felt comfortable playing Dudley at off-guard, rather than at small forward. The switch is subtle, and for many players not a big deal.
For Dudley, it makes all the difference.
As starting guard (37 games in 2012-13): 27.3 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 43.1 FG%
As starting forward (13 games in 2012-13): 37.2 mpg, 16.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.5spg, 51.7 FG%
Whether through the draft, free agency or trade, the Suns are likely to address their perimeter scoring needs sooner than later. With Dudley locked into his contract for at least another two seasons (he has a player option for 2015-16), he becomes a very tradeable asset while earning just $4.25 million a year. It’s a depressing fact for a player that was once considered untouchable for what he brought to the table in terms of pure intangibles.
He’ll need to find those again if he wants to secure his role in Phoenix.